The Dangers of Disputing Warming Orthodoxy
[Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed. By Christopher C. Horner. Regnery, 2008. Viii + 407 pages. An audio version of this review, read by Dr. Floy Lilley, is available as a free MP3 download.]
Those of us who refuse to accept calls from proponents of global warming for drastic restrictions on production often confront objections like this:
You skeptics, blinded by fanatical devotion to the free market, ignore evidence. True enough, you can trot out a few scientists who agree with you. But the overwhelming majority of climate scientists view man-made global warming as a great threat to the world. The course of inaction you urge on us threatens the earth with disaster.
Christopher Horner's excellent book provides a convincing response to this all-too-frequent complaint.
But how can it do so? Will not an "anti-global-warming" book of necessity consist of an account of scientists who dissent from the consensus? If so, will it not fall victim to the difficulty raised in our imagined objection? The book will pick a few favored experts to back up a preconceived political agenda.
Horner strikes at the root of this objection: it rests on a false premise. Contrary to what our objection assumes, there is in fact no consensus of scientists behind global-warming alarmism:
Professor Dennis Bray of Germany and Hans von Storch polled climate scientists to rate the statement, "To what extent do you agree or disagree that climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes?" … They received responses from 530 climate scientists in 27 countries, of whom 44 percent were either neutral or disagreed with the statement… Science magazine helpfully refused to publish the findings, by the way. (p. 157)
But do not the most prestigious bodies of scientists, such as the National Academy of Science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claim that man-made global warming is indeed a danger? Horner shows that matters are not what they appear. Environmentalists insinuated their way into the National Academy through "a special Temporary Nominating Committee for the Global Environment, bypassing normal election procedures" (p. 91). Once ensconced, these partisan figures used their position to elect more of their ilk and to block skeptics. The environmentalist members include Paul Ehrlich, who predicted in The Population Bomb (1968) that by the 1970s and '80s hundreds of millions of people would die from starvation. His manifest failure as a prognosticator has not deterred him from touting new and improved ways to cripple capitalism.
Appeal to the Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC) is likewise dubious. Far from expressing a consensus of the world's leading climate experts, the reports of IPCC alter the opinions of the contributors to reflect climate alarmism. Horner quotes to great effect several protests by IPCC experts over the distortion of their views.
Dr. Frederick Seitz … revealed that although the IPCC report carries heft due to having been the topic of review and discussion by many scientists, "the report is not what it appears to be — it is not the version that was approved by the contributing scientists listed on the title page." (p. 300)
Activists in charge of the report's summary exaggerated what the scientists had said to promote the global-warming agenda.
The drive against dissenters from global warming extends much further. Patrick Michaels, a leading critic, reports that an editor told him skeptical papers must face much stricter scrutiny to win acceptance. The "newly elected Democratic Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, … soon after taking office ratcheted up the effort to get Michaels removed" from his post of state climatologist (p. 113). In one case, when a skeptical paper evaded the landmines and secured publication, the global-warming enthusiasts demanded that an immediate rebuttal appear."Skeptical papers must face much stricter scrutiny to win acceptance."
It gets much worse. Bjørn Lomborg affirms global warming, but he angered the alarmists because he thinks programs to reduce carbon emissions should not have a high priority. When he expressed this view in The Skeptical Environmentalist, the alarmists launched against him a campaign of contumely. A Danish Star Chamber court of inquiry, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, found him guilty of misrepresentation, even though it lacked evidence on which to base this charge. Instead, it took over and adopted as its own a bill of previously published charges.
The Committees ruled in January 2003, stating that "Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty." This opinion, such as it was, offered as evidence not analysis, but a list of those who had criticized Lomborg. (p. 122, emphasis and footnote number removed)
After more inquiry, the Danish government quashed the proceedings, and Lomborg emerged vindicated.
Some globalists go even further. Greenpeace has called Horner a "climate criminal"; and an environmentalist group even rummaged through his trash, apparently hoping to find evidence of an antiglobalist conspiracy. Environmentalist stalwarts have urged that skeptics be imprisoned: by endeavoring to undermine our battle against the global-warming menace, are not skeptics guilty of criminal conduct? In Australia, global-warming advocates want to strip deniers of their citizenship.
Why do the proponents of global warming try to stamp out dissent? As Horner makes clear, billions of dollars are at stake.
The University of California system, for example, is preparing to spend $500 million [in taxpayer dollars] to create a think tank to analyze global warming and the Public Utilities Commission has adopted a decision which will spend $600 million more for a separate think tank to study the issue. (p. 223)
Research grants to "prove" global warming can readily be obtained. Nor is the gravy train confined to scientists; journalists, environmentalist organizations, and television and movie producers benefit from the campaign to save the earth. Al Gore, among other politicians, has used global-warming propaganda to enhance his fame and fortune. As Horner shows in a chapter that makes painful reading, "educational" materials to enlist children into the crusade provide yet another source of profit. If the global-warming hypothesis were overthrown, all of this money would be at risk; hence the imperative necessity to silence the critics.
But here I must face an objection. Even if heavy funding supports global-warming research, this does not suffice to show that the results of this work lack validity. Even if someone is "in it for the money," his results may be right. Must not motives and results be kept strictly separate?
