Presidential Committee on Climate: An overdue return to science
By Jason Ross:
President Donald Trump plans to appoint a panel to find out if man-made climate change is actually causing an imminent, irreversible, insurmountable, inescapable crisis that threatens not only the entire human species, but planet Earth as a whole. Shouldn’t we find out whether there truly is an impending catastrophe before allocating literally trillions of dollars for prevention and remediation, putting at risk the well being of billions of people affected by expensive and unavailable energy? This committee requires urgent support!
On February 20, the Washington Post reported on leaked National Security Council planning documents regarding an executive order to establish a committee “to advise the President on scientific understanding of today’s climate, how the climate might change in the future under natural and human influences, and how a changing climate could affect the security of the United States.”
In an effort to prevent the formation of this committee, a vicious defamation campaign has been launched against Dr. Happer, a distinguished scientist and Princeton Professor of Physics who has been asked to head the committee. Happer is also a deputy assistant to the president and the National Security Council’s senior director for emerging technologies
The Post snidely noted that several studies have already been performed by various US agencies, but that the NSC document had the audacity to assert that, “These scientific and national security judgments have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial scientific peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security.”
Happer, the former director of the Department of Energy research program (with a annual budget of $6 billion) has been accused of lacking expertise in the subject matter and of being in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. This last charge is both untrue in Happer’s case, and is selectively applied: how often are proponents of impending climate doom attacked for being part of the multi-trillion-dollar Climate, Inc.?
Two questions are raised most prominently: is the science settled, and what are the actual costs involved in a Green New Deal?
Is the Science ‘Settled’?
A March 5 letter signed by 58 self-described “national security leaders” opposes the climate committee on the grounds that the science is already settled: “Climate change is real, it is happening now, it is driven by humans, and it is accelerating. The overwhelming majority of scientists agree: less than 0.2% of peer-reviewed climate science papers dispute these facts. In this context, we are deeply concerned by reports that National Security Council officials are considering forming a committee to dispute and undermine military and intelligence judgments on the threat posed by climate change. This includes second-guessing the scientific sources used to assess the threat, such as the rigorously peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment, and applying that to national security policy.”
Statistics such as the 0.2% cited in this letter, and the commonly heard “97% of scientists” who agree with climate change are both misleading and inaccurate. First off, there has been no meaningful survey of all scientists with relevant knowledge in this field. Secondly, it is essential to unpack what it might mean to “agree with” or “acknowledge” climate change. Clearly, climate change exists, and has existed for the history of the earth, even without human involvement.
The question is not whether but to what extent human-caused changes in the atmosphere drive climate variations, and whether such changes are good or bad. A meaningful statistic (but one that does not exist) would indicate levels of agreement with more specific claims:
- What would be the impact of doubling atmospheric CO₂?
- To what extent does water vapor cause a feedback effect?
- To what extent must we take into account the solar magnetic field’s effect on the creation of clouds via cosmic radiation?
- What is the certainty range on these predictions?
- How well have climate models of the last two decades fared at predicting the global climate of the past 5 to 10 years?
- Will the specific, foreseen changes in climate be beneficial or harmful, or a mixture of the two?
The climate of the earth, as it exists in the solar system, is much more complex than a foolishly simple yes-no question about believing in or “denying” climate change.
And how can any such changes be determined? An individual cannot possibly notice that the climate is changing through their personal experience, which is necessarily limited in location and time. And it is of course absolutely laughable to claim that anyone could know, through their personal experience of weather, the cause of any such changes.
Science is not fashion. It is not decided by taking a poll or by seeing what is most popular. The idea that the Earth moves around the Sun was not popular, but it is true. Einstein’s theory of relativity was not supported by a popular vote, but it is true. A scientific argument that relies on appeals to authority is suspect. But, sadly, it coheres with modern education, in which the joy of discovery through experiment is replaced by learning formulas but not their origin, and by performing virtual, simulated “experiments” on iPads, rather than learning by interacting directly with the physical world.
A true, adversarial review of supposedly obvious climate truths is needed to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
What are the Costs?
The United States currently relies on hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) for 78% of its energy needs. The recently proposed Green New Deal calls for a reduction of net CO₂ emissions down to zero within a decade. So-called “renewables,” which currently provide 17% of our electricity, would have to be scaled up to provide 100%. And that doesn’t even address the majority of U.S. energy use, which is not electricity. Transportation by air, land, and sea is overwhelmingly powered by hydrocarbons. What would it take to transition to 100% electric surface transportation? And would this even be technically possible for air and water transportation?
The worldwide costs for the less ambitious goals put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are absolutely mind-blowing. Their Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5°C” claims that in order to prevent a temperature rise beyond 1.5°C, CO₂ emissions must be brought down to net zero by 2050. Point D.5.3 of the summary for policymakers gives an estimate of the cost: “Global model pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C are projected to involve the annual average investment needs in the energy system of around 2.4 trillion USD2010 between 2016 and 2035.”
This absurd goal is belied by the world’s rapidly increasing use of fossil fuel energy to eliminate poverty and provide high living standards. China’s CO₂ emissions tripled from 2000 to 2012. During that period, poverty in China decreased from 40.5% in 1999 to 6.5% in 2012, according to the World Bank. Even under the Paris Agreement, Chinese CO₂ emissions are expected to double by 2030, while those from India are expected to triple. Reliable and affordable energy means electricity in schools, fuel for agricultural equipment, transportation of crops to market, high-value-added manufacturing, top-tier research facilities, and efficient movement of people and goods; this brings higher life expectancies, lower disease rates, improved nutrition and education.
Simply put, the green agenda means a reduction of human life and of human living standards. In a recent interview, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore was very direct: “I suppose my main objection is the effective elimination of 80 percent of the world’s energy would likely eliminate 80 percent of the world’s people in the end. I mean, just growing food, for example — how would we grow food for the world’s people without tractors and trucks, and all of the other machinery that is required to deliver food, especially to the inner cities of large centres like Moscow, Shanghai and New York City? How would we get the food to the stores? It’s symptomatic of the fact that people who live in cities just take it for granted that this food appears there for them in supermarkets in great variety, healthy food to keep them alive when they couldn’t possibly grow it for themselves with such dense populations. And if, in fact, fossil fuels were banned, agricultural productivity would fall dramatically and people would starve by the millions. So, that is just a little bit of why I think it’s a ridiculous proposal.”
The costs for implementing a Green New Deal or comparable policy are enormous, and every dollar spent on such projects is a dollar unavailable for other uses, such as education, research, or eliminating poverty through bringing online much-needed efficient power.
Given the enormous, real costs of any plan to reduce CO₂ emissions or to mitigate against purported climate catastrophe, wouldn’t it be remarkably irresponsible to future generations, if we were not absolutely certain about the science and models behind climate predictions, and of the costs (and benefits) of changing CO₂ levels?
The climate narrative has largely been controlled by climate alarmists. Now it’s time to give other experts a change to weigh in, to have an open, sound, honest scientific discussion.
Mr. Trump, for economic, scientific, and even cultural reasons, we call on you to move forward and appoint a Presidential Committee on Climate Science.
Jason Ross is a former CFACT collegiate at Stanford University