“The climate crisis,” said Al Gore at the U.N. a couple of days ago, “is a fossil fuel crisis.”
“What climate crisis?” you might be asking, and you would be right to do so.
Yes, it is impossible to turn anywhere in our enlightened, environmentally conscious world without being beset by lectures about one’s “carbon footprint” and horror tales about “global warming,” “rising seas” and imminent ecological catastrophe.
But deep down you know that it is all hooey. Mark Twain was right when he observed that it is not so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. Rather, the mischief is caused by things that we “do know that ain’t so.”
For example, we all “know” that carbon dioxide is “bad for the environment.” (In fact, it is a prerequisite for life). We “know” that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reaching historically unprecedented and dangerous levels. (In fact, we have, these past centuries, been living through a CO2 famine). We “know” that “global warming”— or, since there has been no warming in more than two decades, that “climate change”— has caused a sudden rise in the seas. (In fact, the seas have been rising for the last 20,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age). We “know” that, when it comes to the subject of climate change, the “science is settled,” that “97 percent of scientists” agree that global warming is anthropogenic, which is Greek for “caused by greedy corporate interests and the combustion of fossil fuels.”
It’s really quite extraordinary how much we do know that ain’t so.
When I was growing up in the rural vastness of the moderately great state of Maine, adults were always talking about the weather. Their conversations were edged by an admirable stoicism. “If you don’t like the weather,” they often said, “just wait.” It’s too bad that Al Gore didn’t spend more time in Maine. He might have learned an awesome secret, one that I will now impart to you: the weather changes. Sure, there are long-term trends. But those trends are not nearly so alarming as the climate hysterics claim. In fact, they are not alarming at all.
A few decades ago the Harvard philosopher Harvey Mansfield made the observation that environmentalism is “school prayer for liberals.” I remember tittering when I first read that. It was an observation that had a dual advantage. It was both true —environmentalism really did seem like a religion for certain leftists — and it was also amusing. How deliciously wicked to put a bunch of white, elite, college-educated folks under the same rhetorical light as the Bible-thumpers they abominated. Ha, I thought to myself, ha!
Well, I am not laughing now. In the intervening years, the eco-nuts went from being a lunatic fringe to being lunatics at the center of power. Galileo would know just how those climate dissenters feel. In 1633, he was hauled up before the Inquisition (not for the first time) for broadcasting the heterodox opinion that the earth revolves around the sun. Ninety-seven percent —maybe more — of those in charge of things in the seventeenth century knew that Galileo had it all wrong. The earth was the center of the universe and the sun traveled around it. Everyone knew that. Galileo was threatened with torture and prison; he recanted. The authorities settled on house arrest for the rest of his life. Tradition tells us that on his way out of court he muttered mutinously “E pur si muove,” “And yet it moves.”
It should go without saying that the contention that the “science is settled” with respect to climate change is ludicrous for several reasons. For one thing, science, an inductive process, is never finally “settled.” For another, even if it were a fact (which it is not) that “97 percent” of climate scientists believe that there is a climate emergency, the proper response would be “So what?” At least that many astronomers in Galileo’s time thought that the sun revolved around the earth. They were wrong. As Steve Koonin, who served as an undersecretary for science in the Obama administration, noted, the idea that the “science is settled” on climate change “has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions, and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future.”
But of course science is only part of the issue. You cannot read far into the literature on climate change before you realize that science is often dragged in as window dressing for the real issues, which are political, on the one hand, and economic, on the other. The two hands, it is worth pointing out, belong to the same body and are working to feed the same maw.
Considered as a political movement, radical environmentalism may, as Harvey Mansfield said, betray a religious or cult-like aspect. But for every true believer in the religion of Gaia, there is a squadron of cynical opportunists eager to exploit the new paganism of earth-worship for decidedly secular ends.
We’ve heard a lot about the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky since his protégé Barack Obama burst upon the scene in 2008. A fundamental rule of thumb for a paid-up Alinskyite radical is that “the issue is never the real issue.” In the present context, that means that “climate change” is largely a pretext.
For some, it is a pretext for personal enrichment. Consider, to take but one egregious example, Al Gore, who peddles the philosophy of Chicken Little, on the one hand, and has managed to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars by exploiting various government- subsidized “green energy” initiatives, on the other.
Climate alarmism can also be a pretext for the redistribution of wealth on a global scale. You can never be green enough, Comrade, and climate change offers a potent pretext for the consolidation of governmental power: it is, as one wag put, the “killer app” for extending governmental control.
Like the House of the Lord, governmental control is a domicile of many mansions, from intrusive, prosperity-sapping regulation to the silencing, intimidation, dismissal, and even the legal prosecution of critics. Indeed, in its transformation of critics into heretics we see once again the religious or cult-like aspect of radical environmentalism. One argues with a critic. One must silence or destroy a heretic. Galileo would have understood exactly how this new Inquisition would proceed.
And this brings me to one of the most frightening aspects of the gospel of climate change: its subordination of independent scientific inquiry to partisan political imperatives. Scientific inquiry depends upon the freedom to pursue the truth wherever it leads, regardless of political ideology or vested interest. Recently, climate hysterics and their political and academic enablers have begun describing those who disagree with them about the science of climate change as “climate deniers.” The echo of “holocaust deniers” is deliberate and pernicious. A “holocaust denier” is someone who denies an historical enormity. But a so-called “climate denier” is merely someone who disputes an ideological construct masquerading as a scientific truth.
The irony, of course, is that this farce should proceed in an era in which science and technology have remade the world for the benefit of mankind.
Climate change hysteria takes issue with those benefits, which is why it has also been a pretext for the systematic attack on specific industries and technologies—the coal industry, for example, or fracking. The goal of the attack is, as Obama’s top science advisor John Holdren put it in a book he co-authored with the climate alarmist Paul Ehrlich, “A massive campaign . . . to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States.”
A “massive campaign . . . to de-develop the United States.”
“De-develop the United States.” Ponder that. Mr. Holdren lamented that the idea of de-development was subject to “considerable misunderstanding and resistance.” I for one am happy about the resistance. Indeed, I wish it were stiffer. But as for misunderstanding what “de-development” means, I have to take issue. We know exactly what it means. It is the same thing that Luddites and anti-capitalists have always meant: the impoverishment and immiseration of the mass of mankind just so long as the perquisites for the self-appointed nomenklatura persist un-disturbed.