Climate Change, Congress and the Big Conference

Noted climate scientists (a personal friend) Patrick J. Michaels gave a presentation in Dallas on 6/20/11 concerning the extent to which climate scientist have staged a public policy coup.  His speech was in support of his new book Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives.  His book is well worth reading – pick it up!

His presentation opened with President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 fairwell speech in which he famously warned of the potential dangers of the burgeoning military/industrial complex.  Michaels, however, drew the audiences’ attention to what followed in the speech.  In it, the late President warned of the dangers from the growing government influence over and funding of science and the reciprocal danger that that the levers of government could be captured a cadre of scientific/technological elite.  I post some of the speech below:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

For the full speech with all of its insight:

Indeed, looking back to Theodore Roosevelt and the progressive movement, of which he was an early leader, this is precisely the goal of the progressives, to remove public policy from the whims of the public and grubby politics and put it in the hands of learned experts and professionals – Plato might have called them Philosopher Kings – but that’s the topic for future blog post.  I knew Eisenhower’s speech was important but I had little understanding of just how prescient the President Eisenhower was.

It was just a little over a week ago that I read another politician bemoaning attempts by Congress to exercise oversight over regulations and place restrictions on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power.  His basic argument was that Congress should let scientists and regulatory agencies dictate climate and clean air policy.  At the time, I was appalled, but not surprised. I’ve heard variations of his claim by various liberal politicians and scientists for years.  The problem is, scientists have no particular expertise in normative matters and no one elected scientists to be “Super legislators.”  Indeed, under the Constitution Congress, and Congress alone, is assigned the responsibility produce legislation – including legislation that regulates interstate commerce.  David Schoenbrod has written a number of excellent books detailing the extent to which Congress has abdicated, in many cases, had it usurped in others, its responsibility to legislate – delegating this duty it administrative agencies and the courts.  And the experts at these agencies and the Scientists they fund at universities and research institutes are only too willing to shoulder that responsibility – and wield the power and resources that accompanies it.

Michaels’ book shows the extent to which bias in the field of climate research, a bias towards finding a problem where one may not exist, undermines the pursuit of understanding and truth and thus science as an institution itself.  It also undermines individual liberty and choice, limited government and fiscal responsibility.  The stature of scientists and bureaucrats and the power they wield are raised only to the extent that a disaster is in the offing, a disaster that only they can provide the solutions for.  Even if the warming that has taken place over the last century is, in part, caused be human activity, unless this warming threatens serious harm, then larger grants for research and corrective regulatory action in the form of energy restrictions may not be warranted.

If warming presents no or only minor threats, if people can easily adapt to climate changes, if or the threatened harms are minor compared to other possible problems, then the issue (and those working on it) will receive less funding.

Lord Acton famously said, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Scientists are only human and it would be surprising if they, like people in other positions all over the world, weren’t tempted by the allure of exercising power and influence of being enticed by larger budgets, speakers fees, and staff over functioning in a department with little influence or interest to those outside of their field of study.

Other scientists, not necessarily drawn by money or power per se, call for action because they are passionate about their field and their concerns and come to believe that others should share these same concerns.  Thus, if, for instance a biologist is believes that a species or habitat that he or she has devoted his life to studying it threatened with extinction he/she might make the leap that society should do something to protect it.  Their concern should be society’s.  Like a child, who says, “I want it, you should give it to me!” they argue though (perhaps) less petulantly and stated in a more sophisticated, less direct way, “It is important (to me at least), we should devote resources to protecting it.”

Thus the late scientist Stephen Schneider, one the earliest and most visible promoters of the theory the humans are causing catastrophic climate change, could say:

“On the one hand, as scientists, we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but — which means we must include all the doubts, caveats, and ifs, ands and buts.  On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climactic change.  To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination.  That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage.  So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, make little mention of any doubts we might have.  . . . Each of us has to decide what the rights balance is between being effective and being honest.”

Science, properly understood is the search for facts, knowledge and understanding — to discover and explain phenomena and their interconnections with other phenomena.

