Rick Perry + Al Gore ≠ global warming logic
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