by Judith Curry
Liberals and environmentalists would do well to take on board the categorical imperative of climate policy from a conservative point of view, namely, that whatever policies are developed, they must be compatible with individual liberty and democratic institutions, and cannot rely on coercive or unaccountable bureaucratic administration. – Steven Hayward
I met Steven Hayward last April while I was in Boulder – he has just finished serving a one year stint as the Inaugural Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy. He was visiting from his position at the American Enterprise Institute. Hayward also blogs regularly for powerline.
Conservatism and Climate Science
Hayward has written an article in Issues in Science and Technology entitled Conservatism and Climate Science. The article is over 5000 words, some excerpts to give you a flavor:
Conservative skepticism is less about science per se than its claims to usefulness in the policy realm. This skepticism combines with the older liberal view—that is, the view that values individual freedoms above all else—that the concentration of discretionary political power required for nearly all schemes of comprehensive social or economic management are a priori suspect. Today that older liberal view is the core of political conservatism. Put more simply or directly, the conservative distrust of authority based on claims of superior scientific knowledge reflects a distrust of the motives of those who make such claims, and thus a mistrust of the validity of the claims themselves.
Here the political naiveté of scientists does their cause a disservice with everyone; the energy policy of both political parties since the first energy shocks of the 1970s has been essentially a frivolous farce of special interest favoritism and wishful thinking, with little coherence and even less long-term care for the kind of genuine energy innovation necessary to address prospective climate change on the extreme range of the long-run projections.
The first point to grasp is that conservatives—or least the currently dominant libertarian strain of the right—ironically have a more open-ended outlook toward the future than contemporary liberals. The point here is not to sneak in climate skepticism, but policy skepticism, as the future is certain to unfold in unforeseen ways, with seemingly spontaneous and disruptive changes occurring outside the view or prior command of our political class.
More broadly, however, it is not necessary to be any kind of climate skeptic to be highly critical of the narrow, dreamlike quality the entire issue took on from its earliest moments. Future historians are likely to regard as a great myopic mistake the collective decision to treat climate change as more or less a large version of traditional air pollution, to be attacked with the typical emissions control policies—sort of a global version of the Clean Air Act. Likewise the diplomatic framework, a cross between arms control, trade liberalization, and the successful Montreal Protocol, was poorly suited to climate change and destined the Kyoto Protocol model to certain failure from the outset.
If ever there was an issue that required patient and fresh thinking, it was climate change 25 years ago. The modern world, especially those still billions of people striving to escape energy poverty, demands abundant amounts of cheap energy, and no amount of wishful thinking (or government subsidies or mandates) will change this. The right conceptual understanding of the problem is that we need large-scale low- and non-carbon energy sources that are cheaper than hydrocarbon energy. Unfortunately, no one knows how to do this. No one seems to know how to solve immigration, poor results from public education, or the problem of generating faster economic growth either, but we haven’t locked ourselves into a single policy framework that one must either be for or against in the same way that we have done for climate policy. Environmentalists and policy makers alike crave certainty about the policy results ahead of us, and an emphasis on innovation, even when stripped of the technological fetishes and wishful thinking that has plagued much of our energy R&D investments, cannot provide any degree of certainty about paths and rates of progress. But it was a fatally poor choice to emphasize, almost to the exclusion of any other frameworks, a policy framework based on making conventional hydrocarbon energy, upon which the world depends utterly for its well-being, more expensive and artificially scarce. This might make some emissions headway in rich industrial nations, although it hasn’t in most of them, but won’t get far in the poorer nations of the world. Subsidizing expensive renewable energy is a self-defeating mugs game, as many European nations are currently recognizing.
While we stumble along trying to find breakthrough energy technologies with a low likelihood of success in the near and intermediate term, a more primary conservative orientation comes into view. The best framework for addressing large-scale disruptions from any cause or combination of causes is building adaptive resiliency. As the British historian Thomas Macaulay wrote in 1830, “On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”To suggest human beings can’t cope with slow moving climate change is astonishingly pessimistic, and the relentless soundings of the apocalypse have done more to undermine public interest in the issue than the efforts of the skeptical community.
One caveat here is the specter of a sudden “tipping point” leading to a rapid shift in climate conditions, perhaps over a period of mere decades. To be sure, our capacity to respond to sudden tipping points is doubtful; consider the problematic reaction to the tipping point of September 11, 2001, or the geopolitical paroxysms induced by the tipping point reached in July 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The climate community would be correct to object that the open-ended and uncertain orientation I have sketched here would likely be adequate for preparing for such a sudden change—but then again neither was the Kyoto Protocol approach that they so avidly supported.
