“Climate change, for many conservatives, is associated with fringe environmentalism and a political nemesis, [Al] Gore.”
“Climategate showed us what was behind the curtain,” said Robert Bradley…. There’s a whole lot of alarmism and a whole lot of scientific intolerance toward other views.”
– Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle, January 24, 2010.
Think back ten years ago, when a federal cap-and-trade bill passed the House and was before the Senate. And Climategate was just a few months old.
Today? Cap-and-trade remains dead as federal policy, and proposals for a carbon tax are not being pushed by Biden/Harris (Harris/Biden?) in the current debate. Climagate? Its ten-year anniversary last year brought forth numerous retrospectives, apologetic, critical, and harshly critical.
All this brings me to a January 2010 piece by Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle, Climate Change Activists Work to Regain Momentum. Back then, it was permitted to question the science of climate alarm even before considering public policy. Not today in the mainstream media, partly due to TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) in an election year.
Subtitled ‘From stable weather to e-mail controversy, the issue takes a hit,’ Berger’s January 2010 article quotes skeptics and alarmists, from me to my foe Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University. Also quoted is Neal Lane, climate alarmist at the Baker Institute at Rice University, another foe of academic freedom.
Berger’s balanced article follows.
The climate surrounding climate change has changed, and not for the better for those seeking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
First there’s public perception. Hurricane activity in every ocean last year was below normal. Global temperatures remain no warmer now than a decade ago. The Arctic Sea ice, at least temporarily, has modestly recovered. And the United States is having one of its coldest winters in a long time.
Then, in November, a slew of e-mails from a British climate center were released that appear to show, at the very best, unseemly behavior by top climate scientists. Branded Climategate, it only resulted in accusations that researchers are willing to cook the books and further eroded public trust in climate science.
For skeptics, the e-mails provided vindication.
“Climategate showed us what was behind the curtain,” said Robert Bradley, founder of the Institute for Energy Research in Houston. “There’s a whole lot of alarmism and a whole lot of scientific intolerance toward other views.”
Defenders of the scientists say the e-mails were in bad form, but don’t change the underlying edifice of climate change science.
Nevertheless, after holding steady at around 55 percent since 2007, the number of respondents to a CNN poll in December agreeing that “global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities” fell to 45 percent.
“The last few months have been a disaster,” said Chris Mooney, author of Unscientific America and a liberal blogger on science and politics.
Then there are the policy problems. After a decade of preparation, efforts to reach a global treaty in Copenhagen last month to reduce carbon emissions resulted in weak, nonbinding promises that were assailed by grass-roots environmental organizations.
Domestically, after narrowly passing the House in June, the Senate version of the Waxman-Markey legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions remains bottled up, with President Barack Obama and Democrats having spent much of their political capital on health care, which itself remains in limbo.
“Health care has essentially sucked all of the oxygen out of the room,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University.
Back to the Senate
If advocates of immediate action on climate change have lost their momentum, where do they go from here? How did they lose the momentum? And can they get it back?
For now, attention shifts to the Senate, which is expected to consider a bill similar to that passed by the House last year. “I think it’s very important for the Senate to act,” said Joe Romm, editor of the prominent climate blog climateprogress.org.
“The Senate has to pass a bill with a shrinking cap on greenhouse gases. You’ve got to have that if you want to solve the global warming problem, and any global deal is contingent upon U.S. action.”
On the plus side for advocates, it is true that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that carbon dioxide was a pollutant in December, and will issue rules to regulate it this spring. But analysts say the EPA ruling will likely come under heavy litigation, which is why they say a Senate bill is critical.
“I don’t know if we’ll get it, but I think that’s where all eyes should be looking,” Mooney said.
The Senate is split largely along partisan lines, with the support of some Democrats from coal-producing and industrial states uncertain. It will be an uphill battle to get a bill passed during a down economy, said Neal Lane, a physicist at Rice University who served as then-President Bill Clinton‘s science adviser.
The perception problems began years ago, said Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado who has been critical of climate change advocates.
Early on the decision was made to push climate change as an environmental issue rather than to promote developing clean energy technologies to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, he said.
“I think the issue was botched from the get-go when it became a niche issue rather than an issue of common interest,” he said.
Through much of the last decade, including campaigns after Al Gore‘s film An Inconvenient Truth, the emphasis was on making lifestyle changes, from reducing energy use to traveling less.
“People feel threatened when they’re told they’re going to have to change their lives,” Pielke said.
Looking to Energy Sector
The emphasis on making sacrifices to save the planet is now changing to domestic energy and clean energy jobs. The climate bill that passed the House was titled the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, and the Senate version is called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.
But it may be too late. Climate change, for many conservatives, is associated with fringe environmentalism and a political nemesis, Gore.
Also, the early tendency of scientists and environmentalists to emphasize weather events, from destructive hurricanes like Katrina to deadly heat waves, has backfired as skeptics can do the same with quiet hurricane seasons and record cold snaps.
“What is facing the major population centers of the northern hemisphere is unlike anything that we have seen since the global warming debate got to the absurd level it is now,” Accuweather meteorologist Joe Bastardi, a skeptic, wrote in forecasting the early January plunge of Arctic air into the U.S.
A third, significant factor has been a campaign against scientists, said James Hoggan, author of Climate Cover-Up, a book that attempts to document industry tactics to sow uncertainty about the scientific community’s view of climate change.
“It’s because of this confusion campaign that’s been undertaken by right-wing think tanks and industry front groups over the last couple of decades, but really something that’s heated up over the past 12 months,” Hoggan said.
Dessler, the A&M scientist, said scientists are fundamentally bad at public relations, and as a group they can be poor communicators.
On the other side, he said, are professional communicators like Marc Morano who runs the prominent skeptic Web site climatedepot.com and is a former spokesman for the Senate’s top climate skeptic, Sen. James Inhofe.
“When scientists are up against people who spin information professionally, it’s just a wipeout,” Dessler said. “It’s an NFL team playing a high school team.”
Morano and other skeptic bloggers say they are simply providing an outlet for climate news unfiltered by a biased mass media.
Where climate advocates go from here is the subject of some debate. Despite its unpopularity on the left, larger environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund are behind efforts to pass a Senate bill.
Scientists also need to play their part, said Lane, the Rice physicist. He said a broad coalition of the major scientific and professional organizations, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the American Medical Association, must move a coherent climate policy forward and find a bipartisan solution.
The Breakthrough Institute, a policy think tank, says politicians need to abandon the hope that solar and wind energy will soon compete with coal on price, and instead commit significant finances to develop low-carbon energy technologies that are cheap, clean and abundant.
And then there’s the skeptics who say we needn’t do anything at all, lest we take a wrecking ball to an already fragile economy.