Climate Enforcers Need to Chill

Rich Lowry of NRO took on this week Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Ranking Democratic on the House Natural Resources Committee, for initiating an investigation into several prominent critics of climate alarmism.  Linked here at Politico, A Shameful Climate Witch Hunt.

Lowry begins:

One of the targets is Steven Hayward, a blogger, author and academic now at Pepperdine University (as well as an occasional contributor to National Review). As Hayward puts it, the spirit of the inquiry is, “Are you now or have you ever been a climate skeptic?”

Grijalva’s letters were prompted by the revelation that Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics whose work has been critical of the climate-change “consensus,” didn’t adequately disclose support for his research from energy interests.

Soon’s lapse aside, the assumption of Grijalva’s fishing expedition is that anyone who questions global-warming orthodoxy is a greedy tool of Big Oil and must be harried in the name of planetary justice and survival.

Science as an enterprise usually doesn’t need political enforcers. (For whatever reason, Aristotle left that part out in his foundational work a couple of millennia ago.) But proponents of a climate alarmism demanding immediate action to avert worldwide catastrophe won’t and can’t simply let the science speak for itself.

Couldn’t agree more.  The investigation is wrong and should stop.  As an aside, Steve Hayward is a friend, and a friend of this blog, and a very thoughtful and thought-provoking environmental author and policy scholar, although oft irreverent of those hyperventilating over a looming climate apocalypse.  I have learned a lot from Steve, and I’d argue the confusing world of environmentalism is in a much better place because of him, and because of his capacity to make us all think a little deeper and look at things a little differently.  Steve has more over on Powerline here, including a copy of Grijalva’s letter.

Lowry continues:

Consider the plight of Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has done work on extreme weather. He, too, is on the receiving end of one of Grijalva’s letters.

At first blush, Pielke seems a most unlikely target. It’s not that he doubts climate change. It’s not that he doubts that it could be harmful. It’s not that he doubts it is caused by carbon emissions. It’s not even that he opposes implementing aggressive policies — namely a carbon tax — to try to combat it.

Pielke’s offense is merely pointing to data showing that extreme weather events haven’t yet been affected by climate change, and this is enough to enrage advocates who need immediate disasters as a handy political cudgel.

It can’t be Apocalypse 100 Years From Now; it has to be Apocalypse Now.

Pielke notes that neither hurricanes, nor floods, nor tornadoes, nor droughts have increased in frequency or intensity since the mid-20th century.

As Lowry points out, Pielke’s transgression was simply pointing out and reinforcing what the UN’s IPCC had already declared, i.e.,  that “there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century.”

However, my only wish is that Lowry and others on the political Right had been as quick to call out then climate “enforcer” Attorney General Cuccinelli for a similar witch hunt against Michael Mann. Cuccinelli’s actions were rightly condemned by the Left. So it seems a little hypocritical now that the shoe is on the other foot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Mann’s, never have been, and think that he has done himself and his profession a grave disservice, as I’ve written previously here. The scientific evidence should be the final arbiter in this case, and provided scientists are left to do their own devices, without fear of reprisal and political witch hunts, the science will eventually prevail, and society will benefit most.  Admittedly, the science of climate change is terribly confusing, and many – and I include myself in that camp – remain confused over the science.  But we the public are a hearty lot, and the science, if left free from undue political influence, will eventually help us see through the smoke and mirrors of the denialists and alarmists.

My closing point.  As the political theatre of AGW continues to swirl and spin, I’m hopeful that most of us will agree that the scientific pursuit is healthy and should continue, and that dissent, skepticism, and robust debate about the science is healthy.   After all, shouldn’t the best science win.   But most of all, and despite the disagreements on the science, I hope all can agree on one thing, that climate enforcers need to chill.

[Update: Linking to a thoughtful article by Micheal Shellenberger over at Breakthrough Institute titled Climate of Incivility: Climate McCarthyism is Wrong Whether Democratic or Republican.  Here’s an excerpt:

Efforts to delegitimize one’s political opponents are, of course, nothing new in American politics. But they become especially toxic when they get mixed up with scientific controversies. Pielke’s sin after all, is not that he has questioned the consensus that human greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet, but rather that his research strongly suggests that human-caused warming has not to-date made natural disasters worse — a finding that has proven inconvenient for activists and Democratic politicians, including the President, who regularly claim that human emissions are playing a significant role in the rising toll of natural disasters in hopes that doing so will galvanize public support for climate action.

The desire to take action is, no doubt, sincere. And if you believe that the fate of the planet hangs in the balance of a Manichean battle between environmentalists and fossil fuel interests, then any scientist claiming that human emissions haven’t yet impacted things like hurricanes or floods must be part of grand conspiracy by the industry and must be delegitimized by any means necessary.

But such efforts do violence to climate science, efforts to address global warming, and our civic culture more broadly. Both climate activists and their opponents reduce a sprawling field of scientific inquiry, encompassing atmospheric science, geo-physics, climatology, biology, and economics to a single question of belief.

The shrill climate science debate between “ecofascists” and “deniers,” conflates the very basic question of whether climate change is happening with all manner of further scientific and policy questions about which there is no consensus at all, namely how rising global temperatures will be expressed at the local and regional scales at which they impact human societies, what capacity human societies will have to adapt to those impacts, and what our capacities are to reduce emissions at a scale that will much matter to either.

Neither does the escalating polarization and incivility put us in better stead to address the uncertainties, trade-offs, and competing legitimate interests that any plausible political path to addressing global warming will need to navigate. McCarthyite attacks on climate scientists were un-American and inappropriate when Republicans practiced them. They are neither less toxic nor more appropriate when initiated by Democrats in the name of saving the planet. The party of liberals and progressives should be the first to be outraged by the use of such tactics.