Saturday, March 1, 2014

WSJ: Why climate-change activists are losing the battle for public opinion

Jenkins: Personal Score-Settling Is the New Climate Agenda

The cause of global carbon regulation may be lost, but enemies still can be punished.

Business World columnist Holman Jenkins Jr. on why climate-change activists are losing the battle for public opinion

Feb. 28, 2014 6:56 p.m. ET THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Surely, some kind of ending is upon us. Last week climate protesters demanded the silencing of Charles Krauthammer for a Washington Post column that notices uncertainties in the global warming hypothesis. In coming weeks a libel trial gets under way brought by Penn State's Michael Mann, author of the famed hockey stick, against National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writer Rand Simberg and roving commentator Mark Steyn for making wisecracks about his climate work. The New York Times runs a cartoon of a climate "denier" being stabbed with an icicle.

These are indications of a political movement turned to defending its self-image as its cause goes down the drain. That's how thoroughly defunct, dead, expired is the idea that humanity might take charge of earth's atmosphere through some supreme triumph of the global regulatory state over democracy, sovereignty, nationalism and political self-interest, the very facts of political human nature.

Let's restate more accurately a plan recently announced by Thomas Steyer, a California hedge-fund billionaire whose idea is to make the coming midterms about climate change: He would spend $100 million to flog an issue voters don't care about, to defeat Republicans whose defeat would have no impact on climate change, in order to replace them with Democrats whose election would have no impact on climate change.

Mr. Steyer's thinking is puzzling unless his goal is to make $100 million disappear. If his purpose were to elect Democrats, wouldn't his money go further attacking Republicans on matters of interest to voters? If he wants to move the ball on climate change, wouldn't a better place to start be undoing the damage his fellow climate lobbyists have done to the cause with their hysterical exaggerations, false statements and moral bullying?

He could begin by running ads leveling with Americans about climate science. We know with comfortable certainty that human industry is adding to carbon dioxide, a so-called greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. An insoluble noise-to-signal problem, though, is how much the human component may have influenced climate change already. And forecasts of future warming depend on theoretical models that are highly speculative and necessarily suspect.

Then there's the political problem: Nothing America could do by itself would make a significant difference. Anything agreed with other countries, given diplomatic incentives, would be an empty gesture designed mainly to benefit incumbent politicians.

Thomas Steyer

Indeed, a rational case for action on cost-benefit grounds is challenging to make at all. Even if it weren't, the nature of human power games, which advocates are powerless to change, means the effort could easily degenerate into a corrupt scramble for climate pork (see America's ethanol and Germany's solar subsidies).

If this sounds like a counsel of despair, think again. The counsel of despair was to rest mankind's hopes on a colossal pipedream. A world-wide social engineering project was never going to happen—luckily, since its results would have been less charming than activists imagine.

After 35 years, it's time to accept that adaptation is the way ahead. The problems of climate change, whatever its causes, are the same old human problems of poverty, disease and natural hazards like floods, storms and droughts. The best hope on offer is the continued accumulation of human wealth and knowledge.

Those who wish to slit their wrists at this point, feel free. But think about this: When human knowhow produces new energy technologies to replace current energy technologies, as it eventually will, we know the new technologies will be lower carbon. Why? Because extracting and distributing fossil fuels is fantastically expensive and becoming more so.

Chevron's massive Gorgon gas project in the coastal waters of Australia is expected to cost $54 billion. Exxon, Shell and several others are spending $116 billion to get oil from under the Caspian Sea in a remote part of Kazakhstan. Not to be flip, but a battery 10 times more efficient than today's would largely undermine the economics of these projects and make its inventor extraordinarily rich.

But engineering and venture capital (Mr. Steyer's job until he retired a year ago) are hard work and require personal resilience, while the pleasure of climate warriorhood is sitting at your little blog and picturing yourself a moral hero whose opponents deserve to be silenced if not exterminated. In our time, climate activism has devolved into self-medication for the moderately mentally ill (and who's to say this is not a useful service). Anyone genuinely concerned about the climate future might do better to get an engineering or finance degree.


