The Death of Global WarmingWalter Russell Mead
The American Interest
Feb. 02, 2010
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The global warming movement as we have known it is dead. Its health had been in steady decline during the last year as the once robust hopes for a strong and legally binding treaty to be agreed upon at the Copenhagen Summit faded away. By the time that summit opened, campaigners were reduced to hoping for a ‘politically binding’ agreement to be agreed that would set the stage for the rapid adoption of the legally binding treaty. After the failure of the summit to agree to even that much, the movement went into a rapid decline.
The movement died from two causes: bad science and bad politics.
After years in which global warming activists had lectured everyone about the overwhelming nature of the scientific evidence, it turned out that the most prestigious agencies in the global warming movement were breaking laws, hiding data, and making inflated, bogus claims resting on, in some cases, no scientific basis at all. This latest story in the London Times is yet another shocker; the IPCC’s claims that the rainforests were going to disappear as a result of global warming are as bogus and fraudulent as its claims that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. It seems as if a scare story could grab a headline, the IPCC simply didn’t care about whether it was reality-based.
With this in mind, ‘climategate’ — the scandal over hacked emails by prominent climate scientists — looks sinister rather than just unsavory. The British government has concluded that University of East Anglia, home of the research institute that provides the global warming with much of its key data, had violated Britain’s Freedom of Information Act when scientists refused to hand over data so that critics could check their calculations and methods. Breaking the law to hide key pieces of data isn’t just ’science as usual,’ as the global warming movement’s embattled defenders gamely tried to argue. A cover-up like that suggests that you indeed have something to conceal.
The urge to make the data better than it was didn’t just come out of nowhere. The global warmists were trapped into the necessity of hyping the threat by their realization that the actual evidence they had — which, let me emphasize, all hype aside, is serious, troubling and establishes in my mind the need for intensive additional research and investigation, as well as some prudential steps that would reduce CO2 emissions by enhancing fuel use efficiency and promoting alternative energy sources — was not sufficient to get the world’s governments to do what they thought needed to be done. Hyping the threat increasingly doesn’t look like an accident: it looks like it was a conscious political strategy.
Now it has failed. Not everything that has come out of the IPCC and the East Anglia Climate Unit is false, but enough of their product is sufficiently tainted that these institutions can best serve the cause of fighting climate change by stepping out of the picture. New leadership might help, but everything these two agencies have done will now have to be re-checked by independent and objective sources.
The global warming campaigners got into this mess because they had a deeply flawed political strategy. They were never able to develop a pragmatic approach that could reach its goals in the context of the existing international system. The global warming movement proposed a complex set of international agreements involving vast transfers of funds, intrusive regulations in national economies, and substantial changes to the domestic political economies of most countries on the planet. As it happened, the movement never got to the first step — it never got the world’s countries to agree to the necessary set of treaties, transfers and policies that would constitute, at least on paper, a program for achieving its key goals.
Even if that first step had been reached, the second and third would almost surely not have been. The United States Congress is unlikely to pass the kind of legislation these agreements would require before the midterm elections, much less ratify a treaty. (It takes 67 senate votes to ratify a treaty and only 60 to overcome a filibuster.) After the midterms, with the Democrats expected to lose seats in both houses, the chance of passage would be even more remote — especially as polls show that global warming ranks at or near the bottom of most voters’ priorities. American public opinion supports ‘doing something’ about global warming, but not very much; support for specific measures and sacrifices will erode rapidly as commentators from Fox News and other conservative outlets endlessly hammer away. Without a commitment from the United States to pay its share of the $100 billion plus per year that poor countries wanted as their price for compliance, and without US participation in other aspects of the proposed global approach, the intricate global deals fall apart.
Since the United States was never very likely to accept these agreements and ratify these treaties, and is even less prepared to do so in a recession with the Democrats in retreat, even “success” in Copenhagen would not have brought the global warming movement the kind of victory it sought — although it would have created a very sticky and painful political problem for the United States.
But even if somehow, miraculously, the United States and all the other countries involved not only accepted the agreements but ratified them and wrote domestic legislation to incorporate them into law, it is extremely unlikely that all this activity would achieve the desired result. Countries would cheat, either because they chose to do so or because their domestic systems are so weak, so corrupt or so boththat they simply wouldn’t be able to comply. Governments in countries like China and India aren’t going to stop pushing for all the economic growth they can get by any means that will work — and even if central governments decided to move on global warming, state and local authorities have agendas of their own. The examples of blatant cheating would inevitably affect compliance in other countries; it would also very likely erode what would in any case be an extremely fragile consensus in rich countries to keep forking over hundreds of billions of dollars to poor countries — many of whom would not be in anything like full compliance with their commitments.
For better or worse, the global political system isn’t capable of producing the kind of result the global warming activists want. It’s like asking a jellyfish to climb a flight of stairs; you can poke and prod all you want, you can cajole and you can threaten. But you are asking for something that you just can’t get — and at the end of the day, you won’t get it.
The grieving friends and relatives aren’t ready to pull the plug; in a typical, whistling-past-the-graveyard comment, the BBC first acknowledges that even if the current promises are kept, temperatures will rise above the target level of two degrees Celsius — but let’s not despair! The BBC quotes one of its own reporters: “BBC environment reporter Matt McGrath says the accord lacks teeth and does not include any clear targets on cutting emissions. But if most countries at least signal what they intend to do to cut their emissions, it will mark the first time that the UN has a comprehensive written collection of promised actions, he says.”
Gosh! A comprehensive written collection of promised actions! And it’s a first!! Any day now that jellyfish is going to start climbing stairs. Sure, it will be slow at first — but the momentum will build!
The death of global warming (the movement, not the phenomenon) has some important political and cultural consequences in the United States that I’ll be blogging on down the road. Basically, Sarah Palin 1, Al Gore zip. The global warming meltdown confirms all the populist suspicions out there about an arrogantly clueless establishment invoking faked ’science’ to impose cockamamie social mandates on the long-suffering American people, backed by a mainstream media that is totally in the tank. Don’t think this won’t have consequences; we’ll be exploring them together as the days go by.