Politics, on the other hand, is about coming to agreement or consensus concerning what action to take in light of a particular problem confronting some number (rarely all) of the collective political body.  For a range of public policy concerns, before a decision to not act or to act is made, and if acting, what course of action might best solve the problem at issue, legislators, the courts and the executive must be informed by science, however, science in and of itself cannot be allowed dictate the course of action to be taken.  When science presumes to dictate policy (especially when what science can show beyond a reasonable doubt is in dispute) then science as an endeavor is corrupted. Other facts, and, as importantly values come into play when shaping policy and, outside of their narrow range of expertise, there is no reason for believing scientists in any one field have any special insight into the other facts, values and concerns which must be weighed in making policy.

Which brings us to a second issue, almost every day new revelations of the use of biased or flawed (or simply mistaken research) is found to be behind the central to the case for near term action to prevent further warming.  If the new findings are right, then the case for new regulations or new laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

First we find that claims, made by environmental groups including Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation  and by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panels on Climate Change (the IPCC), that global warming is leading to more extreme rainfall events and greater flooding are wrong.  Indeed, multiple comprehensive studies show that there is no general increase in peak stream flows.  Most recently, a paper presented at the European Geosciences Union concluded, “Analysis of trends and of aggregated time series on climatic (30-year) scale does not indicate consistent trends worldwide. Despite common perception, in general, the detected trends are more negative (less intense floods in most recent years) than positive.”  This is just the opposite conclusion of alarmist whose claim have gotten much widespread publicity with little if any evidence to back them up – once again we see bias in reporting.

Other studies indicate that contrary to previous claims neither Venice nor the many small islands in the Pacific Ocean are set to disappear under the water in the near future due to climate change.  It appears that the size of most South Pacific Islands has either remained stable or grown in the past 60 years, and that the regular ‘aqua alter,’ high water flood events that bedevil Venice, will become less frequent – decline by 30 percent – over the 21st century.  These findings are in stark contrast to the official IPCC position.

Finally, evidently having learned nothing from the previous two years’ worth of scandals (i.e., “Climategate,” and false or misleading claims made and defended by the IPCC, concerning the imminent decline of the Himalayan glaciers, mass starvation in Africa due to declining rainfall and crop failure and the rate of loss of tropical forests), the IPCC once again has been found to have used non-peer reviewed reports or claims made by environmentalists as the basis for predicting the ease with which green energy can displace fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  As reported in the Independent, a Greenpeace campaigner was a lead author of one of the IPCC’s most recent reports.  The report found that renewable sources could provide 77 per cent of the world’s energy supply by 2050. But upon examining the basis of the claim, critics discovered that the claim was based on a real-term decline in worldwide energy consumption over the next 40 years (despite population increasing by approximately 30 percent).  In addition, the findings were based on a modeling scenario – the most optimistic of the 164 scenario’s investigated by the IPCC.

Which brings me to a final point: June 30 and July 1, the NCPA is co-sponsoring the 6th International Conference on Climate Change hosted by lead sponsor, the Heartland Institute in Washington, D.C.  This conference will be attended by some of the brightest lights among the climate science community.  Among the topics one could expect them to discuss are the latest findings concerning the source and extent of global warming and a realistic assessment of the threats it poses.  In addition, there will undoubtedly be discussions of the numerous scandals and evident bias that have rocked the public’s confidence in climate science.  The scientist at this conference hope that it might be a first step in putting climate science back on a sound footing – getting it out of politics and back into its proper realm of providing critical information and understanding of the relative contributions of non-human nature and humanity’s role in the current climate, and a realistic assessment of the potential benefits and harms of various future possible states of the earth’s climate. If you want a more fact based understanding of the current state of knowledge concerning global warming than you are getting in the mainstream media or from political hacks, you should attend this conference either in person or via the web since live streaming will be going on.

Comments (3)

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  1. Paul D Perry says:

    Excellent article and an important tip of the hat to an American President who did want us to become something we should not be.

  2. Kennedy says:

    Hopefully we’ll be able to free government from the grip of those who are profiting from all of this climate change hysteria. It seems like we would be a lot better off if poorly-designed attempts to fix non-existent problems weren’t hampering businesses and innovators.

  3. Paul D Perry says:

    “did not want us” was what I meant