  1. Good piece! Yes we should embrace new technologies and live sustainably, I just object to being lied to by eco-mentalists.

    Some questions...

    No mention of the Ruskies drilling for oil in the Arctic circle?

    Why has it been warmer in the Arctic than on mainland US?

    Ever read up on Dr Harry Wexler and his ideas for melting the Arctic in 1958?

    Why does Obama spout green rhetoric about the debate being over and then propose Keystone XL?

    Why are 106 countries all doing their own geoengineering? 106

    So many questions - no straight answers.

  2. Where is the evidence? Before Steyer spends $100m, supposedly in support of the claims of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, he should set aside a few bucks to investigate where the evidence is hiding.

    The UN in its latest report, (for what that's worth) admitted that our current warming (such as it is) is an 800 year record. Did no-one else notice that they have now, in effect, gone back to their original posiion, that the MWP (1000 years ago) was a global event and warmer than today. Couple that with Phil Jones' (infamous warmist, together with M. Mann) who stated "if the MWP was global that's another ball game!

    Very few note that our current warming (such as it is) began not in the 1800s, but, by definition, at the bottom (low temp) of the LIA in the 1600s. That's two centuries before co2 began rising and also two centuries before the industrial revolution.

    Then there is the fact that even the alarmist scientists claim that co2 increase had no impact on warming until very recently (i.e., in the 1970s). They had to do that because the warming from 1910 to 1940 was about as good as the one from the 1970s to 2000, and that had no explanation for that one either.

    Lindzen (MIT) had it right. The CAGW hypothesis doesn't even qualify for that desriptor. It's implausible.

  3. Your last sentence says it all: if you want to fix something, get the knowledge and position to fix it.

    I'm in the oil and gas business. Is it messy? Of course. Locally is it horrible on the environment? Of course. Should we do all we can to minimize the negative while maximizing the positive? Absolutely. But can we have only the positive and avoid the negative? No.

    Adaptation, mininimizing the downside, is how we live in a universe not of preferences but of choices. Ideological, philosophical points are points of reference, not goals to be achieved in a world where friction, passion, personality and limitations of thought, design and action occur.

    If you have a better idea, the responsibility is not to stand on a soapbox and demonize those who aren't on-side, but to get into the community and create the situation in which your better idea flourishes.

    It is not about "raising awareness". It is about creating change through providing reasons for others to willingly move from what they were doing to what you believe should be done. [Without including the Gulag as a reason to shift.]

  4. Mr. Steyer being self righteous, should look at the evidence of CO2 driven warming none of which actually exists, The rise and fall of CO2 follows the rise and fall of Temps. If he disagrees with my reading of the evidence fine, if he intends to punish me for that disagreement I've got news for him. I've seen reports that some warmist think that as a Deniers I should be imprisoned, shunned or killed. My advice to them is that if you cannot win the argument on the evidence and think to resort to violence, government sanctioned or not remember that I retain the right to keep and bear Arms as my God given right, and am willing to to avail myself of that right.

  5. Not to be flip, but a battery 10 times more efficient than today's would largely undermine the economics of these projects and make its inventor extraordinarily rich.

    how do we power the battery.

  6. > When human knowhow produces new energy technologies to replace current energy technologies, as it eventually will, we know the new technologies will be lower carbon. Why? Because extracting and distributing fossil fuels is fantastically expensive and becoming more so.

    Extracting and distributing fossil fuels is expensive, but not fantastically expensive when compared to other forms of energy. If it were, the other forms of energy would be growing rapidly and without subsidies. They are not growing rapidly, and they contribute little despite large subsides.

    What will be the case in the midterm future is unclear. Natural gas prices in the United States have plunged in recent years partly because of the new ability to use fracturing to extract gas (and oil) were it could not be extracted before. Even newer extraction methods may or may not keep pace with technological developments in alternative forms of energy. Nothing is certain in the midterm future.

  7. Good piece? This is the finest thing written in the 30 odd year history of global climate politics.