Climate Denial Finally Pays Off

  • Date: 29/06/16
  • Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., The Wall Street Journal

A series of Journal editorial page-bashing ads shows the climate cause in mid-crackup

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 increase in 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.

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