Hayward recently published an article in the Weekly Standard, excerpts:
While climate skeptics are denounced for mentioning “uncertainty,” the terms “uncertain” and “uncertainty” appear 173 times, while “error” and “errors” appear 192 times, in the 218-page chapter on climate models in the latest IPCC report released last September. As the IPCC admits, “there remain significant errors in the model simulation of clouds. It is very likely that these errors contribute significantly to the uncertainties in estimates of cloud feedbacks and consequently in the climate change projections.” The IPCC’s latest report rates the confidence of our understanding of clouds and aerosols as “low,” and allows that it is possible that clouds could cancel out most of the warming effect of greenhouse gases. If anything, our uncertainty about future climate change has increased with each new IPCC report.
The IPCC modeling chapter, which virtually no reporter reads, is also candid in admitting that most of the models have overpredicted recent warming. The 17-years-and-counting plateau in global average temperature, following two decades of a nearly 0.4 degree increase in temperature that boosted the warming narrative for a time, is the biggest embarrassment for a supposed scientific “consensus” since Piltdown Man. The basic theory says we’re supposed to continue warming at about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, but since the late 1990s we’ve stopped. They’ve been scrambling ever since, offering a variety of explanations, but none of them can minimize the fact that nearly all of the models failed to predict a “pause” of this length, and if the “pause” continues for another 5 to 10 years, all of the models will be falsified.
Where is the missing heat? The climateers are certain it is going into the deep ocean, and while this is a plausible theory, we have very little data to substantiate the hypothesis, and still less understanding of how this might play out in the future if it is happening. Other explanations for the pause include western Pacific wind patterns, aerosols, and solar variation. (This last explanation is ironic, since the climateers have been adamant up to now that solar variation plays very little role in climate change.) Some or all of these may be factors, but the difficulty the climate community is having provides reason to doubt their grasp of a matter we are consistently assured is “settled.”
Yet organized opposition to climate change fanaticism is tiny compared with the swollen staffs and huge marketing budgets of the major environmental organizations, not to mention the government agencies around the world that have thrown in with them on the issue. The main energy trade associations seldom speak up about climate science controversies. The major conservative think tanks have no climate change programs to speak of. The Cato Institute devotes just two people to the issue. The main opposition to climate fanaticism is confined to the Heartland Institute, the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a scattering of relentless bloggers who have acquired surprisingly large readerships. That’s it. These are boutique operations next to the environmental establishment: The total budgets for all of these efforts would probably not add up to a month’s spending by just the Sierra Club. And yet we are to believe that this comparatively small effort has kept the climate change agenda at bay.
The EPA touts enormous health benefits from its emissions targets, all of them from reducing conventional air pollution such as ozone smog and fine particles. But there is one benefit conspicuously missing: There is no claim that the regulations will affect climate change. If anyone bothers to run full compliance with the new regulations through one of the computer climate models, the temperature difference in the year 2100 would be perhaps .02 degrees Celsius.
Anyone who seriously thinks climate change is an imminent crisis threatening humanity will scoff at the EPA’s proposed policy, but there has been barely a peep from the climate establishment. Al Gore gave away the game when he used the term “symbolic” to describe the EPA proposal.
After all the sound and fury of the last few months, where does the issue of climate change stand? The cruel irony for the climateers is that the more they hype the apocalypse of future climate change, the more farcically inadequate are their proposed remedies. Global primary energy demand is going to double over the next generation, and there is no one who thinks hydrocarbons—especially coal—aren’t going to play a large role in providing this energy, especially in developing nations. If catastrophic climate change is somewhere in our future, the only serious remedy is to deploy new sources of affordable and abundant non- or low-carbon energy. The EPA plan does little in service of a serious energy transition; to the contrary, to the extent that it props up the inferior current renewable technologies such as wind, solar, and biomass, it will retard serious efforts to develop breakthrough energy sources.
Hayward hits hard, and makes some good points. Now, let me give you title, subtitle and opening paragraph of Haywards article:
Has the desperate global warming crusade reached its Waterloo?
