Few individuals would grudge the costs or inconvenience of childproofing cupboards to protect small children from stored poisons.* Most of us would laugh angrily at anyone who tried to tell us that poison is not really that dangerous when ingested by toddlers, that it might even be beneficial since repeated small amounts could create immunity, or that rational measures to protect our children will create weak and dependent individuals who can’t look out for themselves.
However, when the issue is anthropogenic global warming, which could effectively poison our children’s and grand-children’s future, many of us are willing to listen to climate change contrarians who tell us that global warming isn’t really all that dangerous, it costs too much to do what is necessary to stop it, and that we will destroy capitalism if we try to do anything about it.
This message is exactly what Reps. Sue Allen (R-92) and Cole McNary (R-86) are sending to their constituents as they attempt to gin up opposition to cap-and-trade legislation. In a follow-up e-mail to those who attended the showing of the film, Not Evil, Just Wrong, that they sponsored in October, they confuse climate issues that only science can authoritatively address with theoretical economic and political concerns:
It is our view that the best alternatives [i.e. to addressing climate change] lie in an understanding of science and history. How did the West, particularly the United States, become so much wealthier and cleaner than the rest of the world? Life expectancy has doubled since the beginning of the 19th century – truly remarkable. A political system that protects our individual rights to life, liberty and property has a lot to do with our progress. It’s a system that leaves scientists free to study and report their findings. It allows businessmen to innovate and produce, and it allows individuals free to buy and sell goods and services of value in a free-market.
Nor do they forget the right-wing strategy du jour which is to suggest that inconvenient scientific truths can be ignored or reformulated because they pose a threat to the American Way of Life (and wealth):
Sadly, we are eroding the very systems that have lead to such widespread prosperity especially for the average working man.
The concerns that Allen and NcNary raise have no bearing on the cause of global warming, and do not contribute to solving the problem. So, to provide a veneer of scientific respectability to their ideological rabble-rousing, they provide links to a talk delivered by climate-change skeptic Richard Lindzen, and to a panel discussion featuring presentations by astrophysicist Willie Soon, and physicist Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Istitute.
Soon, whose research is funded by the American Petroleum Institute, clings to a thoroughly debunked theory that climate change is not man-made, but the result of variations in solar radiation. Lockitch, a fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights (ARI), approaches the climate change debate from an Objectivist perspective that reflects hostility to environmentalism rather than compelling scientific argument.
Richard Lindzen is a somewhat different matter. He is the only one of the three who is actually a legitimate climate scientist, and, although his persistent critiques have been roundly rejected, he still retains some shred of respectability. Scientists writing at RealClimate and LogicalScience offer critiques of his positions here, here and here. As his arguments fail to gain traction, he has increasingly resorted to individual and collective ad hominem attacks on his colleagues.
Why, we ask, are our State Representatives promoting the views of discredited scientists, fools and charlatans. One answer is money. In Missouri, the coal-industry has lots to lose if meaningful cap-and-trade legislation is enacted. And certainly, if you look at the source of campaign funds for both Allen and McNary, you will note that, electric utilities, energy and natural resources sectors were among their most generous contributors in the past, although the sums were relatively small overall. Of course, apart from past support, it obviously doesn’t hurt freshmen representatives to cultivate their friends with an eye to the future.
Another, and possibly more compelling answer is ideology – that same furious, simple-minded, fringe conservatism that is responsible for retarding economic and social development across Missouri. This time, however, the stakes are too large; we cannot afford to permit failed ideology to prevail at the cost of our future.