During this week’s GOP presidential candidates debate in California, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made a statement about global warming that Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, the UK Guardian, and others condemn as “anti-science.” Asked by moderator John Harris of Politico “which scientists” are “most credible” in questioning “the idea that human activity is behind climate change,” Perry replied:
Well, I do agree that there is – the science is – is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at – at- at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just – is nonsense. I mean, it – I mean – and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell. But the fact is, to put America’s economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country is not good economics and I will suggest to you is not necessarily good science. Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.
The UK Guardian was quick to denigrate Perry’s answer:
It’s one thing to question the economic impact and legacy of current climate policy proposals – you would expect and wish for politicians to debate this – but for a politician to question the science in this way is striking. . . .Note how he studiously ignored the moderator’s well-crafted question: who exactly are these “Galileos” that you believe have so comprehensively cast doubt on the canon of climate science? Perry couldn’t – or wouldn’t – name them.
The Guardian makes a mountain out of a molehill. If Harris was so keen to know which climate scientists Perry finds most credible, he could have just restated the question. Perry was apparently more interested in making two basic points: (1) he does not view global warming as a warrant for imposing massive new regulatory burdens on the U.S. economy; (2) he is not impressed by appeals to an alleged “scientific consensus” because, after all, scientific issues not settled by counting heads.
The question Harris asked is bound to come up again and again in candidate forums, and it’s a bit of a loaded question at that. Alarmists would like us to believe that any human contribution to climate change constitutes a “planetary emergency” (Al Gore’s phrase) and, as such, justifies the imposition of cap-and-trade and other assaults on affordable energy. Hence, they would like nothing better than to trick opponents into arguing as if the case against cap-and-trade, or against EPA’s hijacking of climate policy, hinges on the implausible thesis that greenhouse gases do not have a greenhouse (warming) effect.
How then should presidential contenders respond to such questions? Here’s how I would answer Harris’s question:
The premise of your question, If I’m not mistaken, is the notion, popularized by Al Gore, that any human contribution to climate change by definition constitutes a “planetary emergency” demanding urgent regulatory action. This is ideology, not science. The key scientific issue is not whether greenhouse gas emissions have a greenhouse effect but how sensitive Earth’s climate is to the ongoing rise in greenhouse gas concentrations. The sensitivity issue is far from being “settled.” You asked for names of credible scientists. Three who raise fundamental questions about the sensitivity assumptions driving the big, scary global warming forecasts are Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels, and Roy Spencer. The debate on climate sensitivity will likely be with us for some time. At this point, all I can say is that those who assume a highly sensitive climate have a hard time explaining why there’s been no net global warming over the past 14 years.
Much of what we hear about global warming is hype and scaremongering. If climate change is the dire peril some people claim it is, then why has there been no acceleration in sea-level rise over the past five decades? Why did heat-related mortality in the USA decline, decade-by-decade, from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s? Why has there been no long-term increase in hurricane-related economic damages once you adjust for increases in wealth, the consumer price index, and population? Why have total deaths and death rates related to extreme weather events declined by 93% and 98%, respectively, since the 1920s? Why has U.S. farm output increased dramatically over the past half century?
For more than two decades, the environmental movement has been pushing an ideology that might be called Kyotoism or, alternatively, Gorethodoxy. This is the view that global warming is a catastrophe in the making from which we can save ourselves only by waging the moral equivalent of war on affordable energy. The real catastrophe would be in enacting their agenda of cap-and-trade, energy taxes, and more subsidies for companies like Solyndra. Not even a prosperous America could afford to replace coal, oil, and natural gas with wind turbines, solar panels, and biofuel. We certainly cannot afford to do so in the current economic crisis.