Unsettled Science

It appears that climate science is not as settled as Al Gore professed even as late as Copenhagen. Reports of “errors” keep piling up as researchers take a fresh look at key findings and reports emanating from the international bodies and research universities most responsible for the body of literature being used to shape the world’s environmental and economic future.

“Skeptics Up, Obama Down, Cap and Trade Dead”

That was the conclusion of an ongoing series of investigative news reports in the UK on the IPCC and other research institutions linked to the UN’s Climate Change policy analysis. [1] Just a month ago, the panel was forced to retract is report on the rapid melting of glaciers after it was found that it could not be supported by the evidence. [2]

Correction Course on Political Correctness in Progress

That scientific research has been tilted toward a favored policy outcome is neither shocking nor new.  That the rest of the science community tolerated this “junk science” so long is the real tragedy.  This kind of passionate inquisition has been going on for centuries, but rarely has so much money been spent pursuing political correctness nor the risk of economic harm from such policy prescriptions so profound.  From faster melting glaciers, to rain forest collapse to agricultural production declines in Africa, the list of dire conclusions now being shown as based upon inadequate research, suddenly unavailable data, or just unsubstantiated opinion keeps coming like a slow trickle turned into a major flow.[3]

Exposing these “research errors” is useful and timely to be sure.  We can only hope that this tilting of science for the sake of continued research funding, professional advancement and tenure, or just vanity will be exposed and the erring parties discredited.  But where was “peer review” when we needed it?

As humans, we understand human failing, and can forgive it even as we discipline those who engage in it.  But we expect more from our governments and our rising cynicism and trust in government has a far more lasting and corrosive effect when we discover we are being mislead on the science and then mislead by politicians about the policies proposed as a result of reading that ‘political’ science.

It is NOT about the Environment, Stupid!

It would be a mistake of equal or greater proportion for those who cheer this collapse of climate change research to take it as repudiation by the public of our collective interest in being good stewards of the planet. The environmental movement has succeeded in persuading us that we must all act responsibly, avoid unnecessary pollution, and decry actions that needlessly despoil the planet or cause harm.  We still expect to leave the earth a cleaner place for our children than we found—as the cliché goes.

But something is changing in our sense of environmental responsibility.

This exposure of bad behavior by climate scientists will result  in more skepticism to be sure from this experience, and a better sense of the need for balance as a consequence of the economic recession we have experienced.  We still expect environmental responsibility.  But our definition of environmental economics is changing to include more balance of the cost and consequences of proposed policies against the benefits of enacting them.

Is there a Good Outcome from this Bad Science?

This could mean some profound changes yet ahead in the US and around the world after the effects of this climate change “crisis” plays out through the next election cycle:

  • Reality Therapy in Mexico City. Hopes for a COP15 “do-over” in Mexico City should be diminishing considerably.  If anything, the next UN conference in Mexico City should be a place full of confession, repentance, remedial education and soul searching about the important of academic rigor, peer review and transparency as a foundation for re-starting the debate about the real science of climate change.
  • US EPA Endangerment. US EPA must quickly back off its threatened endangerment finding before it risks having its authority in the matter gutted by an outraged Congress looking for someone to hang for this climate change embarrassment.  More than Waxman-Markey has been left bleeding on the sausage making floor of Congress, the Administration now lacks the political authority to pursue the same agenda by regulatory fiat.
  • The Environmental Responsibility Act. Congress should require all Federal agencies and State governments using Federal money to include in any environmental impact statement or environmental review and/or Federal rule making an analysis of the economic impact of any such proposed action and a finding, subject to judicial review, that balances such costs and benefits in the public interest.  The law should also include a “loser pays” provision in environmental litigation to assure that environmental lawsuits are not used as tactics to extract settlements or pursue political agendas.
  • AB32. This California law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is actually an income redistribution tax act designed to evade the two-thirds rule on budgets and taxes in the California Legislature.  It gives the California Air Resources Board the authority to set carbon taxes administratively on an annual basis.  The likely consequence is that such fees will be pegged to the size of the California budget deficit and, conveniently,  requires no elected official to actually vote to raise taxes.  The California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission have reported to the Legislature that they believe a carbon tax of $100 per tonne would be required to implement the policy goals of AB32 and the companion 33% RPS standard.  The collapse of the climate science foundation for AB32 will expose it for what it is. Besides, with RGGI and EU carbon credit prices falling like a rock to about $2 per tonne, AB32 will not likely produce the revenue California politicians’ dream of anyway after the climate science is “settled”.

So what?

Maybe unsettled science is a good thing if it forces a balancing of the costs and benefits of major policy changes in environmental laws and other public policies.  Voters are in a surly mood over the state of the economy and their anxiety about their own financial future.  This is the kind of political climate crisis that brought us Proposition 13 in an earlier California era.  Today there is no similar ‘quick fix’ for California unless we hit “reset” by authorizing one of the ballot measures being circulated today calling for a state constitutional convention.  For Congress, the path to hope we can believe in is actually swifter the old fashioned way Americans love—“throw the bums out” in the November 2010 election.

[1]. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/the-great-global-warming-collapse/article1458206/

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/7177230/New-errors-in-IPCC-climate-change-report.html

[3] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7017907.ece