Instead of confronting the fact that their cause has foundered mostly of its own dead weight—and the sheer fantasy of proposals for near-term replacement of hydrocarbon energy—the climate campaigners have steadily ratcheted up their bad-faith arguments and grasping authoritarianism. The result is a catalogue of exaggerated claims and appalling clichés, the most egregious being the refrain that “97 percent of scientists ‘believe in’ climate change.” This dubious talking point elides seamlessly into the implication that scientists should strive for unanimity and link arms in full support of the environmentalists’ carbon-suppression agenda.
Does this change your impression of the article? I suspect that this is a litmus test for something (not sure what).
Yesterday, I tweeted the title and link to this article. Here are some of the responses:
There’s Physics @theresphysics Oh yes, let’s call people we disagree with “Cultists”. That’s a good idea!
Victor Venema @VariabilityBlog: Then it get’s even better: crusaders, clinically mad, worship of authority, Salem witch trial-style intimidation. :(
rick woollams @RickWoollams They can’t find any actual working scientists to write crap like this.
Catalin Caranfil @CatalinCaranfil Text not stronger but reinforces bad ‘gut feelings’, enhances #circlejerk denial
Catalin Caranfil @CatalinCaranfil Errors intentional, all about how to pledge allegiance to the right-wing bubble!
Gavin Schmidt @ClimateOfGavin One despairs at the state of conservative scholarship… Can they not do better?
The following two tweets deserve a response:
Raoul De Guchteneere @rdegucht 4h
I tried, but stopped at “… water vapor “feedbacks” (clouds in ordinary language)” WTF @CColose @theresphysics @VariabilityBlog
Victor Venema @VariabilityBlog 4h
Like me @curryja was a cloud researcher. For me that error almost produced physical pain.
The text in question is:
In other words, despite billions spent on climate research and the development of enormously complex computer models, we are no closer to predictive precision than we were 110 years ago. The computer models are still too crude and limited, especially about the crucial question of water vapor “feedbacks” (clouds in ordinary language), to spit out the answers we’re looking for. We can fiddle with the models all we want, and perhaps end up with one that might produce a correct prediction, but we can never be sure so long as our understanding of water vapor behavior remains sketchy.
Well of course ‘clouds’ are not ‘water vapor.’ I suspect what happened is that the editor said “what the heck is water vapor feedback”, and Hayward figured the simplest way to get past this was to say “clouds in ordinary language.” As a cloud physicist with with a new book on the topic in press Thermodynamics, Kinetics, and Microphysics of Clouds, am I offended by what Hayward said? Well apart from my inference on the editorial response, I have long stated that it makes little physical sense to separate the fast atmospheric thermodynamic feedback processes – water vapor, cloud, lapse rate.
So, does Hayward’s statement count as an ‘error’? Well, that is in the eye of the beholder. If I had been writing this piece, I wouldn’t have even tried to include ‘water vapor feedback.’ But if one does count it as an error, it is far less egregious than the numerous errors in Obama’s and Kerry’s public statements about climate change. Is one arguable error of terminology sufficient to dismiss all of Hayward’s arguments? Well, if you are looking for an excuse . . .
Steven Hayward is an interesting and increasingly prominent voice on climate change from the conservative perspective. He is clearly not a ‘denier’ – more of a lukewarmer, with a preference for adaptation policies.
I find the comparison of Hayward’s two essays to be interesting. The Weekly Standard piece uses inflammatory words that have clearly piqued the ire of those on the other side of the policy debate. The phrase ‘climate cultist’ may be the best one I’ve seen to counter the epithet of ‘denier’. So, by one standard, Hayward’s Weekly Standard article is a bit over the top; but by the standard of say the daily op-eds in the Guardian on climate change, it is pretty much comparable.
There is a lesson in Hayward’s Weekly Standard essay for those on the other side of the climate debate – inflammatory words make you stop reading (which was your reaction to the title and first paragraph of Hayward’s article). So when you rail on about the Koch brothers funded denial machine, the people that you would most like to reach tune out and turn off. Use of inflammatory words is useful in preaching to the converted, if that is your goal, but it does nothing to influence people on the other side of the debate and turns off the undecided and more reasonable people.
So if you think that there is justification for calling people ‘deniers’, there is arguably as much justification for calling people ‘cultists’ – if the shoes doesn’t fit then don’t wear it. So there are two approaches – filter out the name calling garbage and try to figure out what people are actually saying, or stop the name calling. I doubt the name calling will stop – and the conservatives have just come up with a stinging new name. An interesting development in the ‘climate wars.’