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Fighting for Truth in Climate Science Is Important


By H. Sterling Burnett, The Heartland Institute

Over more than 30 years of studying climate change, reading hundreds of reports, studies, white papers, commentaries, and news stories on the topic, during which time I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words on the issue, I have come to a few firm conclusions: Climate change is happening—slowly, modestly, but happening; humans may be contributing to it, though whether they are the dominant or even a primary cause is an open question; and there is no evidence so far that climate change is producing dangerous results.

In addition, there is no reason for believing—outside of flawed computer models projections and mantra-like repeated claims from those who in some form or fashion profit from stoking climate fear, in terms of money, resources, power, or all of them combined—that climate change or the human greenhouse gas emissions (and associated fossil fuel use) that are supposedly causing it, pose an existential threat to humankind or the environment.

I don’t claim mine is the majority view on this point. Indeed, my life would be easier—and based on offers that have been made to me, my living standard higher—if I conceded the science and joined with those pushing draconian restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions and profiting from various green energy boondoggles. All I have to do to receive higher pay, accolades, and to bring an end to the abuse and threats from those who think I’m “worse than the Nazis” (something said and written to me a number of times), is to play the game and join the consensus. All that’s holding me back is my stubborn, arguably foolish, belief that I should speak the truth on this and other matters of public import of which I am knowledgeable as I see fit, let the chips fall where they may.

I’m not the only skeptical laborer in the field of climate research and policy. Based on conversations that I have had, most if not all of my colleagues at one time or another have been confronted with the same question or proposal: Why not concede “the science” and fight for rational policies? Some people, whom I generally respect, have done just that. They have over time accepted, or at least have become unwilling to argue about whether, humans are causing dangerous climate change, and now spend their time trying to ensure that policies developed/imposed to fight climate change are economically efficient. I’m not there, yet.

It would be easier to eschew the science and just talk climate policy, but it wouldn’t be honest, and if I began doing so, I would be conceding what I believe to be the moral high ground. Sound science shouldn’t dictate energy policy, but it should inform it. If skeptics concede the science when the causes and consequences of climate change are truly still open questions, then I and my realist colleagues will just be negotiating how much liberty to give up to big government and international bureaucrats, unrestrained by constitutions or democratic representation. In point of fact, all options to reduce fossil fuel emissions have benefits and costs, penalizing some and rewarding others, but the best assessments indicate that prematurely ending the use of fossil fuels will leave the world in general worse off, on balance, economically, than if we adapt to climate change regardless of the cause—which means some people will die and remain poor when they don’t have to.

There is no realistic replacement for fossil fuels in transportation or the thousands of products they are critical to the production of, in the near and medium term. As for electricity, eschewing fossil fuel use in the near and medium term means less reliable power, energy outages, and higher prices. Year after year over the past two decades these statements have been borne out as facts on the ground, academics, progressive politicians, and green energy profiteers’ claims to the contrary. Check your electric power bills and any data on outages.

I have often said that when the science changes, so will my views. If I become convinced that humans are causing dangerous climate change, and that the effects of said change will be more harmful to human freedom and prosperity than the harms that result from restricting fossil fuels, then I’ll support such policies. However, at present, I remain convinced that even if I’m wrong on the science, I’m right about the policy. Increasing wealth, adaptability, and societal resilience—all of which are made possible more quickly through the use of fossil fuels than by banning them—are critical to effectively and beneficially responding to climate change.

As I said, I’m not the only person who holds this point of view. My comments above were sparked most recently by an article by Edward Ring, a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013. In that article he writes:

If you concede the science, and only challenge the policies that a biased and politicized scientific narrative is being used to justify, you’re already playing defense in your own red zone. You’re going to lose the game. Who cares if we have to enslave humanity? Our alternative is certain death from global boiling! You can’t win that argument. You must challenge the science, and you can, because scientists like John Christy and others are still available.

Ring cites as an example of playing defense, at a great cost to society, the response of big oil companies to the various lawsuits filed in multiple political jurisdictions by cities, states, and various activist groups. Oil companies have largely conceded the science, saying in effect, “Our products have been beneficial, producing a lot of good, but are also changing the climate for the worse, so we agree we must phase them out in a timely fashion. Not now, but over time, and in the meantime, we’re investing in lower carbon solutions.”

That’s like a popular but abusive spouse saying, “Look, I’m a pretty good guy and contribute to society, but along the way, I beat my wife. But I’m doing it less now than in the past, and in the future I expect to stop doing it entirely.” That’s not a very compelling argument.

Big oil decided not to fight for truth in science despite, for example, The Heartland Institute providing a friend of the court brief, in one case, clearly demonstrating that at present no climate catastrophe is evident or in the offing. Rather than fight for their lives, oil companies are fighting for a slower execution. Oil doesn’t want to pay off the various groups trying to extort them, while still conceding the justification for the extortion. Such a strategy doesn’t work, never has, and never will.

As Ring writes:

An aggressive defense against [these] lawsuit[s] by ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute would attack the core premise of the plaintiffs, the alleged evidence of global warming and extreme weather. Because what is being presented as “evidence” supporting a climate “crisis” is consistently misleading and often outright fraudulent.

Philosopher, novelist, and screen- and play-writer Ayn Rand is reported to have said, “[i]n any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

The fight for sound science, per se, but climate science, specifically, is a fight for truth and all the progress science can provide. It’s a moral fight. That is why I continue to fight for what I believe to be the truth about climate change, even in the face of ad hominem attacks in print, through email, and online, attempted and sometimes successful censorship, and the occasional threat of physical violence and death.

Sources: American Greatness; The Heartland Institute


H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute’s Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.