Rick Perry + Al Gore ≠ global warming logic

November 3, 2011

When Al Gore was in the White House, global warming was a disaster of the first order. Republican presidential candidates are now saying it is anything from a fraud to trivial.

Both sides claim sound science, and both are wrong. In politics, “sound science” means whatever supports your preconceived positions.

For American voters, climate change is an issue offering lessons in how to reject political nonsense on the extremes, and find the middle. If we can’t find the middle of a generation-long concern like climate change, one where modest steps are sufficient for the moment, how will we ever tackle immediate issues such as jobs, debt and the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers?

First, here are the positions of Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. (Herman Cain has not taken a position on climate change.)

Last June, Romney said in New Hampshire: “I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer” and that “humans contribute to that.” In New England, voters of both parties tend to support environmental protection. Romney’s June statement is similar to what George W. Bush said when he was president.

Speaking last month in Pennsylvania, a coal-producing state, Romney switched gears, saying, “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course.” Watch what he says here beginning at 2:17.

Perry, both speaking and in his campaign book “Fed Up”, has said climate change claims are based on “doctored data” and that “we are seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing our climate to change.”

My guess is that the “doctored data” to which Perry refers is probably Climate-Gate – a real but trivial scandal which has assumed conspiracy-theory status on the right. The researchers who sent the Climate-Gate emails may have been nutty as fruitcakes, but do not represent the academic mainstream.

The “scientists… coming forward” to which Perry refers probably are in this petition, which Rush Limbaugh has talked up. Organized under the name of Frederick Seitz, a distinguished past president of the National Academy of Sciences, the petition, supposedly signed by 31,487 scientists, claims claims “there is no convincing scientific evidence” of imminent danger from artificial greenhouse gases. Seitz, who died in 2008, was 87 years of age when he endorsed the petition. The sample card appears to bear the signature of the late Hungarian-American scientist Edward Teller, who was 90 yards of age when the petition began.

To be listed as a “scientist” signer, you only check a box attesting that you are. No credentials or affiliations for the signatories are given. I pulled three names from the signature list at random — Robert Simpson Hahn, Cathryn E. Hahn and Gregory A. Hahn. None appear on any science organization membership list or academic directory that I could locate; a Robert Simpson Hahn published a chemistry dissertation in 1944. Whether the petition actually has been signed by 31,487 working scientists is anyone’s guess.

What does the science mainstream think? In May, the National Research Council warned the “risk of dangerous climate change impacts is growing.” Last month the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, led by Richard Muller, a prominent physicist and previously a climate change skeptic, concluded that “global warming is real”.

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences joined the science academies of Britain, Germany, Japan and other nations in a joint statement saying, “There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring.” And, in 2006, the federal Climate Change Science Program, under the direction of the George W. Bush White House, found “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.”

Mainstream researchers could be wrong, of course. But it’s unlikely Rick Perry knows more about climate change than the National Academy of Sciences. Just as Gore’s Hollywood exaggerations about global warming made you wince, the right’s current fad for global-warming denial is also wince-inducing.

One aspect of that denial in the Republican campaigns may be a desire to create a bogeyman for the false notion that carbon dioxide regulations are to blame for unemployment rates. Michele Bachmann has called the Environmental Protection Agency the “jobs-killing organization of America”, for example. Since the United States currently has no carbon dioxide regulations, this seems fantastical.

A defensible fear is that the United States ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, or its successor treaty now under discussion, would give United Nations’ bureaucrats input into U.S. domestic energy policy. That would be bad for the American economy, while surely the United Nations would accomplish nothing at a great expense. Last year, I argued that the United States should drop out of international carbon negotiations and start its own greenhouse-gas reform program.

Republican candidates are well-advised to be wary of the Kyoto concept. But they’re wrong to pretend climate change is not a danger. Slowly rising global temperatures, and the accompanying climate impacts, are supported by a strong body of research. They won’t cause the doomsday that Gore so fervently expresses, but greenhouse gas levels could plague our descendants — and will be a lot cheaper to deal with now than later.

Plus, the initial steps that would be taken to moderate greenhouse gases – improved energy efficiency, more use of natural gas and uranium, less use of coal and oil – are in the interest of the United States, regardless of climate trends. And they may be a lot more practical than supposed. See that argument here.

Photos, top to bottom: People balance as they walk on a flooded railway in Bangkok November 2, 2011. Thai authorities tried to stem growing anger among flood victims on Tuesday as water swamped new neighbourhoods and the government began mapping out a plan costing billions of dollars to prevent a repeat disaster and secure investor confidence. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj; A boy swims in the murky waters of Manila Bay, in this file picture taken March 21, 2010. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo/Files

17 comments

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While I would say that the environment is important to most voters so is the economy. Some of the carbon reducing proposals would greatly increase the price of electricity as well as oil and gasoline. While you can’t blame current unemployment on carbon reduction plants that don’t exist, you can’t argue that such plans wouldn’t increase unemployment if implemented. Spain is considered to be a leader in “green” energy and their unemployment rate is 22.6%. Increasing energy costs WOULD also increase unemployment. That cannot be disputed.