Indeed so; but I have not argued that heavy financial backing undermines the conclusions of this sort of research. Rather, the financial interests explain why globalists suppress dissent. That said, the backing behind global-warming research should induce those of us who are not experts to hesitate before accepting in full the claims of the alarmists. The claim is not the fallacious "because you are an interested party, your results cannot stand"; it is the entirely defensible "because you an interested party, I will exercise caution before I accept what you say." Richard Posner, himself an alarmist, recognizes the point:
Fair enough; it would be a mistake to suppose scientists to be completely disinterested, and when the science is inexact or unsettled the normal self-interested motivations that scientists share with the rest of us have elbow room for influencing scientific opinion. To this it can be added that the climatic and other environmental effects of burning fossil fuels are red flags to the Greens… (Richard A. Posner, Catastrophe: Risk and Response (Oxford, 2004), p. 54)
But, as Posner goes on to note, does not this point also tell against the skeptics? Businesses have supported some of their research. This should certainly be acknowledged. As Horner notes, though, the notion that global-warming skeptics are tools of oil companies and other big businesses has little to be said for it. Quite the contrary, many businesses avidly support global-warming alarmism. If legislation imposes restrictions on oil and coal, e.g., alternative energy sources stand to profit.
But does not the objection I posed at the outset now recur in modified form? Even if no scientific consensus endorses global warming, what justifies us in inclining to the skeptical position? Are we not choosing our experts to harmonize with our political opinions?
Here we cannot escape. We must evaluate the evidence as best we can and this does entail choosing which experts to believe. It does not follow, though, that we must adopt agreement with a political position as our criterion for choice.
Horner offers a number of facts that lend strong backing to those who question the global-warming dogma. (The main focus of the book, though, lies not in scientific theory but in a depiction of the techniques and tactics of Horner's opponents.) For one thing, a number of the thermometers used to measure global warming have been placed in situations likely to produce an upward bias, e.g., next to incinerators or in cities rather than less warm rural locations.
Horner does not deny that some increase in temperature has occurred since the panic about global cooling in the '70s. But the increase by no means pushes the earth's temperature higher than ever in recorded history, let alone prehistoric times. Temperatures in the Medieval Warming Period ranged at least as high as those now current. Further, the projected increase in temperature owing to human emissions of carbon dioxide, the basis for all the panic, amounts to very little. If temperature does increase somewhat, this may turn out to have largely good effects, such as greater growth in vegetation.
Subsequent research [to Michael Mann's discredited "hockey-stick graph"] has ratified the old, outdated thinking drawn from agricultural records, diaries, cultural artifacts, and the like that the Medieval Warming was warmer than today and the [following] Little Ice Age cooler, globally and not regionally. (pp. 108–9)
But what of claims that temperature increase may melt the polar icecaps, with dire consequences? Horner notes that the area near the North Pole has been warmer in the past than it is now; further, Antarctica, much larger than the Arctic Circle, now is colder than earlier in the 20th century. Alarms about flooding rest on highly disputable computer models.
Even if the skeptics have a good case, why need we adopt it? I do not mean that we should judge in favor of the alarmists and set to one side the arguments of their critics. Rather, why need we take sides in a scientific controversy, any more than, say, we need to adopt a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics?
Unfortunately, we cannot remain neutral while the experts battle. The global-warming advocates support drastic measures that would seriously affect production. Some of them go further and call for curbs on human population. In this connection, it is more than a little disturbing that John Holdren, chosen by Barack Obama as his science advisor since the publication of Horner's book, is a close associate of Paul Ehrlich. Holdren was among those elected to the National Academy of Science "from the temporary nominating group" earlier mentioned (p. 93). To decline to take a stand is to surrender to environmentalist extremists.
A nagging doubt remains. What if, however unlikely, the alarmists turn out to be right? Horner deploys in this connection what Herbert Hoover would have called a "powerful statistic": there is little that we can do to lower world temperatures. If all nations fully adhered to the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol, this would have but a minute effect.
As Pat Michaels' World Climate blog summed it up: "…the amount of future global warming that would be 'saved' would amount to about 0.07°C by the year 2050 and 0.15°C by 2100." That amount of warming delayed for a few years at such tremendous cost is actually too small for scientists to distinguish from the "noise" of inter-annual temperature variability. (p. 249)
Measures to curb global warming cannot succeed, but they can do much harm. It is Horner's great merit to have called our attention to a real danger — not global warming, but the measures that global-warming alarmists wish to inflict on us.
David Gordon covers new books in economics, politics, philosophy, and law for The Mises Review, the quarterly review of literature in the social sciences, published since 1995 by the Mises Institute. He is author of The Essential Rothbard, available in the Mises Store. Comment on the blog.
This review originally appeared in The Mises Review, Winter 2009.
 Two books that I have found helpful on the scientific background are Horner's earlier The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism (Regnery, 2007) and Roy Spencer, Climate Confusion (Encounter Books, 2008).
An audio version of this article, read by Dr. Floy Lilley, is available as a free MP3 download.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.