The public could use an honest debate.
By PETE DU PONT
Feb. 27, 2014 3:24 p.m. ET THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Global warming is back. Not actual global warming, as the decade-long trend of little to no increase in temperatures continues. But the topic of global warming is back in the news. From Secretary of State John Kerry's recent climate comments in Jakarta to the White House's 2014 "year of action" plan on carbon emissions, global warming has garnered more ink and pixels than we've seen in a while.
It's an open question whether this renewed emphasis reflects sincere concern about global warming or is just the Obama administration playing to part of its base prior to the midterm elections. Either way, the White House and the eco-left must be disappointed by polls that continue to show Americans do not share their sense of urgency. Even though many believe some warming exists and is at least partly anthropogenic, the vast majority consider it a low priority. In a January Pew Research poll, climate change was ranked 19th out of 20 items for the president and Congress to address.
The warming alarmists might earn more support if they acted less like they had something to hide and actually allowed open debate. Perhaps they could respond to their critics rationally instead of reflexively branding them heretics, suitable for whatever is the modern university and research center equivalent of burning at the stake. Real science does not fear those who challenge it, does not work to have challengers' articles banned from science journals, and does not compare skeptics to Holocaust deniers or, as Mr. Kerry did in Jakarta, members of the "Flat Earth Society."
A movement with confidence in its scientific theories would be able to admit there are many climate factors beyond carbon dioxide that are not yet well understood, and that some climate models have been shown to be unreliable. Such a movement would not downplay or whitewash leaked emails evincing the possibility of massaged data. When it criticizes its skeptics as hired guns of the fossil-fuel industry who are influenced by money, it would be willing to acknowledge that it thrives on government and private funding that would shrink if its research did not continue to say warming is here and getting worse. And there would be more confessions such as Al Gore's belated acknowledgment that his support for ethanol was misguided.
All that might not be easy, but what comes next would be downright difficult. The alarmists must admit that every policy decision involves an equation and that polices directed at reducing carbon emissions come with costs. Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, just issued a study that points to European Union climate polices (renewable energy subsidies and mandates, as well as a carbon cap-and-trade scheme) as a significant reason the 27 EU nations pay on average more than twice what we pay in the U.S. per residential kilowatt-hour of electricity, with Germany paying three times as much. Following such policies in the U.S. would shrink our economy as it would cost more not just to run our homes, but to power our offices and factories and operate our schools and hospitals. It's fine if the alarmists feel these higher costs and the impact on jobs and our economy are worth bearing, but they need to admit these negative impacts and justify them to the public.
Finally, the alarmists must admit that it is not certain their policies would significantly reduce the rising temperatures they predict. They need to admit that, for some of them, their policy prescriptions are really about control of our economy. Many want government control of the energy sector because they ideologically prefer it to free markets. Some want to stifle economic growth in America in a foolish and counterproductive attempt at achieving global economic equality.
Those who sincerely hold to such views must share their reasoning and try to justify it openly instead of keeping it hidden. A strong U.S. economy does much good throughout the world, including the billions spent combating the horrific AIDS epidemic in Africa and driving other humanitarian efforts—safe drinking water, malaria prevention, etc.—funded by the government and by private contributions and efforts. The alarmists need to acknowledge their policies would sentence more of our world's poor to poverty, disease and premature death.
To be sure, the science is not settled. The alarmists may be correct about projected warming. They may be correct that the costs of their proposed policies would be worth it if those policies avoid some of the negative impacts of that projected warming. If they truly feel they are right, they have an even greater responsibility to drop their insular and defensive attitude and debate these issues openly.