It appears that climate science is not as settled as Al Gore professed even as late as Copenhagen. Reports of “errors” keep piling up as researchers take a fresh look at key findings and reports emanating from the international bodies and research universities most responsible for the body of literature being used to shape the world’s environmental and economic future.
“Skeptics Up, Obama Down, Cap and Trade Dead”
That was the conclusion of an ongoing series of investigative news reports in the UK on the IPCC and other research institutions linked to the UN’s Climate Change policy analysis.  Just a month ago, the panel was forced to retract is report on the rapid melting of glaciers after it was found that it could not be supported by the evidence. 
Correction Course on Political Correctness in Progress
That scientific research has been tilted toward a favored policy outcome is neither shocking nor new. That the rest of the science community tolerated this “junk science” so long is the real tragedy. This kind of passionate inquisition has been going on for centuries, but rarely has so much money been spent pursuing political correctness nor the risk of economic harm from such policy prescriptions so profound. From faster melting glaciers, to rain forest collapse to agricultural production declines in Africa, the list of dire conclusions now being shown as based upon inadequate research, suddenly unavailable data, or just unsubstantiated opinion keeps coming like a slow trickle turned into a major flow.
Exposing these “research errors” is useful and timely to be sure. We can only hope that this tilting of science for the sake of continued research funding, professional advancement and tenure, or just vanity will be exposed and the erring parties discredited. But where was “peer review” when we needed it?
As humans, we understand human failing, and can forgive it even as we discipline those who engage in it. But we expect more from our governments and our rising cynicism and trust in government has a far more lasting and corrosive effect when we discover we are being mislead on the science and then mislead by politicians about the policies proposed as a result of reading that ‘political’ science.
It is NOT about the Environment, Stupid!
It would be a mistake of equal or greater proportion for those who cheer this collapse of climate change research to take it as repudiation by the public of our collective interest in being good stewards of the planet. The environmental movement has succeeded in persuading us that we must all act responsibly, avoid unnecessary pollution, and decry actions that needlessly despoil the planet or cause harm. We still expect to leave the earth a cleaner place for our children than we found—as the cliché goes.
But something is changing in our sense of environmental responsibility.
This exposure of bad behavior by climate scientists will result in more skepticism to be sure from this experience, and a better sense of the need for balance as a consequence of the economic recession we have experienced. We still expect environmental responsibility. But our definition of environmental economics is changing to include more balance of the cost and consequences of proposed policies against the benefits of enacting them.
Is there a Good Outcome from this Bad Science?
This could mean some profound changes yet ahead in the US and around the world after the effects of this climate change “crisis” plays out through the next election cycle:
- Reality Therapy in Mexico City. Hopes for a COP15 “do-over” in Mexico City should be diminishing considerably. If anything, the next UN conference in Mexico City should be a place full of confession, repentance, remedial education and soul searching about the important of academic rigor, peer review and transparency as a foundation for re-starting the debate about the real science of climate change.
- US EPA Endangerment. US EPA must quickly back off its threatened endangerment finding before it risks having its authority in the matter gutted by an outraged Congress looking for someone to hang for this climate change embarrassment. More than Waxman-Markey has been left bleeding on the sausage making floor of Congress, the Administration now lacks the political authority to pursue the same agenda by regulatory fiat.
- The Environmental Responsibility Act. Congress should require all Federal agencies and State governments using Federal money to include in any environmental impact statement or environmental review and/or Federal rule making an analysis of the economic impact of any such proposed action and a finding, subject to judicial review, that balances such costs and benefits in the public interest. The law should also include a “loser pays” provision in environmental litigation to assure that environmental lawsuits are not used as tactics to extract settlements or pursue political agendas.
- AB32. This California law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is actually an income redistribution tax act designed to evade the two-thirds rule on budgets and taxes in the California Legislature. It gives the California Air Resources Board the authority to set carbon taxes administratively on an annual basis. The likely consequence is that such fees will be pegged to the size of the California budget deficit and, conveniently, requires no elected official to actually vote to raise taxes. The California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission have reported to the Legislature that they believe a carbon tax of $100 per tonne would be required to implement the policy goals of AB32 and the companion 33% RPS standard. The collapse of the climate science foundation for AB32 will expose it for what it is. Besides, with RGGI and EU carbon credit prices falling like a rock to about $2 per tonne, AB32 will not likely produce the revenue California politicians’ dream of anyway after the climate science is “settled”.
