This commentary originally appeared in The Daily Caller on July 1, 2016.
When celebrity physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson called in late June for the establishment of the virtual state of Rationalia where “All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence” merriment ensued, with the virtual community of the Twittersphere doing what it does best: erupting in derision and sarcasm.
But, as many pointed out, history is replete with regimes that purported to arrange their affairs by logic and evidence — the main challenge being, of course, who determines what evidence is valid and how much weight to assign it.
Nowhere is this question more apparent than at the intersection of climate science and public policy. “Who decides” this issue can determine the price of energy, where you work and in what job, the size and location of your home, the nature of your commute, etc.
In the 1970s when, briefly, we were warned of the imminent approach of a man-triggered ice-age, the solutions proffered by the experts were remarkably similar to the solutions being offered today to curb man-caused global warming. The groups and people demanding control were then as they are today: overwhelmingly from the left and overwhelmingly in favor of liberty-snuffing government.
But, what if the main scientific façade upon which these demands to curb our use of low cost and reliable energy suffered a fatal blow to its credibility? Would the citizens of “Rationalia” rethink their demands for decarbonization or would they proceed on blind faith in the superiority of the evidence they care to weight?
From 2004 to 2010 I served in the California State Assembly when climate-related legislation reached a fever pitch, eventually culminating in a series of laws that put California on a fossil fuel diet in service of saving the planet from warming which was claimed to be a universally bad thing. The debates at this time generally proceeded thus: the majority Democrats would claim the mantle of science and demand action; the Republicans would warn of the consequences of job losses in response to a potential threat that was ill-defined and even less understood.
During the floor debate over one of the numerous climate bills, I pointed out that the Earth had undergone several ice-ages and interglacial periods prior to industrialization that were likely driven by factors such as precession and solar variability. I further argued that, until this process was well-understood, perhaps it wasn’t prudent to propose measures that would act to increase human suffering. The response to my argument was quite harsh, with the first word in rebuttal being “Poppycock!” What followed wasn’t particularly scientific, but it was delivered with passion.
The problem with science, of course, is that it is, by its very nature, rarely “settled.” Thus, if science became the basis for law, it might be changed, but only if enough contrary evidence could be accumulated in the face of generous government financial support for the official position.
On the contrary, the principles of America’s founding are timeless — our government exists to secure rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — even if twisted or frequently ignored in our times.
Now comes a new study which challenges the role that CO2 plays in our planet’s average temperature. The paper, “Modulation of ice ages via precession and dust-albedo feedbacks” by Ralph Ellis, asserts that carbon dioxide’s main mode of operation on planetary climate has to do with its interaction with terrestrial plant life: as CO2 levels decline after an extended ice-age, plants die off in areas such as the high steppes of Mongolia, causing a big upsurge in dust storms which coat the Northern Hemisphere’s ice fields, lowering their reflectiveness (albedo) resulting in the Earth coming out of an ice-age. After about 5,000 years, the planet, now with high CO2 concentrations, goes back into an ice-age as the Earth’s 23,000-year precession cycle swings the Northern Hemisphere away from the Sun.
Ellis’ paper provides an explanation for what the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called, “one of the major unsolved questions in climate research” — that is, what caused the large CO2 variations in the past and how they were linked to climate. Of course, one would think that such a large unanswered question might be resolved before creating dozens of climate models that all assume a dominate role for CO2 as a direct agent in making the planet warmer or cooler depending on how much of it is present in the atmosphere.
As Ellis points out in his paper, assuming such a central role for CO2 presents a “problem… because high CO2 concentrations during an interglacial always result in cooling while low CO2 concentrations during a glacial maximum always result in warming,”
In other words, if the global warming alarmists are correct about CO2 — that it acts as a powerful amplifier of global temperatures — why didn’t the world experience runaway cooling or warming in the past?
Ralph Ellis, in conducting new and original science, has developed a thesis that “is simple, robust, and comprehensive in its scope, (with) its key elements… well supported by empirical evidence.”
If supported by subsequent findings, this should be good enough for “Rationalia” to change its policy approach to global warming — after all, if carbon dioxide isn’t the main culprit, there’s not much use in regulating and taxing it out of the economy. Unfortunately, “Rationalia” has a lot at stake in perpetuating existing policy via generous infusions of tax money, making the “weight of evidence” very difficult to shift against the inertia of official doctrine.