WSJ Op-Ed: Demonization of climate “skeptics” should raise an alarm for anyone who takes science seriously. Skepticism is the essence of the scientific method
Springtime for WarmistsA Beltway commentator endorses “dictatorial” government.By JAMES TARANTOJune 9, 2014 THE WALL STREET JOURNALLast month Rush Limbaugh remarked that the reason for “the re-establishment of climate change and global warming as a new primary impetus of the White House” is that “it offers the president opportunities to be dictatorial.”A defender of the president might counter that “dictatorial” is overwrought. After all, whether or not his proposed regulations are wise, they are based on an act of Congress and an interpretation of that law that has passed muster with the Supreme Court. They won’t take effect until members of the public have had the opportunity to make their views known to the Environmental Protection Agency. And Obama will remain in office for only another 2½ years or so, after which his (democratically elected) successors will have the authority to revise the regulations. Congress also retains the authority to change the law.But National Journal’s Lucia Graves takes a different approach. Instead of denying that Obama’s actions are dictatorial, she disputes Limbaugh’s implicit premise that there’s anything wrong with that. Lest you think we exaggerate, her piece is titled “Obama’s Thankfully ‘Dictatorial’ Approach to Climate Change.”According to Graves, Limbaugh “has it precisely backward: The decision to use executive authority is the means, not the ends.” And you’ll never guess what justifies the means: “It also makes a lot of sense when it comes to global warming given Congress’s failure to pass the Waxman-Markey energy bill in 2009, and, for decades before that, to pass any sort of comprehensive climate legislation whatsoever.”Yes, it has come to this. Americans are being urged to submit to “dictatorial” government because democracy is incapable of controlling the weather. “In college classes, climate change is taught as a textbook example of where democracy fails,” Graves asserts in the very first sentence of her column.Well, that settles it. America might have been a noble experiment, but science has proven it a failure. “Science is science,” Obama tells the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman. “And there is no doubt that if we burned all the fossil fuel that’s in the ground right now that the planet’s going to get too hot and the consequences could be dire.” Friedman asked: “Do you ever want to just go off on the climate deniers in Congress? ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ the president said with a laugh.”Hardy har har.There are, to say the least, some problems here. Most important, appeals to scientific authority ought to fall on deaf ears unless the science is conducted honestly, which entails acknowledgment of uncertainty and respect for alternative hypotheses. In this regard, the demonization of “skeptics” should raise an alarm for anyone who takes science seriously. Skepticism is the essence of the scientific method.
Trofim LysenkoThe call for “dictatorial” government in the name of “science” is reminiscent of Trofim Lysenko, described by the Skeptic’s Dictionary as “a non-scientific peasant plant-breeder” who endorsed an eccentric evolutionary theory called Lamarckism. Lysenko “found favor with the party leadership in the Soviet Union. . . . It was due to Lysenko’s efforts that many real scientists, those who were geneticists or who rejected Lamarckism in favor of natural selection, were sent to the gulags or simply disappeared from the USSR.”A few scholars and commentators have called for “climate deniers” to be jailed, though Graves doesn’t go that far.Meanwhile the Times’s Frank Bruni writes that the administration’s new carbon regulations “may be too little, too late, according to an assessment last year by John Podesta, now a counselor to President Obama.” He adds: “As the title of a book by Al Gore observed, the earth itself is in the balance.” Podesta is trained as a lawyer; Gore studied government as an undergraduate. Thus Bruni has dispensed with even the pretense of appealing to scientific authority.Meanwhile, in a recent column for Bloomberg View, Cass Sunstein, a Harvard legal scholar and sometime Obama adviser, considers this question: “Suppose that an authoritarian government decides to embark on a program of curricular reform, with the explicit goal of indoctrinating the nation’s high school students. . . . Will such a government succeed? Or will high school students simply roll their eyes?”Sunstein looks at a new study of one government that mostly succeeded. “Starting in 2001, China decided to engage in a nationwide reform of its curriculum” aimed at shoring up support for the communist regime. For the most part, it was a success:
The crucial finding from the study is that the new curriculum greatly affected students’ thinking. They became more likely to count the Chinese political system as democratic. They displayed a higher level of trust in public officials. They were more skeptical of free markets, and more likely to reject the view that a market economy is preferable to any other economic system. They were more likely to want to extend political influence to groups outside of the Chinese Communist Party.
But in two respects “the curricular reform failed.” It didn’t make Han Chinese (the majority) any less prejudiced against minorities. And, on the point of today’s column:
Students didn’t become more favorably disposed toward environmental protection. They were not more likely to give the environment priority over economic growth, and they were not more willing to give up some of their income to protect the environment.
Even if Lucia Graves is right that “dictatorial” government is necessary for the global warmists to prevail, the Chinese experience suggests it may not be sufficient.