Maybe unsettled science is a good thing if it forces a balancing of the costs and benefits of major policy changes in environmental laws and other public policies. Voters are in a surly mood over the state of the economy and their anxiety about their own financial future. This is the kind of political climate crisis that brought us Proposition 13 in an earlier California era. Today there is no similar ‘quick fix’ for California unless we hit “reset” by authorizing one of the ballot measures being circulated today calling for a state constitutional convention. For Congress, the path to hope we can believe in is actually swifter the old fashioned way Americans love—“throw the bums out” in the November 2010 election.
If the world’s leaders who assembled in Copenhagen knew in advance, as everyone else did, that reaching an agreement to create a binding, enforceable treaty obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by defined targets by specific dates, the final outcome of this week’s grand event to save the planet was all the more a sham. But a litany of sober speeches and prospects of doom were not enough to bring the parties to agreement—except to keep talking.
Let’s face it, this is a wonderful outcome to what could have been a total train wreck. An enforceable treaty would, almost certainly, enacted sweeping wealth redistribution, onerous carbon taxes to pay for it, the mass migration of energy intensive business from countries on the hook to those on the lam. This was a climate crisis of epic proportions in the making.
In drama it was only upstaged by the circus going on in the US Congress surrounding health care reform, cap and trade, the need for more stimulus since the first two plans did not work, and the Omnibus Defense Spending Bill that looks more like the Omnibus Christmas Tree with all its promised earmarks seeking to buy votes for other lost causes.
But wait, maybe they are related. Did President Obama go to Copenhagen because he thought he had a better chance of getting something there than on Capitol Hill? The odds now look like he will fail in Congress like he failed in Copenhagen.
New Year’s Resolutions
It is good that we will have a few days break to ponder the significance of all this hot air and lost momentum while the spin-masters work their magic to explain down expectations. This will force many camps to revise their New Year’s Resolutions:
Al Gore: Step up sales of emissions credits as fast as you can while this gravy train still has legs. I need to make another $100 million before this thing collapses of its own weight.
True Believers: We’ve been screwed. These lying, cheating, back stabbing politicians will say anything but even when we had them in our grasp we could not close the deal. Damn! This was our best shot and we blew it.
True Deniers: We’ve been saved. Those liberal do-gooders would have sold us down the river. Thank goodness for China and a few other countries that still believe in capitalism.
Carbon Marketers: Holy Methane! Our business model just fizzled out. How will we sell these same rain forest preservation deals now when everyone agreed to cheat.
Coal Producers: Burn Baby Burn! We are back in business.
CEOs: WTF! Why did I just agree to invest billions to make my company look clean and green when these politicians can’t even agree to count what I’m doing. Now the Chinese are going to go like hell to take my market share and Obama is still going to raise my taxes!
Harry Reid: We’re roadkill!
Nancy Pelosi: We scored a great victory in getting all these nations to work together and the long term results will show President Obama’s leadership made a huge difference. He deserves all the credit for this.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce: How Sweet It Is!
The combination of events that is casting a foul mood over the COP15 party reads like the plot line of a soap opera. But the the actors are actual politicians working overtime to get themselves out of their sticky situation by reducing expectations for COP15 outcomes they can no longer deliver. All except for President Obama whose decision to go to Copenhagen has not wavered—much. He now plans to arrive near the end of the event since Congress failed to give him a cap and trade legislative victory to wave to the crowds as he motorcades past The Mermaid on the way to the adoring world chattering classes.
The CRU email-gate scandal is certainly a juicy plot twist in this soap opera even if it does have inconvenient timing but it seems to have scared off Al Gore (the perfect villain) from attending the event.
The ‘You’ve Got to be Kidding Me’ Effect
But let’s face it, what is really happening is that the combination of forces having the most impact is that the BRIC countries have hung together saying NO! We will not shoot ourselves in the foot for your Euro-American political correctness.
