I don’t view climate change as a partisan issue, and I’ve been pleased to see it slowly shake free from that calicified status. It’s too important to simply serve as ammunition in the ongoing partisan wars. But perhaps not everyone shares that perspective.
I’ve exchanged emails with Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute and he seems like a straight shooter. But he comes close to going off the rails in his big climate-change story in the Weekly Standard.
It begins with a survey of the rising profile of global warming, a growing list of bipartisan activists, and a description of the many increasingly confident, hair-raising climate-change stories in the mainstream media.
Out of this he somehow conjures "a sense of political desperation among climate change alarmists, as the world slowly turns against them." Hm? If this is down, then I been down so long it feels like up to me.
To his credit, he isn’t stoking the denialist fires on the right. He acknowledges:
Very few people who follow closely the subject of climate change argue that there’s nothing to it. There is unanimity that the planet has warmed by about 1 degree over the last century. Just about everyone agrees that the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels cannot continue forever. That’s where the agreement ends.
But why such grudging assent? After citing some legitimate uncertainties, he can’t help tossing in:
Aren’t scientists overwhelmingly in agreement that the science is "settled"? Well, yes, except for the hundreds of scientists who’ve signed various statements and resolutions saying we lack adequate mastery of the subject.
Hundreds out of how many? What fields of specialty? What statements and resolutions? What peer-reviewed papers?
There’s the usual list of mistaken predictions from "Malthusian" environmentalists in the 70s. Apparently some sort of gang called "the alarmists" has survived ever since.
Hayward asks "why should anyone believe that this time the alarmists have it right?"
A more intriguing question is, how did The Alarmists© secure control over virtually the entire global scientific establishment? How is a ragtag band of 70s hippies this viciously effective? Somebody ought to write a book about it!
The attack on the IPCC also traffics in stereotypes, like a rightwing attack on the U.N. with the names switched. It even concludes with a familiar note:
Given its size and the imperatives of bureaucracy, the IPCC monopoly on official climate science is probably unreformable.
Incredibly, what Hayward suggests is needed is "the equivalent of the famous ‘Team B’ of Sovietologists at the CIA in the 1970s." Team B was "famous," you may recall, for grossly and in almost every particular overestimating Soviet strength during the Cold War. You may recall Team B’s descendent, the Office of Special Plans, grossly and in almost every particular overestimating Iraqi strength prior to the Iraq War.
We need one of these on climate policy? A hard nut of extreme, paranoid rightwingers with inside political clout? Really?
Later he winkingly cites an equivalent of the infamous Laffer curve for climate. The Laffer curve: the only thing proven wrong more often than Team B.
What’s distressing is not the merit of these old rightwing chestnuts, but Hayward’s desire to drag intractable partisan debates into analysis of climate change at all. Are we destined again for the equivalent of a culture war? Does there have to be conservative position on climate change that stokes the right’s familiar siege mentality? Can’t we all just share the position that we need to transition away from fossil fuels in any way that avoids undue suffering?
In substantive terms, Hayward’s argument seems to be that the known risks don’t justify the economic effects of cutting emissions, even as much as the relatively mild Kyoto asks. Hayward pegs the cost of Kyoto at an absurd $37 trillion (a "widely shared" estimate, apparently). I happen to think that mobilizing ourselves and the world to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will save money and stimulate economic growth in a thousand different ways. Maybe our disagreement really is only over projected economic effects. And maybe there are strategies and programs to forestall global warming that lie outside the traditional battle lines.
But much of Hayward’s Weekly Standard piece reads like an eager entrenchment, a gleeful squaring off for another partisan fight.
What a dreary prospect.