Here’s the Real Straight Talk on Climate Change

Published December 14, 2015

David Haynes’ December 1 column on global warming (“We need straight talk on climate change”) was especially frustrating for those of us who closely follow the scientific and political debate. I appreciate his invitation to share my thoughts with Journal Sentinel readers.

The frustrating part of Haynes’ editorial was its opening sentences: “Climate change is real, and humans are responsible. This is not debatable if you believe in science. The science is clear. And that means there is only one question still worth asking: What on Earth are we going to do about it?”

Climate change is real, but the only part of the science that is “clear” is that the impact of humans on the climate is tiny compared with natural variability. If that’s the case, then the only question “still worth asking” is: Why are we wasting billions of dollars and destroying millions of jobs without any hope of stopping or delaying global warming?

Why should you believe me? After all, President Barack Obama claims global warming is the biggest threat facing humanity. And isn’t there an “overwhelming scientific consensus” that our use of fossil fuels will lead to catastrophic climate change?

Well, I’ve been studying, writing and editing the work of climate scientists for two decades, trying to understand and then share what scientists really think about the causes and consequences of climate change.

I’ve helped edit four volumes in a series titled “Climate Change Reconsidered,” two of them more than 1,000 pages long, summarizing the science behind the controversy. Together, they represent contributions from more than 50 climate scientists and cite more than 4,000 peer-reviewed articles.

Our work is credible and respected in the climate science community. “Climate Change Reconsidered” has been cited in about 100 articles in peer-reviewed science journals. The Chinese Academy of Sciences thought so highly of it that it translated and published a Chinese edition of the first two volumes in the series.

We didn’t raise a single dollar from corporations to pay for this research.

Here’s what I learned:

■There is no “consensus” on the human impact on climate, and certainly no consensus on what should be done. The surveys and articles cited in support of that claim have been debunked many times. They invariably ask the wrong people (often nonscientists or only scientists likely to agree with the alarmist views) or the wrong questions (for example, if any warming has occurred rather than whether humans are responsible for the warming). Credible surveys of real climate scientists show extensive disagreement on basic scientific issues.

■The human impact is very small. Many scientists who are expert on the “attribution” issue say doubling the concentration of carbon dioxide (the main man-made greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere from its preindustrial level would likely cause a warming of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, half of which should already have occurred. If you think that’s a lot, get up and walk to another room. Chances are, you will experience 2 degrees of warming or cooling.

■Even a warming of twice that much, should it occur, would fall within the bounds of natural variability. Temperatures were warmer during the Medieval Warm Period of 1,000 years ago, the Roman Warm Period of 2,000 years ago, and the Holocene Climatic Optimum of 5,000 years ago. Humans and ecological systems thrived during those warmer periods. There’s no reason to believe the results would be any less beneficial in coming centuries.

At this point, some readers will skip to the end of this essay to see who this “Joseph Bast” guy is. I’m the president of The Heartland Institute, a 31-year-old national nonprofit research organization (“think tank”) based in Arlington Heights, Ill. If you’ve heard of us, you may think we are a “front group for Exxon and the Koch brothers,” a lie spread on the Internet by environmental groups.

The truth is, Exxon hasn’t funded us since 2006, and the Charles Koch Foundation gave us the princely sum of $25,000 in the past 15 years, and that was to support our work on health care reform, not climate change.

Ninety percent of The Heartland Institute’s income comes from the tax-deductible contributions of about 6,000 individual donors and foundations, while only 10% comes from corporations. Donors don’t bias my views on global warming. Can politicians and environmental advocates say the same?

Why does this matter, anyway? Haynes’ column criticizes Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and Gov. Scott Walker for joining 25 other states in suing the Obama administration to stop implementation of its so-called Clean Power Plan. I disagree with Haynes. Science says that regulation would cost consumers billions of dollars every year and have virtually no positive environmental effects.

Let’s hope these awful regulations are ruled unconstitutional or repealed before they wreck an already weak economy.

The global warming debate has gone on for a long time. I suspect we are all getting tired of it and want to move on to something else. I certainly do. Moving on requires straight talk, but I doubt the alarmists on this issue are ready for it.

[Originally published at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]