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Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Gathering of Liars and Charlatans

I will be glad when this nonsense ends. Government hearings should not be "a gathering of liars and charlatans, sponsored by those industries who want to protect their profits." This is Daniel P. Schrag, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment recounting his recent experience testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works:

On a swift boat to a warmer world, by Daniel P. Schrag, Commentary, Boston Globe: I am a climate scientist and an optimist. This may seem like a contradiction, with all the talk of scorching heat waves and bigger, deadlier hurricanes. But it's not.

Let's be clear: I am not a skeptic on climate change. In my earth science courses, I teach that burning fossil fuel is raising atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels not seen on Earth for more than 30 million years. In public lectures, I show pictures of what would happen ... if half the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, asking people to imagine abandoning New Orleans and Miami. I tell people that, unless we take action to reduce emissions, the question is not whether this is going to occur, but when.

Yet I am an optimist because I believe we can fix the climate change problem. We can deploy the technologies to meet our energy needs while slashing carbon emissions: plug-in hybrids, windmills, carbon sequestration for coal plants, and even nuclear power. ...

Unfortunately, I am a little less optimistic today than I was a couple of weeks ago, before testifying at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It was Senator James Inhofe's last hearing as chair of the committee, and the focus was on media coverage of global warming. I was invited by the Democratic staff to counter arguments that global warming is a hoax perpetrated on the American people by scientists like me.

Inhofe is a climate skeptic. But I still hoped I could help educate our lawmakers -- maybe not Inhofe, but perhaps some of the others. In my opening statement, I explained that global warming is not a partisan issue. America should lead the world and capitalize on an extraordinary business opportunity as we invest in new energy technologies, I said.

Then I watched in horror as Inhofe's witnesses spouted outrageous claims intended to deceive and distort. Two were scientists associated with industry-funded think tanks. They described global warming as a "mass delusion" among the scientific community, sowing confusion by misrepresenting the ... data... They even recommended burning as much fossil fuel as possible to prevent another ice age. ...

Some senators defended the integrity of the scientific community, including Barbara Boxer, who will become chair of the committee in January. But amid the collegiality and decorum that is the tradition in the Senate, no one stood up and called this hearing what it was: a gathering of liars and charlatans, sponsored by those industries who want to protect their profits.

Later that day, Inhofe issued a press release that specifically highlighted my testimony, claiming that I "agreed" with him that the Kyoto Protocol "would have almost no impact on the climate even if all the nations fully complied." In fact, I had interrupted him during the hearing to object to this claim...

I later learned that Inhofe's communications director, Marc Morano, was a key figure in publicizing the swift boat veterans' attack on John Kerry in 2004. Morano, it seems, is still up to his old tricks, twisting the facts to support his boss's outrageous claims. This made my visit complete: a glimpse at our government that sees the world only through glasses tinted by special interests, which treats science as a political football, no matter what is at stake.

I am still an optimist. We still have time to avert a climate catastrophe. But I am not counting on government, or at least this government, to lead us toward a solution. As our leaders accept the outrageous spectacle I saw the other day as just a normal day in Congress, we will have to take the first step without them.

Taking the first step without government isn't feasible - if it was, why haven't we taken it already? Voters sent a message in the last election -- we'll see if Congress and the rest of government hears it. Of course, nothing can be done on the global warming issue so long as The Decider has been told to side against it, but once Democrats take control of Congress the stage can be set in committees for a time when progress can be made, and legislation can be crafted to force Republican's hand on this issue.

The assault on the science underlying global warming is ongoing. For example, this is from Friday's American Spectator:

The Gore Who Stole Christmas, by Rob Bradley, American Spectator: The good news -- and a reason for holiday cheer -- is that the science behind rapid, disruptive global warming scenarios is murky at best. Though the debate is highly politicized and emotionally charged, good science is beginning to drive out bad. ... A sampling of recent issues of Science ... shows that peer-reviewed studies dispute virtually all the tenets behind climate alarmism. ...

Exaggerated forecasts of disrupted ocean circulation, rapid sea-level rise, and more intense hurricanes make for splashy headlines, but sober science suggests that these scares du jour may go the way of yesterday's alarms over global cooling, the population bomb, and mineral-resource exhaustion.

Nonetheless, one part of these scare stories is genuinely frightening: the heavy-handed government intervention that advocates always look to as the source of salvation. Yesterday's foes of the free market were socialists, communists, and Keynesians. Today's are greens who want government engineering to "stabilize" the climate and ensure "sustainability."

Yes, Keynesians are those awful people who brought us things like Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, and macroeconomic stabilization policy. And all those government regulations about polluting the air and rivers those commies put into place are such an inconvenience for business. It was so much better when they didn't have to care.

I am not anti-market. When there is market failure and markets are broken, they need to be fixed. I want markets to work efficiently and that requires some mechanism to force economic agents to internalize the costs they impose on the environment.

People who deny this basic point, or refuse to acknowledge the science that would justify such actions, should not promote themselves as advocates for well-functioning, efficient markets.

    Posted by on Sunday, December 17, 2006 at 03:06 AM in Economics, Environment, Politics, Regulation | Permalink  TrackBack (4)  Comments (143)


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