Kerry, the Democrats, and the Demagoguing of Global Warming

Secretary of State John Kerry appeared quite concerned about global warming during a recent visit to Indonesia, telling students,

The bottom line is this: it is the same thing with climate change. In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the worlds most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.

A bit later, Harry Reid and his fellow Democrat senators pulled an all-night talkathon to sound the climate change alarm.  According to Reid, climate change is “the worst problem facing the world today.”  All this left reporter Susan Davis at USA Today scratching her head:

The Democratic effort is cause for some confusion because these senators are calling for action in a chamber they control but without any specific legislation to offer up for a vote, or any timetable for action this year.

As noted at Hot Air, the talkathon and Kerry’s bloviations were nothing but PR stunts:

In other words, this is nothing but a stunt — and transparently so. Senate Democrats control all of the Senate committees, and what comes to the Senate floor. Boxer herself is the chair of the committee on environmental affairs, and could push through legislation any time she wants to the floor.

In other words, it’s business as usual when it comes to environmental activism.  The pose is everything, and the reality is nothing.  The reality is that Kerry, Reid, and the rest are transparently indifferent to the problem of climate change, except as it serves them as a political tool.  If they really cared about it, they would have put a stop to illegal immigration long ago.  The carbon foot print per capita of the United States is four times that of Mexico, and the ratio is much greater for most of the other countries of origin.  If they really cared, they would put a stop to Nuclear Regulatory Commission stonewalling of innovative nuclear plant designs, not to mention grossly excessive litigation hurdles for plant construction.  If they really cared, they would get behind the shale-energy revolution which has cut 300 million tons of US greenhouse gas emissions by replacing heavily polluting coal with natural gas, a contribution greater than that of all the worlds solar and wind power installations combined.  In other words, they don’t care.

It’s sad, because climate change actually is a potentially serious problem.  Kerry is just blowing hot air himself when he makes statements like,

We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact.

The idea that someone like Kerry could distinguish “shoddy scientists” from “scientific fact” when it comes to climate change is beyond ludicrous.  What qualifies him to even make such a statement?  Certainly not the faintest understanding of current climate models.  The most powerful computers on earth couldn’t even come close to achieving a deterministic solution of the problem.  It involves billions of degrees of freedom in atmospheric and ocean conditions, and the necessary initial conditions are mostly either unknown or of limited accuracy.  The only way we can even begin to address the problem is with serious (and potentially inaccurate) data interpolation, and probabilistic computer models, the equivalent of “throwing dice” on a vast scale to see which numbers come up.  The statistical noise alone in such models renders it impossible to speak of “scientific facts” when it comes to climate change, but only a range of possible outcomes.  In other words, Kerry’s crude “alarmism” is an easy mark for the climate “denialism” on the other end of the ideological spectrum.  That’s too bad, because denying that any problem exists is just as bad as demagoguing it.

We may not be able to speak of “scientific facts” when it comes to climate change.  We do know, however, that solar radiation passing through a simplified model of the atmosphere and striking an “average” patch of the earth’s surface will raise the temperature of that atmosphere in proportion to the concentration of greenhouse gases.  The best computer models we have are not perfect, but they’re not useless either, and they predict that significant warming will occur over the coming decades.  In other words, we can’t speak of “facts” or certainty here, but we can say that there is a substantial risk that significant human-induced climate change will occur.  The effects might be benign, outweighed by the same factors that have driven variations in the earth’s climate throughout its history.  They might also be disastrous.  Given that earth is the only planet we have to live on at the moment, it seems foolhardy to rock the boat.

Under the circumstances, Kerry, Reid, and the rest might want to think twice about the value of crying “wolf” to score cheap political points, when it’s clear that they have no intention of seriously addressing the problem.  Particularly at the end of a 15 year pause in the rate of increase of global temperatures, the result, already much in evidence, will be an increase in cynicism and skepticism that the problem is real.  The resulting reluctance to sacrifice other priorities to address it may come back to haunt the alarmists if, as the boy in the story discovered, the “wolf” turns out to be real.

