MARK W. HENDRICKSON
For over 20 years, a number of politicians have sought to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and/or raise taxes on such fuels for the stated purpose of trying to save the world from catastrophic climate change. They insist that scientific research has proved conclusively the validity of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis which is now called “climate change.” Increasingly, people have their doubts about whether this is so.
Why? I don’t think it is because people don’t respect science. On the contrary, people generally have a high regard for science due to the multitude of ways science has benefited the human race. What many people distrust is the palpable politicization of science by climate alarmists.
People naturally have had trouble enough believing the alarmist line that carbon dioxide inevitably raises global temperatures. The simple reason for this belief is that there has been no global warming for the past 16 years in spite of rising atmospheric concentrations of CO2. However, the alarmists have shot themselves in the foot, weakening their case and diminishing their own credibility by their own misconduct.
The so-called “climategate” scandal of a few years ago cost the alarmists dearly in terms of lost credibility. The more than 1,000 emails that came to light showed a pattern of manipulation and dishonesty on the part of leading British and American scientists. In the words of E. Calvin Beisner, the emails provided shocking evidence of “serious scientific malfeasance–the fabrication, corruption, destruction, hiding, and cherry-picking of data … intimidation of dissenting scientists and journal editors … and efforts to evade disclosure under Freedom of Information Laws in the United Kingdom and the United States.” That scandal was followed a few weeks later by charges from Russia’s Institute of Economic Analysis accusing Britain’s Meteorological Office of deliberately editing Russia’s temperature data to skew the results.
Anecdotal reports over a period of decades reveal a pronounced tendency by alarmists—whether politicians, scientists, or journalists—to crush or censor dissent. Politicians have purged government offices of dissenters. As William Perry Pendley writes in his excellent new book, “Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today,” this has been going on at least since 1977, when the Carter administration fired Dr. Vincent McKelvey, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, for daring to write that there was an abundant untapped supply of oil at a time when the president was trying to advance a “running out of oil” scenario.
Scientists and even professors in social sciences have told of colleagues or university officials warning them that non-alarmist research could damage their careers or cause the loss of a government grant. In his book “Eco-Tyranny,” Brian Sussman exposed the Society of Environmental Journalists, a group that provides lists of scientists that either are recommended for interviews (alarmists) or not recommended (skeptics).
Politicized science is very much in evidence in the tactics of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is widely regarded by alarmists and provides the final say on the science invoked to justify costly and disruptive policy changes. The IPCC unequivocally makes the case for potentially catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, right? As the commercial says, “Not exactly.”
For example, the IPCC’s 2007 report stated that it is “very likely” that human activity is causing global warming. Why then, just two months later, did the vice chair of the IPCC, Yuri Izrael, write, “the panic over global warming is totally unjustified … There is no serious threat to the climate … [humanity is] hypothetically … more threatened by cold than by global warming?” Why did Dr. Vincent Gray, a member of the IPCC’s expert reviewers’ panel assert, “there is no relationship between warming and level of gases in the atmosphere”?
The discrepancy between the IPCC’s reports and some of its leading scientists is explained by certain facts. Rule three of IPCC procedures states, “Documents should involve both peer review by experts and review by governments.” The IPCC’s policymaker summaries (the ones the media rely upon) are produced by a committee of approximately 50 government appointees, many of whom are not scientists. (Remember: it’s an “intergovernmental,” i.e., political, body, not a scientific body.) Those political appointees are given considerable latitude to modify the scientific reports.
Another fact appears on page four of Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work. It states, “Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group of the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.” According to reports in the U.K.’s The Telegraph and other news outlets, leaks of the soon to be released Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC document reveal that the policy making committee has requested approximately 1,500 changes in the text on behalf of the government leaders they represent. Would you want to bet on the scientific integrity of such a report?
It is clear that politicians are willing to go to great lengths to produce the best “science” money can buy in order to “prove” the need for major action on the climate change front. In fact, our own government alone has spent tens of billions of dollars in support of “climate change.” Why do both the UN and American liberals support the alarmist scenario so strongly? Part of their agenda is to redistribute wealth by curbing American energy consumption (the more energy a society consumes, the wealthier it tends to be) and part of it is the fact that western governments are desperate for more revenue to fund their ambitious wealth redistribution plans. A tax on energy would be the mother of all excise taxes, producing an immense stream of additional government revenues.
So, when we read reports (this again from The Telegraph) about a “recent survey of 12,000 academic papers on climate change [that] found 97 percent agree human activities are causing the planet to warm,” should we be swayed or persuaded? First, one would want to know if the added warmth is significant or negligible. Second, one would need to know more about how and why those particular papers were selected. Were they selected by random, or perhaps cherry-picked, using a list like the Society of Environmental Journalists’ list of who “the good guys” are? It would be crucial to know how many of those papers were produced by individuals or institutions that received government grants in support of their work. What is the percentage of papers on climate change that were produced by those not receiving government grants concluded that human activity is warming the planet significantly?
Even if 97 percent of academic papers come to similar conclusions, that doesn’t mean they are correct. In my profession, economics, the majority of economists believed in the benefits of large-scale government control over economic activity and many even believed that socialism was the path to a more prosperous future, only to have their academic theories exploded by subsequent events.
Here is the bottom line: If we truly want public policies grounded on sound science, our best chance is to get government money out of the process. Science, like religion, is a search for truth (the main difference being that scientists are seeking physical truth whereas religionists often are more concerned with metaphysical truth). The U.S. has a well-established tradition of keeping church and state separate for the purpose of preventing religion from being corrupted by politics. That is as it should be. The contorted political shenanigans and, yes, corruptions, of climate science make it plain that it is now time to erect a wall of separation between science and state. Science is too important for us to allow it to be hijacked by political and economic special interests. It is time to remove federal funding from scientific research, liberate scientific research from political influence, get scientists off the federal gravy train, and let the market decide what scientific work is worthy of being funded. The statement, “we’re toast,” is far more likely to be true if politics dominates science than from using fossil fuels to improve our lives.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Mark Hendrickson, is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College, where he has taught since 2004. He is also a Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with The Center for Vision & Values, for which he writes regular commentaries. He is a contributing editor of The St. Croix Review, sits on the Council of Scholars of the Commonwealth Foundation, and writes the weekly “No Panaceas” column in the Op/Ed section of Forbes.com. Mark’s published books include: America’s March Toward Communism (1987); The Morality of Capitalism (editor, 1992); Famous But Nameless: Inspiration and Lessons from the Bible’s Anonymous Characters (2011); and God and Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism (with Craig Columbus, 2012). Mark Hendrickson’s Archives at The Moral Liberal.