How to make money on “climate change”

This is not about Al Gore, though Al Gore certainly has made money on the irrational fear of man’s effect on Earth.

Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. may not be making money off “climate change” directly, but his employer is:

No contributor has written more frequently on the subject of climate change on these pages—45 times over the past 20 years according to the “study” behind a recent series of ads (at $27,309 a pop) assailing the Journal’s editorial page for its climate coverage.

Yet how ploddingly conventional my views have been: I’ve written that evidence of climate change is not evidence of what causes climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees, in its latest report estimating with less than 100% confidence that a human role accounts for half the warming between 1951 and 2010.

I’ve written that it would be astonishing if human activity had no impact, but the important questions are how and how much. The IPCC agrees, estimating that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial times would hike temperatures between 1.5 degrees and 4.5 degrees (Celsius), notably an increasein the range of uncertainty since its last report.

I’ve said science has been unable to discern signal from noise in the hunt for man-made warming. Yup, that’s why the IPCC relies on computer simulations. Indeed, the most telling words in its latest report are a question: “Are climate models getting better, and how would we know?”

I’ve said it’s difficult to justify action on cost-benefit grounds. The Obama administration agrees, acknowledging that its coal plans will cost many billions but have no meaningful impact on climate even a century from now.

So how many columns out of 45 win approval from the Partnership for Responsible Growth, the new group paying for the Journal-baiting ad? Only two, describing the superiority of a carbon tax, the option the Partnership exists to plump for, compared to other climate nostrums.

Here’s what else I’ve learned in 20 years. Many advocates of climate policy are ignoramuses on the subject of climate science, and nothing about the Partnership for Economic Progress—founded by former Democratic congressman Walt Minnick plus a couple of big donors—breaks with this tradition.

Only a nincompoop would treat a complex set of issues like human impact on climate as a binary “yes/no” question—as the Partnership and many climate policy promoters do. Only an idiot would ask an alleged “expert” what he knows without showing any curiosity about how he knows it—a practice routine among climate-advocating journalists.

So Tom Gjelten, host of a recent NPR discussion of the Journal ad controversy, is completely satisfied when Matt Nisbet, a professor of communications studies at Northeastern University, explains, “On the fundamentals of climate science, there is absolutely no debates. The overwhelming majority of scientists . . . strongly agree that climate change is happening, that it’s human-caused and that it’s an urgent problem.”

Notice that he doesn’t cite any science but an (undocumented) agreement of people who agree with him, while conflating three very different questions.

To be sure, Prof. Nisbet then promptly covers his derrière and takes it all back, saying: “In the field, there is some disagreement on the pace of climate change, the severity, its specific impacts.”

By then the damage is done. The discussion proceeds on the basis that anybody who takes part in this disagreement about pace, severity and specific impacts is a denier and enemy of science.

Here’s what you also won’t learn from most climate reporting: Climate models that predict significant warming presume natural feedbacks that magnify the impact of human-released carbon dioxide by 100% to 400%. Models that presume no dominant feedbacks see warming of only about one degree Celsius over the entire course of a doubling of atmospheric CO2. Who knows what future scientific advances will reveal, but models that assume minimal feedback are more consistent with the warming seen so far—and remember, we’ve been burning coal for 200 years and accumulating temperature records for longer than that.

The U.S. political system gets a bad rap but has rationally concluded that it can’t sell large costs on this evidence. More to the point, never has it been the case that major legislation or policy departures are adopted only when all opposition and dissent are silenced. The premise of the assault on Exxon, the Journal, other campaigns against “deniers,” is worse than foolish. The climate crowd has turned to persecuting critics as a substitute for meaningful climate action because, as President Obama has acutely observed, voters won’t support their efforts to jack up energy prices.

Functionally, whatever advocates tell themselves, these attacks end up churning the waters and propagandizing for those niggling little things that actually can be enacted, having no impact on climate but lining the pockets of organized interests who return the favor with campaign donations.

That’s how our political system behaves, on climate and most other subjects—which perhaps explains why voters are so tired of the people who man our political system.

If the Wall Street Journal is selling $27,000 ads from Jenkins’ work, Jenkins either deserves a raise or a commission from the ads.

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