The average global temperature has not risen for 15 years. Extreme weather events are at or below historical norms. In the Southern Hemisphere sea ice has hit record highs (http://bit.ly/1vlDqP6). So of course the Obama Administration has once more declared that the debate is over and that global warming is a fact, and the Supreme Court last week gave the green light to the White House’s anti-climate change campaign.
Matt Ridley would not be surprised.
Ridley is a British scientist, historian of science and both scientific and political journalist. He has author of such celebrated books on science as Genome(1999) and on economics and science as The Rational Optimist (2010). Two weeks ago he addressed the Competitive Enterprise Institute annual dinner in Washington.
His talk was a good antidote for anyone who is close to OD’ing on the climate change medicine that, like a wicked Mary Poppins, the administration is struggling to force down our unreceptive national throats.
“I have defended science all my career,” he told the dinner. “I carried a lot of water for scientists in many debates with their critics, on topics like cloning, genetically modified foods, evolution and so on.”
“I did so because I am passionate about science. And by science I meant discovering the truth without fear or favor, wherever it leads.”
But in our time, Ridley continued, science has become something very different. It is no longer about the high ideal of truth seeking, but as one “guru of post-modern science” has put it (Ridley quoting here), “a product of social construction, of negotiation among interests, or merely relative to a professional consensus.”
Ridley said that such major scientific bodies as the U.S.’s National Academy of Sciences and the U.K.’s Royal Society “no longer act as clubs of people seeking to roll back ignorance” but a “trade unions” lobbying politicians for funding.
And what of the politicians they are so focused on influencing? A decade after reporting on American politics from 1987 to 1992, Ridley entered the British House of Lords and got to see politics from the inside. “I have discovered,” he recalled, that politicians “have far more affection for industries that ask them for money than for the ones that don’t.”
Oil companies don’t ask for money, so they are “the devil incarnate.” Wind companies do and “are treated like honored guests.”
Long a climate change questioner, Ridley said he followed the rule of New York Times science writer John Tierney (recipient at the dinner of CEI’s annual Hayek Award), “Just because an idea appeals to a lot of people doesn’t mean its wrong, but that’s a good working theory.”
To be clear about where he stood on the global warming consensus, Ridley offered what he called “counter-intuitive truths” ranging from “the world is getting greener because of fossil fuels, not despite them” (just look at global vegetation data and you’ll see CO2’s fertilization effect) to “the solution to global warming is to grow the world economy as fast as possible, develop new technologies and expand trade.”
That last truth should not be counter-intuitive, he noted. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, long a fueler of global warming hysteria, has said as much in its last report. It offered two scenarios for the world’s future – one that anticipated high economic growth, the other low growth.
“The one with rapid growth,” reported Ridley, “is the one where climate change ceases to be a problem. The poor and miserable one is the one where climate change becomes dangerous.”
Moreover, the low growth plan is the less plausible. It “assumes we will be burning an astonishing ten times as much coal as today, producing fifty percent of the world’s primary energy from coal.”
What the IPCC’s data tells us is “even if you pile crazy assumption upon crazy assumption until you have an edifice of vanishingly small probability, you cannot even manage to make climate change cause minor damage in the time of our grandchildren, let alone a catastrophe.”
So why all the hysteria?
“Well, it’s no great mystery,” Ridley told his audience. “Environmental exaggeration generates $300 million a year for Greenpeace. “
He pointed to other cheerleaders of doom, including no-growth guru Paul Ehrlich, and White House Science Advisor John Holdren, who have called for “a massive campaign… to de-develop the United States.” British green activist George Monbiot has gone even further, demanding an “ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy.”
“We live in incredible times,” Ridley concluded. “The world as a whole is getting rapidly wealthier, healthier, happier, cleverer, kinder, freer, cleaner, safer, more peaceful and, yes, more equal. Yet the forces that have caused those improvements are vilified and castigated.”
Tell it to the White House.