I am skeptical of many claims made by the global warming movement, but I also desire for us to have as little of an impact on the environment as possible. So what do we do? We research, we use what is available to us, and we use what is practical. There are enough known uranium deposits to power our energy needs for thousands of years. Nuclear is safe and clean enough to use in an enclosed environment at the bottom of the ocean for months at a time(thank the Navy for proving that). We should stop wasting money subsidizing ethanol since its development and use provides no real benefit in regards to emissions compared to oil. That and we subsidize it even more per unit of energy than we do any other. Solar and wind should be improved, but they can only really be secondary sources. We should use oil and natural gas today since we have those resources available to us(3% unemployment in South Dakota) and it would create jobs that can’t be exported. These really aren’t revelations, but we aren’t moving on these kinds of things. Why isn’t the current administration taking these steps? Why aren’t candidates to replace the President proposing these things?

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

The problem with the EPA is that I suspect there is a screening process for employees that eliminates any at any level that possess any common sense. Here in Texas, we just ended the hottest summer on record. I don’t CARE whether it’s related to “global warming” or not.

I DO care if the EPA or some other idiotic alphabet-soup bureaucracy forces Texas to eliminate certain outdated coal-fired electrical generating plants out in the middle of nowhere (that still provide a few local jobs) before that generating capacity is replaced by cleaner sources.

Electrical generation is a pyramid, and the top of that pyramid CAN be the dirtiest generating plants that are ONLY put into operation after time-demand load shedding contracts, etc have been unable to keep demand below a certain KW level OR when other plants are down due to breakdown. Run only periodically for relatively short periods, these plants would have little, if any, effect on the environment.

There should be NO “scheduled maintenance” during periods of historical high temperatures and/or high customer demand. Customers tend to lose patience with the environmental lobby when the comfort they play for and expect to be reliably provided at reasonable expense becomes unreliable or unavailable. Let the ecologists freeze in the dark!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The more we push for strong environmental policies in the US, the more jobs go overseas to places that have very little environmental policies. Not only does that loose US jobs but it also increases pollution. If you want to have an impact on pollution then stop buying goods made in China and other countries that have poor environmental laws.

Posted by Gen | Report as abusive

AustinG, you are exactly right and make a good moderate point. OneOfTheSheep, where is your evidence of this great problem at EPA?

Posted by calvinbama | Report as abusive

You keep mentioning “doomsday” but you never say which parts are over the top. Do you really know what Gore said? The lack of details makes me think not.

Posted by colonelP | Report as abusive

OK, so you don’t want to believe in the science behind global warming. Then don’t go to the doctor for cancer treatment, don’t use the internet or your cell phone, and don’t bother turning on your television or the microwave either, because science is what made all of those things possible. Yes, scientific theories are sometimes proved wrong in the end. But the risk involved if they are correct in this case is just too dangerous to ignore. On the other hand, if they are right and we do ignore them, then employment problems will disappear, because half the population of the globe will most likely die out and then everyone will have a job just struggling to survive. Sounds like a good plan to me. Cheerio!

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive

Lol at the person trying to claim science was on their side and then claiming that half the world’s population was going to die because of slightly elevated temperatures. There is nothing scientific about that claim.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

Instead of arguing about what is causing warming we should focus our efforts on finding a cheaper replacement for coal. Coal is the main source of CO2 and also a raft of expensive health problems.
We have a potential cheaper than coal solution but politics is holding back its development. The Department of Energy is spending zero $ on this solution but fortunately private money has succeeded in developing a million watt clean nuclear boiler that produces no radiation. The first unit was shipped to a customer last saturday. Instead of wasting trillions on oil wars we should get behind this important development. With fuel costs 1/1000th of coal it will be a no-brainer and we won’t even have to talk about pollution or CO2.
Here is an article I wrote about this technology:
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/ blog/post/2011/05/swedish-skeptics-confi rm-nuclear-process-in-tiny-4-7-kw-reacto r

Posted by tblakeslee | Report as abusive

Al Gore was in the White House!?! As a visiting VP only, thank goodness! Usually, we only talk about Presidents being “in the White House”.

Posted by nadie | Report as abusive

More than “Climate-gate”, it is the IPCC’s own publications which bring the science into doubt through their selective focus and cherry-picking. The IPCC owes its continued existence to propogating extreme forecasts about human-induced climate change. If there is no crisis, then 100s (maybe 1,000s) of government bureaucrats across many countries will find their jobs disappearing.

My personal view agrees in many respects with Mr. Easterbrook’s. Human induced climate change does exist and we (the U.S.) should develop revenue-neutral, market-drive methods of reducing our dependence upon fossil fuels. That view makes sense for energy independence as well as climate change.