China and India have now offered up goals they are prepared to work toward—and if they do so it would not only be good for the planet and good for their own economy and populations. Americans are also looking at economic reality and have come to the conclusion they we do not want to shoot ourselves in the foot either by imposing huge costs on our economy just as we seek to recover from this Great Recession. These are the realities driving the reduced expectations for Copenhagen.
The CRU-email scandal can have a positive outcome if it takes some of the hot air out of the climate crisis advocates and forces a realistic and balanced look at the true climate science (whatever it is) and the economic impacts of cures that may actually be worse than the disease.
Too bad they canceled the soap opera The Guiding Light after 50 years on TV. This climate crisis stuff offers an entirely new set of plot lines and intrigue. Al Gore could even play himself!
There are plenty of good and sufficient reasons we should be good stewards of our planet and take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Following our politicians off the cliff for the sake of political correctness or their own political aspirations is not one of them.
We believe in science and technology and have found the inconvenient truth is that real science is trial and error and not all the theories work out. Real science never tells us there is incontrovertible proof of anything because real scientists know better seeing science as a journey of continuous discovery not a mission to a predefined political objective. True science tells all, confesses all, seeks validation in peer review and competing research, admits error and shares the lessons from failure so others learn from its mistakes.
Now if we could only teach the scientific method to our politicians!
Imagine Times Square, New York City on New Year’s Eve, you see the giant Tiffany crystal ball overhead prepared to light up and signal the fresh start of something new, something better, something hopeful to wash away the sweat and tears of the past year.
Now go to the website of the UN Climate Change Conference where you will find the countdown clock for the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change ticking away dramatically. Don’t you feel the excitement, the anticipation, the prospect of realizing the aspirations of Kyoto which were frustrated by the refusal of the United States and a few other Neanderthal nations to play ball? This time around the United States has a new president, and he REALLY wants to play ball at Copenhagen. He wants to be accepted as a player in the global quest to solve the “climate crisis”.
Does this feel a little surreal?
If you answer yes, that’s good because the build-up to Copenhagen is one of the best produced movies since—well, An Inconvenient Truth. It has drama. It has villains. It has suspense. It has a noble quest to lift the spirit and a cast of many hero-wannabes.
What is does not have but is about to get is a big dose of reality therapy. That reality is being delivered in small doses these days as the countdown clock ticks on seeking desperately to adjust expectations to fit the facts of what can be done—and not done in Copenhagen in December. You will hear these messages in diplomatic dress over the next few months delivered by politicians and statesmen who having raised expectations by endless pandering to the true believers now try to adjust them to the current realities.
The Kyoto Protocol was successful in raising world awareness of environmental responsibility and good stewardship. It strengthened the drive for energy efficiency, expanded use of cleaner fuels and new renewable energy technologies, and encouraged investment in cleantech we might not have seen otherwise.
The Kyoto Protocol failed miserably as an enforceable global policy framework for disciplining countries in setting, enforcing and achieving specific mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We all know the reasons for this failure. The world’s biggest economy and some of the world’s fastest growing developing economies refused to be bound by arbitrary global mandates especially if they impeded economic growth. Others signed onto Kyoto and then either ignored the targets, failed to achieve them, or cheated. The rest lamented that the “science was settled” and chastised any who questioned it. But while the literati and environmental do-gooders rejoiced in Al Gore’s Nobel Prize and Academy Award the folks on Main Street were not quite convinced that the inconvenient truth was really true.
And so for all the hype and work of the climate change or “climate crisis” public relations machine, regular folk voted not to bankrupt themselves by imposing carbon taxes or environmental police measures on themselves when the world’s greatest economy and its fastest growing ones said “no thanks, we’ll just watch how it works out for you—but good luck with that” and went about their business.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC on September 22, 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized new rules requiring major greenhouse gas emitters to monitor and report their emissions. The first report by emitters, covering 2010, is due in 2011. This reporting requirement will provide data to assist US EPA which is considering a rule to declare such emissions a public danger. Such a declaration would then lead to further new economy-wide rules to regulate emissions. These regulatory actions are being taken as part of an uncertain choreography with Congress which is considering a cap and trade bill called Waxman-Markey which is facing the death of a thousand cuts in Senate consideration.
The Copenhagen clock is indeed ticking—and so is the one in Washington, but we don’t know yet whether it will be a celebration or a wake.