When the new darling of the left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, charges, “The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,” most Americans wonder what to think. The following points from a fellow non-scientist might serve as guidelines providing some perspective and common sense:
Terminology. As Nigel Lawson, former Energy Secretary of the UK, has written, “’Global warming’ – not the alliterative weasel words ‘climate change’- is the question.” The climate has always, is always, and will always be changing. The question now is more specific: Is the world getting warmer? If so, at what rate? What are the consequences? What should we do about it?
Perspective. Over the last fifty years, there has been a series of potential planetary crises put forth by scientists and public policy experts. In the late 1960’s the Club of Rome warned of the impending population explosion crisis. The forecasts indicated a halt to economic growth as the world ran out of natural resources. Then during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, as temperatures began to cool, “experts” warned of a new ice age. In the last twenty years, warnings have coalesced around the latest scare—global warming.
Settled Science. In the words of Charles Krauthammer, “There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to change.” Some experts would have us believe the science of global warming is “settled,” but there is a real debate among scientists over the degree of global warming, the causes, and the consequences. A word of caution from the German philosopher Schopenhauer, “There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is generally accepted.”
Economics and Science. The issue of global warming involves not just science but also economics. If there really is a problem, what do the possible solutions cost? What is the tradeoff economically and politically between the real costs and the potential benefits? French President Macron ran headlong into this recently.
Human Factor. Man has an impact on the environment, but there is a real debate over the extent to which man contributes to global warming. The economic models to estimate the human factor are subject to a multitude of assumptions, all of which are subject to debate. Inaccurate assumptions have huge implications for both predictions of future warming and also any policies adopted to try to reduce future warming.
Predictions. The press is full of dire predictions of what our planet will look like in 100 years—not to mention twelve years. But since scientists cannot even agree on the proper weighting of the many environmental factors affecting our current climate, the idea that experts can authoritatively project out 100—or even 12—years is implausible.
In 2005, Philip Tetlock published a treatise on forecasting and concluded that political, economic, and geopolitical forecasts had been scarcely better than guesswork. He wrote, “It made little difference whether the forecaster was an academic, journalist, historian, or scientist. Forecasting is difficult, it turns out.” Whenever confronted with a long-term projection of any kind, be skeptical.
Potential Fixes. Climate alarmists are quick to offer radical economic remedies. Most commonly mentioned are huge tax increases, energy rationing, mandated reliance on renewable energy, rejection of fossil fuels, reparations from the developed world to the third world, etc…..all of which have serious economic consequences. Concerns over the real economic costs as compared to very marginal projected benefits led to US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.
As North Carolina’s former Secretary of Environmental Quality, Donald van der Vaart, wrote recently, political leaders are beginning “to recognize that the environmental narrative, which asks people to pay a lot of money for a change that may or may not occur many years from now, is a tough sell.”
In summary, these guidelines do not answer all the questions, but they do question the answers.
As Voltaire wisely wrote, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
-Garland S. Tucker III, Retired Chairman/CEO of Triangle Capital Corporation and author of Conservative Heroes: Fourteen Leaders Who Changed America – Jefferson to Reagan.