Last week I flew from California to visit inside-the-Beltway family and friends for Thanksgiving. That’s always a recipe for a lot of political discussions, and, as you might imagine my view that Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet isn’t something most Washingtonians are expecting to hear.
The most interesting conversation was with an extremely prestigious scholar specializing in the supposedly disastrous impacts of CO2-induced catastrophic global warming.
It was a fascinating illustration of “Climate Scientology”—my term for the practice of treating anti-fossil-fuel climate scientists as religious authorities—because even this leading “authority” couldn’t defend his position without incessant appeals to authority (including his own).
Here’s how it went—I’ll call the prestigious scholar PS.
- PS: Obviously the most important energy policy is a big tax on carbon.
- AE: Really? Why do you think increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from .03% to .04% is such a big deal that we need to make energy a lot more expensive?
- PS: Because that’s what the scientists say.
- AE: I’m not sure which scientists you’re talking about. Who exactly is saying what, and most importantly, what’s their evidence for their position?
- PS: Well, I’m not a scientist, I listen to the scientists, and they say that the greenhouse effect is non-linear…we’re hitting a dangerous tipping point.
- AE: Wait, do you know how the greenhouse effect works? You said it’s not linear, which is true, but you’re implying that it’s an accelerating effect whereas it’s actually decelerating or logarithmic effect, which means that each molecule of CO2 has less impact than the last. That’s the opposite of a tipping point.
- PS: I’ve never heard that before.
- AE: Well isn’t that a big problem? You’re a highly educated person and have never been taught what the greenhouse effect is.
- PS: But look, I listen to the scientists. If 98% of doctors told me that I was sick and just a few disagreed, I’d listen to the 98%.
- AE: Really? I would want be clear on what exactly those doctors agree on and what their reasons were, otherwise I could do something very wrong. For example, this claim you’ve heard that 98% of scientists agree on your view of climate is 100% false. More than 98% agree that there’s a greenhouse effect—they don’t all agree there’s a big problem, let alone that we should make energy more expensive like you favor. It’s not fair to claim that everyone agrees with your views—what I’m looking for is the evidence.
- PS: Look, what I’m really an expert on is economics and development, and I know that poor people are suffering a lot from this.
- AE: Wait, if you’re concerned about development, do you agree that affordable energy is the fuel of development and making energy more expensive will make people much poorer and more vulnerable? Why not encourage them to start using a lot of energy?
- PS: We know that people are becoming more in danger of climate all the time because these CO2 emissions are going to hit a tipping point and the arctic is melting and the oceans are changing and (insert 10 other claims here).
- AE: Okay, so that’s a big melange of claims. One thing we need to be able to do is put magnitudes on things to see how big of a deal they are, and look at the big picture. So my question is: Are people on average becoming more in danger from climate or in less danger from climate?
- PS: Well, I don’t know.
- AE: But isn’t that the thing everyone should know? Actually, people are becoming dramatically safer from climate, even over the last 30 years as reports make it seem more dangerous. And the more energy we get, including energy from fossil fuels, the safer we are.
- PS: I’ve never heard that. Send me your sources.
- AE: I will.
I sent him a link to my book, which includes data on the decline in climate-related deaths over the last 30 years, and an explanation of how climate works and why contemporary climate models—on which predictions of disaster are based—have no scientific validity. I’ll be interested in the response.
I wish it was a surprise that an internationally-regarded scholar could spend much of his adult life using his prestige to persuade people about the dangers of the greenhouse effect and neither a) know what the greenhouse effect is nor b) quantify those dangers.
But I’ve engaged enough of these scholars to know that it’s commonplace to substitute authorities for explanations—especially if you hold the politically correct position. In this case, the scholar was ignorant of the greenhouse effect because he never asked his preferred scientific “authorities” for a truly compelling explanation—and he was ignorant of our ever-safer climate because he had never challenged his own authority by rigorously thinking through the issues himself.