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Ignorance Is Strength, Dissent Is Stalinist

In an op-ed published yesterday in the UK Guardian, Michael Mann and Bob Ward warn Americans not to be “fooled by the Stalinist tactics being used by the White House to try to discredit the findings of mainstream climate science.”

Mann and Ward are upset that “a group of hardcore climate change deniers and contrarians linked to the administration is organizing a petition in support of a new panel being set up by the National Security Council to promote an alternative official explanation for climate change.”

The chief organizer of said petition is my Competitive Enterprise Institute colleague Myron Ebell. Mann and Ward describe CEI as “a lobby group for ‘free market’ fanatics which has become infamous for championing climate change denial.”

Let’s sift through their mud-slinging.

Mann and Ward’s evidence that CEI preaches “denial” is an ad campaign with the slogan, “Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution; we call it life.” Well, in fact, so-called carbon pollution has done more to invigorate and expand the planet’s greenery than all government conservation programs combined.

Similarly, carbon-based energy has done more to improve the human condition than all other energy sources combined. Spotlighting the upsides of the world’s dominant energy sources is not denialism but a corrective to the Left’s misanthropic demonization of fossil fuels.  

Contrary to Mann and Ward, the objective of the proposed President’s Commission on Climate Security is not to promote an “alternative official explanation” for climate change. Rather, the commission would examine the evidence for ranking climate change as a national security threat.

UN Secretary General António Guterrez claims climate change poses a “direct existential threat” to human survival. Former Secretary of State John Kerry claims climate change is “perhaps the most fearsome weapon of mass destruction of all.” If they are right, then of course, climate change is a national security threat. However, such claims are science fiction, not science.

Consider the U.S. government’s November 2018 National Climate Assessment report, recently hailed by 58 “former national security leaders” as an authoritative text on the subject. As summarized by The New York Times, the report found that unchecked global warming could reach 8°C and “knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.”

To get that alarming result, the government’s experts relied on an ensemble of overheated climate models that project twice as much warming as has occurred over the past 40 years. They then ran the models with an inflated “baseline” emissions scenario (called RCP8.5) in which coal scales up rapidly to supply almost half of all global energy by 2100—an energy mix not seen since the 1940s.

Even when the errant climate models are run with the implausible emissions scenario, warming hits 8°C in only one percent of model projections—a critical detail inferable from a chart in an article (Hsiang, et al. 2017) cited by the Assessment but never mentioned in the report itself.

Nor does the Assessment explain that even if warming cuts GDP by 10 percent, the economy could still be 10 times larger than it is today. In other words, even in the Assessment’s wildly improbable worst case, climate change does not rise to the level of an existential threat.

One way to measure the sustainability of a civilization is its vulnerability to storms, droughts, floods, and other forms of extreme weather. Since the 1920s, about 90 percent of all fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions in history entered the atmosphere, atmospheric concentrations increased by about one-third, and the world warmed by about 0.8°C. Did fossil-fueled civilization make Earth’s climate less livable—or more?

During that period, the global annual death toll from extreme weather declined by about 95 percent, despite a four-fold increase in global population. Individual risk of dying from extreme weather declined by 99 percent.

As energy scholar Alex Epstein put it, human beings using fossil fuels did not take a safe climate and make it dangerous, they took a dangerous climate and made it much safer.

More cheery news. Since 1990, a period encompassing the top 10 warmest years in the instrumental temperature record, the relative economic impact of extreme weather has declined from about 0.31 percent of global GDP to 0.24 percent. 

To be sure, weather and climate are factors the Pentagon takes into account when planning campaigns, constructing bases, procuring equipment, and the like. And defense planners and engineers should keep abreast of reliable estimates of how such factors may change. But an increase in flood risk at a particular base doth not a national security threat make. It’s just not on a par with Russia’s ICBM modernization program, China’s military buildup, or the Islamic State’s expansion in 2015.

Rather than make America safer, elevating climate change to a national security priority will likely promote groupthink, wasteful mission creep, and inattention to bona fide security threats. For example, President Obama obscured rather than clarified America’s strategic situation when he characterized Vladimir Putin’s military buildup in the Arctic as a climate change problem rather than a Russia problem.

What’s worse, the Obama-era Department of Defense gave no thought to the security risks of climate change policy. Climate change, it declared, is an “instability accelerant” and “threat multiplier.” But it never considered whether drastically limiting developing countries’ access to fossil fuels, as would be required to meet the Paris Agreement’s emission reduction goals, might trap millions in poverty, undermining international stability and peace.   

Mann and Ward continue:

The creation of the new panel of climate change deniers, and the recruitment of supporters to provide it with a veneer of legitimacy, echoes the campaign by Joseph Stalin’s regime to discredit the work of geneticists who disagreed with the disastrous pseudo-scientific theories of Trofim Lysenko.

That’s Orwellian. It’s not us contrarians who seek to establish party-line science. That’s the goal of the climate industrial complex. See President Eisenhower’s prescient warning about the corrupting influence of federal grants on scientific research and the danger of public policy becoming “captive” to a federally-funded “scientific-technological elite.”

Turning science into an official dogma is the very purpose of the interagency and intergovernmental consensus-building exercises of which Mann and Ward are so proud.

CEI and its allies merely ask that the U.S. government, for the first time, host a robust, on the record debate between the self-appointed guardians of climate orthodoxy and experts who assess things differently.

It speaks volumes that Mann and Ward resort to name calling and smear dissenters as “Stalinists.” Such behavior is typical of those who fear debate, not those who are confident in the validity of their views. Ironically, Mann and Ward’s opposition to the proposed commission would appear to confirm the desirability and timeliness of such an exercise. As our coalition letter observes:

We note that defenders of the climate consensus have already mounted a public campaign against the proposed commission. We find this opposition curious. If the defenders are confident that the science contained in official reports is robust, then they should welcome a review that would finally put to rest the doubts that have been raised. On the other hand, their opposition could be taken as evidence that the scientific basis of the climate consensus is in fact highly suspect and cannot withstand critical review.