John Kerry’s Phony Climate War
By RICH LOWRY
February 19, 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry is reporting for duty in the war against climate change. In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, he declared climate change “another weapon of mass destruction.” Indeed, in what might be news to the 50-megaton hydrogen bomb, he declared it “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
If climate change does not consider itself duly warned, it has only itself to blame. John Kerry has proven himself fully capable of supporting hostilities against dangerous enemies of the United States (that he then regrets, and campaigns against—but that’s another story).
The Obama administration’s latest foray on climate change—clearly setting the predicate for a regulatory offensive on the issue—is notable for its cheap argumentation heedless of logic or the actual state of the evidence. The same people who congratulate themselves for taking climate science so seriously trample all over the science as a matter of routine.
On climate change, they can’t handle the truth, because it is too nuanced and complicated to support a scare-mongering push for expensive, economically harmful action right away.
Nothing so annoys the alarmists about climate change née global warming as when conservatives talk as if a cold snap or snowstorm falsifies the phenomenon. Weather, they explain, rolling their eyes, isn’t climate. You dummies.
Or that used to be the mantra. Now, every bit of spectacular weather is presumed to be part of the grand, threatening mosaic of climate change.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science,” President Obama intoned in his second inaugural, “but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
“This isn’t something around the corner,” Kerry said in his WMD speech. “This is happening now.” He cited California, “where millions of people are now experiencing the 13th month of the worst drought the state has seen in 500 years.”
This sounds dire and about what you would expect of a weapon of mass destruction. But scientists aren’t so quick to point their fingers at climate change. “I’m pretty sure the severity of this thing is due to natural variability,” climate scientist Richard Seager told the New York Times, that famous denialist rag.
California experienced a very similar drought in the late 1970s. That event had the same proximate cause as this one, a ridge of high pressure that sat off the California coast and diverted storms to the north. This isn’t climate change so much as climate redux. The more the climate changes, apparently, the more it stays the same.
Obama administration “science czar” John Holdren explained in a briefing, “Scientifically, no single episode of extreme weather, no storm, no flood, no drought can be said to have been caused by global climate change. But the global climate has now been so extensively impacted by the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases that weather practically everywhere is being influenced by climate change.”
So there you have it, weather is climate. In this construct, climate change is completely non-falsifible.
The California drought is blamed on climate change, even though, as the New York Times report noted, “the most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms, California should get wetter, not drier in the winter, when the state gets the bulk of its precipitation.”
The severe snowfall in the Northeast is vaguely blamed on global warming, even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that spring snow cover will decline in the Northern hemisphere.
Whether it’s hot or cold, dry or wet, rainy or snowy—it’s climate change.
There’s practically nothing climate change can’t do. Articles appearing in quick succession last March said that climate change would lead to earlier springs and thus a longer pollen season (“Pollen Count, Allergies on the Rise Thanks to Climate Change”) and that climate change also accounted for an unusually cold spring (“Scientists link frozen spring to dramatic Arctic sea ice loss”).
The Obama administration’s trick is to apply a rhetoric of certainty to inherently uncertain models, predictions and estimates. Kerry said that “the science is absolutely certain,” and that “scientists agree on the causes of these changes and they agree on the potential effects.”
So, you turn to the latest IPCC report expecting table-thumping statements of complete assurance about the weather disasters wrought by climate change. Instead, on the issue of droughts, you get this warning label, “Because drought is a complex variable and can at best be incompletely represented by commonly used drought indices, discrepancies in the interpretation of changes can result.”
Contrary to Kerry, the report concludes mildly that “there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century.” It does hazard that “it is likely that the frequency and intensity of drought has increased in the Mediterranean and West Africa and decreased in central North America and northwest Australia since 1950.”
The IPCC report’s predictions about future effects of warming are over the next century. So, for instance, if you assume perfect clairvoyance on the part of the report’s authors, it is likely monsoon winds will weaken and monsoon precipitation strengthen … by 2100. To take this long-term guesswork and pretend it explains every drop in the barometer right now is absurd.
Besides, the facts counsel more caution rather than more certainty about the scientific consensus on climate change that is so often used as a political bludgeon. The Economist noted last year that “over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar.”
Even if Kerry were right in everything he says, he is powerless to do anything about it. Our carbon emissions are essentially static, but those of China and India are growing at a rapid pace. Writing in National Review, Oren Cass points out that “even the complete elimination of U.S. emissions would be quickly offset elsewhere.”
China and India aren’t going to let John Kerry bull-rush them into hindering their economic development—which has done so much to alleviate human misery—in response to a far-off theoretical threat of dangerous weather. The secretary of state can man the battle stations, but he will be lonely there. And if this winter is any guide, very cold.