Armed Cant in the Climate Wars
If hard cases make bad law , soft science makes sensible politics even harder, witness how the armed camps in the Climate Wars are deploying the mode of ideological rhetoric Paul Weyrich and Michael Lind style "armed cant".
This weapon of mass distraction deprives legislators on both sides of the aisle of access to the facts in a debate that still rages in scientific journals nobody reads , even as the climate change controversy downshifts into more popular--and political-- media.
One side depicts any human impact as tantamount to Weather of Mass Destruction, and accordingly counsels despair, witness Al Gore telling Conan O'Brien "We don't know enough not to make a catastrophic mistake in dealing with the world's climate " The other , lacking media traction, bases its opposition to apocalyptic rhetoric less on a close reading of the scientific evidence than the authority of a few individuals it deems philosophically trustworthy.
But perceptions of authority differ. In science , as in politics the truth that sets men free is seldom the one they want to hear. As the Climate Wars enter their second century, the atmosphere remains the Earth's most complex dynamic system. Those that forgo wrestling with the heavy scientific literature that chronicles efforts to understand it risk falling prey to views on climate change by turns parochial , tendentious, or just plain daft. That's why scanning from Fox TV to the Washington Times , journalism on the right seems in danger of becoming a 21st century scientific eyesore. This raises a disturbing question.Is a sensible Conservative consensus on climate change possible?
Many of the talking heads on both sides seem more interested in trading truth for influence than speaking truth to power. Though presentable to the point of being , well , lawyerly , those on the right by and large have no first-rate scientific constituency to back them. And though they put up a stalwart front , as little stomach for debating the facts in a serious scientific forum as Al Gore, who appeared before an audience of 12,000 earth scientists in San Francisco last month, but wisely skedaddled the minute he finished his 1001th performance of The Speech.
Only one skeptic on climate change stands out as a real player in the fast moving scientific game underlying the debate. Richard Lindzen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a prolific and respected author of peer-reviewed papers on the atmospheric sciences explaining climate's 'Quasi-Biennial Oscillation' and the role of tides and gravity wave drag in the circulation of the upper atmosphere.His sheer creativity sets the MIT professor of atmospheric sciences conspicuously apart from a cohort largely comprised of politically appointed TV weathermen and researchers whose central competence lies outside the realm of state of the art climate studies.
Lindzen is no stranger to technical controversy. He has over the years posed several novel and scientifically interesting objections to the common wisdom in the climate change debate, focusing on how rising amounts of atmospheric water vapor could curb the rate of man made temperature rise. But each of his serial objections has been coherently replied to in the peer reviewed science literature. So good scientist that he is , Lindzen has accepted as valid many quantitative objections to his theoretical views, and altered his stance accordingly.
That's how science works. Senator Inhofe's words notwithstanding , the iconoclast celebrated in Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear ' no longer defends some talking points yack TV pundits refuse to relinquish. To their dismay , he has committed the unpardonable political sin of allowing scientific facts to change his mind. What he chose not to say about the state of the science in seconding Crichton and British geographer George Stott in a recent debate in New York speaks even more loudly than his vigorous denunciation of hype in the service of politics .
This may never register with some , for the ditto head common wisdom on climate has been projected into the halls of congress by Marc Morano, Rush's former scientific casting director, who was chosen by Senator Inhofe to run his committee's public policy circus. But what about Lindzen's impact on his colleagues views ? Lindzen has had twenty years to persuade The National Academy's thousand-plus members,that man-made warming remains too uncertain to be a serious issue. Like most respectable skeptics, he began by questioning warnings detectable existence , and pointing out that negative feedbacks could curb it in models and reality alike.
Ask around the Academy as to how many have been won over to these views ,and you will discover that the answer is closer to none than a dozen This is just as true on Lindzen's home turf.Other MIT professors share the view that the Climate Wars have become egregiously politicized , and that climate models are sorely constrained as predictive tools. Yet in a quarter century of almost daily interaction Lindzen has failed to persuade such colleagues as MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel oroceanographer Carl Wunsch that global warming is" not a big deal." Wunsch agreed to appear alongside Lindzen in the recent British TV program , 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' but has ended up accusing the producers of swindling him -and their audience by playing fast and loose with scientific truth.
Emanuel is a far cry from a liberal icon; MIT is not Harvard, and like Lindzen ,he harshly criticized Carl Sagan's attempt to use a primitive climate model as a policy lever during the Cold War, calling ' nuclear winter ' studies "notorious for their lack of scientific integrity " That bipartisan commitment to the integrity of science makes Emmanuel's take on what the climate wars have come to 'Phaetons' Reins' a necessary compliment to Lindzen's if we are to confront the full spectrum of facts that define a debate that defies both sides attempts to reduce it to sound bites . This has not changed since Bush 41's day- my first report from the front 'A War Against Fire appeared ( it is linked atop the sidebar) in 1990 . I stand by Its conclusion. If any species of principle is at once worth conserving and profoundly endangered , it is that the political neutrality of scientific institutions must first exist in order to be respected.That sentiment may not be ready for prime time today.
The disdain shown science by erstwhile conservatives and intransigent liberals waging the Climate War on TV too much recalls Thucydides view of an earlier conflict :
"The state which separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools"
Republicans and Democrats clearly have very different metaphysical views of the world, but there can be no armistice in the Climate Wars until both acknowledge that from the atmosphere's perspective, there can be , at most , one kind of physics.