The United Nations Climate Summit will begin in New York this Tuesday, but environmental activists didn’t wait. All day Sunday, they filled the streets of Manhattan for a march that featured Al Gore, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, and various Hollywood actors.
But they certainly didn’t act like a movement that was winning. There was a tone of fatalism in the comments of many with whom I spoke; they despair that the kind of radical change they advocate probably won’t result from the normal democratic process. It’s no surprise then that the rhetoric of climate-change activists has become increasingly hysterical. Naomi Klein, author of a new book on the “crisis,” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, said, “I have seen the future, and it looks like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.” In her new book she demands that North America and Europe pay reparations to poorer countries to compensate for the climate change they cause. She calls her plan a “Marshall Plan for the Earth” and acknowledges that it would cost “hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars.” But she has an easy solution on how to pay for it: “Need more money? Print some!” What’s a little hyperinflation compared to “saving the planet”?
Nor is Klein alone in her hysteria. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is releasing a new film in which he warns that the world is threatened by a “carbon monster” that is treated like a kind of Godzilla that must be killed off by ending the use of carbon-based fuels.
One reason the rhetoric has become so overheated is that the climate-change activists increasingly lack a scientific basis for their most exaggerated claims. As physicist Gordon Fulks of the Cascade Policy Institute puts it: “CO2 is said to be responsible for global warming that is not occurring, for accelerated sea-level rise that is not occurring, for net glacial and sea-ice melt that is not occurring . . . and for increasing extreme weather that is not occurring.” He points out that there has been no net new global-warming increase since 1997 even though the human contribution to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 25 percent since then. This throws into doubt all the climate models that have been predicting massive climate dislocation.
Other scientists caution that climate models must be regarded with great care and skepticism. Steven Koonin, the undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Obama’s first term, wrote a pathbreaking piece in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal in which he concluded:
We often hear that there is a “scientific consensus” about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influence. . . . The models roughly describe the shrinking extent of Arctic sea ice observed over the past two decades, but they fail to describe the comparable growth of Antarctic sea ice, which is now at a record high. . . . Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties, but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.
Even scientists who accept the conventional scientific treatment of the subject by the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change increasingly question just how much it would help to curb emissions or to radically redistribute wealth, as activists like Klein urge us to do. Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, told me that all of the carbon-reduction targets advocated by the U.N. or the European Union would result in imperceptible differences in temperature, at enormous cost. “We would be far better off and richer if we did simple things like painting roofs in hot climates white and investing in new technologies that could help us adapt to any change that is coming,” he says. Even the U.N.’s own climate panel admits that so far, climate change hasn’t included any increase in the frequency or intensity of so-called extreme weather.
At the Heartland Institute’s Ninth International Conference on Climate Change last July, I ran into scientist after scientist who felt that the debate was finally going against the climate extremists. Several noted that the conference’s organizers were on the offense and gaining real ground. Roy Spencer, a former senior scientist for climate studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, described the shift in opinion on his blog:
For many years we had been hearing from the “scientific consensus” side that natural climate change is nowhere near as strong as human-caused warming . . . yet the lack of surface warming in 17 years has forced those same scientists to now invoke natural climate change to supposedly cancel out the expected human-caused warming!
C’mon guys. You can’t have it both ways! They fail to see that a climate system capable of cancelling out warming with natural cooling is also capable of causing natural warming in the first place. . . . To me, it feels like a climate skepticism tipping point has been reached.
Maybe that’s why the climate-change extremists are basing fewer of their appeals on fact and more on hysteria. You scream the loudest when the opposition is about to tip over on you and pin you down.
— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.