Climate Science Supports Realism, Not Alarmism

Published October 1, 2007

This is the third in a three-part series exploring how industry, and society at large, should respond to predicted climate change.

No thinking person should feel compelled to believe climate science is settled. It is not.

In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a Summary for Policymakers of its latest scientific report on climate change. As has been true of previous reports, the new one makes major revisions to the earlier report.

For example, in the new IPCC Summary for Policymakers there are 12 key variables pertaining to temperature changes between the years 1750 and 2000. The IPCC characterizes its confidence level as “high” on only one of those variables. Two are characterized as “medium,” one is “low,” and eight are “very low.”

Seek Balanced Information

If climatologists do not understand the past, how can they predict the distant future, particularly when disputes remain about drivers such as natural variability (including variations in solar energy), the effect of sulfate aerosols, and cloud and water vapor feedbacks?

So watch CNN, but also Fox News. Listen to NASA’s James Hansen, but also to MIT’s Richard Lindzen. Peruse Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but also Marlo Lewis’s A Skeptic’s Guide to “An Inconvenient Truth.” Watch Gore’s film, but also the new U.K. documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle.

And by all means, keep a copy of Christopher Horner’s A Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming handy, in case you encounter Heidi Cullen’s The Climate Code on the Weather Channel.

Most of all, keep an open mind and never underestimate natural climate variability. As Richard Kerr wrote in Science magazine, “The climate system swings from warm to cool and back, from wet to dry. El Niño’s unusual warmth in the tropical Pacific is just one of many natural climate variations. And the climate system does it all quite on its own.”

Just Say ‘No’

The balance of evidence in the climate debate points not toward a potential climate apocalypse but toward its opposite, a moderately warmer, wetter world enriched by carbon fertilization.

The fact is, the “carbon window” is closing–the atmosphere is becoming saturated with carbon dioxide to the point that emission reductions have a smaller and smaller effect over time. Thus, carbon reductions to “save” or “stabilize” the climate are a futile crusade even from the alarmists’ own perspective.

Alarmism may be in vogue, but nobody should fall for the bullying claims of a scientific consensus. Economist Milton Friedman fought the Keynesian consensus and won. Likewise, F.A. Hayek labored long against the central-planning consensus and won. Julian Simon did the same with an earlier generation of Malthusians, who pushed the overpopulation and running-out-of-resources consensus.

Good science does not work by consensus. Just because many think the planet is in trouble does not mean the planet is in trouble, just like the fact that many people thought the world was flat did not make it flat.

Climate Scares Exaggerated

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay, “Climate Alarmism and Corporate Responsibility,” which made the points that the climate scare was exaggerated and that corporations and trade groups should not capitulate to critics of oil, gas, and coal. I made three recommendations to the energy industry:

  • Oppose all efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol is a nonstarter, and unilateral starter programs (such as a mandatory cap-and-trade program) have intractable problems that will lead to economic distortions and harmful regulation.
  • Avoid voluntary carbon-reduction strategies that would penalize stockholders or consumers. Public relations for carbon-reduction programs should not promote climate alarmism but instead tout the efficacy of profitable, “no regrets” actions.
  • Refrain from political rent-seeking whereby mandates are endorsed in order to harm competitors. Such opportunism creates a game of musical chairs in which there will be fewer chairs each time the music stops.

Markets Provide Solution

If the energy industry crusades against climate alarmism and energy rationing, if it acts on principle and takes the moral high ground, the great middle of American politics will come to realize that a dangerous, unhealthy Malthusian mindset is at work, not a rational fear about a “planetary emergency.”

Today’s emergency is less about climate change than it is about 1.5 billion people who do not have access to modern forms of energy. The solution for them is market capitalism and fossil fuel abundance, not environmental socialism, windmills, solar panels, and “negawatts.”

For their sake and our own, we should let conviction and courage win over expediency.

Robert L. Bradley Jr. ([email protected]) is president of the Institute for Energy Research ( and the author of five books on energy, including Climate Alarmism Reconsidered and Energy: The Master Resource. Bradley is writing a multi-volume energy history which climaxes with the rise and fall of the late Kenneth L. Lay and Enron, where he worked for 16 years.