A Gathering Storm
The scientific basis of climate hysteria is eroding, but that’s not stopping Obama’s crushing regulations.


Kathleen Hartnett White

‘The debate is settled,” said the president in his State of the Union address. “Climate change is a fact.” But of course there is no debate about whether climate change is a fact: The debate is now about whether human emissions of greenhouse gases cause weather events of unprecedented intensity. President Obama argued that stringent new limits on coal-fired power plants are urgently needed “because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.” So less coal-fired electrical generation will help us avoid droughts and floods? Heedless of the absurd stretch in his own argument, the president presses on.

While the climate-science community acknowledges increasing uncertainty about the human influence on climate, the president doubles down on what he calls the “unequivocal” dictates of science. Inconvenient facts and crushing costs have led Australia, Britain, Germany, and other countries to pull back on carbon sanctions, and yet our president’s initiatives expand. And although the reach of the president’s dictates may be limited by law in most of the federal domain, broad executive action without a congressionally legislated foundation is no problem with today’s Environmental Protection Agency’s aggressive application of the broad terms of the 40-year-old Clean Air Act to protect health and welfare.

The fatal flaws in President Obama’s current climate policies were on display recently at a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, at which I was invited to testify about EPA’s role in the plan. Most of the four-hour hearing was devoted not to scientific evidence but to conclusory statements by the sharply divided members of the committee. The shrill tone of statements from the left side of the dais represented evangelism for the Church of Climate Change. Member after member dogmatically proclaimed that this scientific creed was beyond dispute: Destructive climate change caused by human activity is upon us now, and aggressive action is needed regardless of the cost.

The other side of the room appropriately drew attention to developments in climate science that cast doubt on the basic theory of dangerous anthropogenic global warming, the theory that is being driven by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Even the “official” IPCC has admitted, in its recent Fifth Assessment Report, that the 16-year lull in warming temperatures since 1998 weakens the IPCC’s scientific case that man-made greenhouse gases dominate natural forces of climate such as the sun. The premise of the last 25 years of IPCC science is that the earth’s climate is highly sensitive to the relatively small amount of CO2 that man’s use of fossil fuels adds to the natural atmospheric CO2. That premise, however, is increasingly hard to square with the evidence now gained by physical measurements (as opposed to the projections of modeling).

Most amusing is the alarmists’ increasing preoccupation with “extreme weather events.” Members insisted that severe weather of any stripe proves that human activity is causing a “catastrophe unfolding before our eyes” and thus, aggressive government action is needed “with the fierce urgency of now.” The president also now focuses on bad weather when imposing carbon chastity by executive action. As he stated in his second inaugural address: “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but no one can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”

In this conflation of weather and climate, the Left implicitly concedes that its speculative theory of dangerous warming is not as compelling as it once seemed. Hence, it changes the nomenclature from “global warming” to “climate change” and now to “climate disruption.” The president’s climate plan encourages a host of government actions to make the weather more “stable” and “resilient,” as if federal regulations could wish hurricanes away.

Although typically stereotyped as “anti-science,” the more skeptical members were well armed with scientific data. U.S. government records from the last century show that tornados, storms, droughts, wildfires, etc. have been neither more intense nor more frequent in recent years. Dr. Judith Curry, chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Atmospheric Sciences, testified that the belief that recent extreme weather is unprecedented results from “weather amnesia.” She said: “In the U.S., most types of weather extremes were worse in the 1930s and even in the 1950s, while the weather was overall more benign in the 1970s. . . . The extremes of the 1930s and 1950s are not attributable to greenhouse warming and are associated with natural climate variability.”