What to do?  Some of the most effective solutions are precisely what the alarmists who bray the loudest don’t want to do.  End significant immigration to countries with the most emissions per capita, for one.  Lead in the introduction and adoption of more efficient and safer nuclear technologies and the expansion of nuclear capacity instead of blocking it for another.   Instead, the wildly misnomered “Greens” in Germany are shutting down the nuclear plants in that country, with the entirely predictable result that Germany is currently planning to build 26 new, heavily polluting, coal-fired power plants to replace them.  Divert heavy subsidies for existing solar and wind technologies to investment in green technology research and development.  As those famously “green” Germans discovered once again, taxing the poor to finance the solar energy hobbies of the rich in a cloudy country whose capital lies above the 52nd parallel of latitude is a dubious proposition.  The cost of electricity there after years of massive subsidies to solar and a nuclear shutdown is now twice as high as in heavily nuclear France.  As noted in an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the burden of these skyrocketing costs is falling disproportionately on the backs of those least able to afford them.

Beyond that, we might want to get serious about finding another habitable planet, and developing the technology to get there.  We’ve been doing a lot of rocking the boat lately.  It would behoove us to have an alternative in case it eventually tips over, and the sooner the better.





Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

2 thoughts on “Kerry, the Democrats, and the Demagoguing of Global Warming”

  1. Dear Helian, Your main point is well-taken. If people like Kerry and Reid really believed what they say they do they would not behave the way they do.

    On the science however — and I am not a scientist, let alone a climate scientist, only an interested observer who tries to follow the science — I question even such a simple statement as this one you make:

    “We do know, however, that solar radiation passing through a simplified model of the atmosphere and striking an “average” patch of the earth’s surface will raise the temperature of that atmosphere in direct proportion to the concentration of greenhouse gases.”

    At least in so far as greenhouse gases are concerned, the temperature apparently (according to Lubos Motl at least) does not rise in “direct proportion” to the concentration of the gases. On the contrary, the relationship is logarithmical. If you double the concentration of CO2 one time the response will be to increase the temperature by X amount (around one degree centigrade I think is the consensus, even among alarmists), but if you double it again the response is much less than X. It is sort of like painting a room: the first coat changes the color most, the second almost completely, etc. (Again, from Lubos Motl).

    OTH, the idea that this initial response will be amplified by positive feedback is the part of the scence that is, to say the least, controversial. While alarmists produce all kinds of fancy arguments to say the feedback is positive, common sense tells us that, in nature, all feedbacks are negative. Else the climate would be unstable and we would have had a runaway greenhouse gas billions of years ago.

    Absent a positive feedback it is likely that the greenhouse gas will be a good thing on balance. A slightly warmer earth will have more habitable real estate in the temperate zone (look at the globe to see why). Furthermore CO2 is a fertilizer. The total agricultural yield of our planet will go up, meaning the carrying capacity will be higher.

    As for the idea of looking for other planets to live on? Well, sorry, but your science credibility takes a nose dive if you really think that is a possibility. And not just now and in the foreseeable future, but forever — unless you think Einstein was wrong about nothing can move faster than the speed of light.

    I don’t know why I’m going on like this since I really am not a scientist. But Google Lubos Motl and climate change if you want to brush up on the real state of our knowledge in this area.

    P.S. All this in reponse to your recent comment on Hbd*chick! It was pretty impressive.

  2. Luke,

    Of course you’re right about my use of the term “direct proportion.” I must have had one too many glasses of wine when I wrote that. I follow Lubos’ blog as well, and pretty much agree with everything he says about climate change, including his opposition to the costly and useless “remedies” proposed by the climate alarmists. I also agree with you that the effects of higher CO2 levels may be benign or beneficial. However, as I said, I would prefer not to rock the boat.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on interstellar travel. I’m on board with the guys at Tau Zero on that:

    We don’t have the technology to do it now, but I think we will have eventually.

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