Posted by nadie | Report as abusive

Just because there are two sides to an issue does not mean that the moderate middle ground is the right course to take. The imbalance of scientific opinion on the subject, combined with a prudent application of the precautionary principle, would say that we should consciously err on the side of cleaner energy. The cumulative effect of the decisions we make from today forward will affect not just our grandchildren, but possibly the entire planet for the next several thousand years. (See http://www.realclimate.org/images//NRCCu mCarbonPlot.png )

Why are not conservatives the most cautious in this regard? Why are we not more focused on maintaining the freedoms and choices of future generations, not to mention the property values of coastal landowners? Where do we get the moral authority to change our descendant’s climate by even one half of a degree? If right wing Republicans (of which I count myself) thought about the issue this way, they might take a different course.

Posted by JTand80007 | Report as abusive

I yearn for middle of the road leaders, with common sense and due regard for the scientific method. They’ve been AWOL for two decades now.

Posted by JayVi | Report as abusive

AustinG,

I founded, ran, and sold a successful quick printing shop from 1977 to 1988. A major reason I go out of that business was because of the ever more expansive definitions of “hazardous waste” and California law interpretations that would reach back and hold me responsible if the commercial disposers of same that I paid to handle it instead dumped it in some creek.

I just did not see such unnecessary complications to my “risk” of doing business as acceptable in the long run. There was NO statute of limitations on such risk. OK?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Sheep,

I don’t really disagree with you. Environmental law today seems be about controlling or punishing progress as much as it is about helping the environment. Any objective analysis of our environment shows great improvements. There is much less pollution today than there was 20 or 30 years ago despite the fact that populations have continued to grow. Environmental law is often used to strongarm developers into doing things like using union labor. The laws don’t serve the environment, consumers, or producers so what purpose do they serve?

JT,

Read the above. Any objective measure shows pollution levels have lowered dramatically over the last few decades. The latest satelite temperatures shows that we are currently 0.11 degrees above the average over the last 3 decades. How are we not leaving behind a good environment for those that follow? The climate has always changed. There is no ideal temperature. 1,000 years ago it was warmer than it is today. Yet mankind survived when it was much less equiped to deal with any kind of change. There is a great deal of evidence that warmer would be better. Certainly if you had to pick cooler or warmer you would pick warmer. That is before you get into ALL of the unknowns you are talking about in regards to this issue.

Posted by AustinG | Report as abusive

Mr. Easterbrook,
With all due respect (I’m new here), this line is horrifying:

“If we can’t find the middle of a generation-long concern like climate change, one where modest steps are sufficient for the moment ….”

You see, most people don’t take the time to synthesize all the research (I suspect you’re in this camp) and therefore most people don’t realize that without a giant, radical leap to a zero-carbon economy as urgently and rapidly as possible (no time left for “modest steps”), we “risk” (risk = probability x magnitude of an event) runaway global warming (due to positive carbon feedbacks, which have already kicked in throughout the Arctic and in tropical peatlands) that has the potential of making this planet inhospitable to life.

Why, in Earth’s name – or in the name of all our children and future descendants – would we want to risk that with “modest steps”? Why are we so willing to perpetrate progenycide when moving to a safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful perpetual-energy-based economy will be so exciting? So fruitful? So job-creating?

No, dear sir, this is no time for dancing modest steps in the middle. We need leaps and bounds toward a future that will sustain the “bio” (life) in our biosphere.

Posted by GreenHearted | Report as abusive

“Edward Teller, who was 90 yards of age when the petition began.” – ???

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

After working on Earth Day One, then the Environmental Policy Act, eventually becoming an EPA department head, before spending 15 years in computer programming after the environment had been cleaned up, and all that was left to do was baby-sit Superfund sites, the Dot.Con neutron bomb threw me back on the street, and I had to use my EPA-cred to crawl back inside the Eco-Temple.

The young eco-acolytes were earnestly indignant that industry should survive at all, eager to twitter the latest environmental theory, and wag their fingers at how ‘polluted everything is’. My boss warned me in a hushed whisper these Next Gens had been programmed by academic ex-hippie druid rice-bowlers. So I got one of them aside, chatting about the old days when rivers were on fire, and lakes glowed in the dark, and cities were entirely invisible behind a choking blanket of thick smog. I wrapped by saying, ‘You have no idea how good you have it now.’

She gave me a withering lecture on the ‘looming disaster of global warming’ then sternly warned me, ‘You need get an *attitude adjustment*.’ After that, all my work was side-lined and higher-reviewed, and ‘returned for more study’, which is how the rice-bowlers rob capital funds to feed their new hires and pensions operating budget. Study it to death, urgently, hypercritically, end-of-world-if-we-stop’ly. The New Carbon Caliphate Taliban.

Wasn’t that a line from Mao’s Little Red Book? ‘Attitude adjustment’? Then didn’t they starve 60 million elders?

Posted by Chip_H | Report as abusive