Herding Skeptics Through Wal Mart

This week, half of CEI’s staff, it seems, decamped to New York City for the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change, organized by the Heartland Institute.

There was a lot going on at the Heartland conference, with five different tracks — paleoclimatology, climatology, climate impacts, economics, and politics. Unlike some of my colleagues, I hardly heard any science while there, because I was more interested in the economics and politics discussions. My own presentation (I’ll post a link when it’s online) took the line that, even if we accept that temperature is going to increase significantly this century, short-run emissions reduction of the scale necessary to have any affect on global temperatures is still a bad idea.

Others, like Julian Morris of IPN or Sterling Burnett of NCPA, took a similar approach. Barun Mitra from India, Leon Leouw from South Africa, and Roy Innis of the Congress on Racial Equality talked with passion backed up with data about how affordable energy is an absolutely vital weapon in the fight against poverty. Matt Sinclair from the UK Taxpayers Alliance outlined how even with the entire British establishment in favor of green taxes, the British public was still more opposed to them than in favor.

Yet we weren’t all generalists. IPN’s Kendra Okonski outlined how getting proper property rights into the almost-universally nationalized water industry is a critical step in avoiding any possible negative effects of warming on water access. Owen McShane from New Zealand demonstrated how “smart growth” policies were contributing to the increase in housing prices that spurred the subprime crisis while at the same time being less environmentally friendly — on environmentalists’ own terms — than traditional suburban homes. Michael Economides hilariously dissected claims that “renewable” energy sources could easily and quickly replace hydrocarbon fuels. One law professor (I regret not being able to recall his name right now) demonstrated how alarmists use graphical misrepresentation of data to win over the public.

The highlight of the conference for me, however, was the advance screening of the new film from Mine Your Own Business‘s Phelim McAleer and Anne McIlhenny. “Not Evil, Just Wrong” looks at how sanctimony and misunderstanding drove environmentalists to stop Africans from using DDT to help save children’s lives and how that model is repeating itself in the global warming debate, with potentially even greater tragic consequences. It moved me to tears.

Meanwhile, there were disagreements. I understand there was real scientific debate between, for instance, those who regard natural factors as overwhelming in the science and those who believe man is having a substantial effect, but that it won’t amount to any warming to worry about. There were economic disagreements between those who believe a form of revenue-neutral carbon tax is an appropriate response and those who regard that as an unwarranted and/or potentially disastrous market distortion. No one who attended could honestly contend that this was scripted by some vast energy conspiracy. Politically, there were libertarians, conservatives, moderates and, yes, self-described socialists.

My one complaint with the conference was that there was so much going on that I felt like I’d missed most of it. I’m reading Harry Potter to my daughter at the moment. I could really have done with Hermione’s time-turner.