The ‘set­tled’ con­sen­sus du jour

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will

— Au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, al­ways la­tent in pro­gres­sivism, is be­com­ing ex­plicit. Pro­gres­sivism’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to reg­u­late thought by reg­u­lat­ing speech is ap­par­ent in the cam­paign by 16 states’ at­tor­neys gen­eral and those of the District of Columbia and the Vir­gin Is­lands, none Repub­li­can, to crim­i­nal­ize skep­ti­cism about the sup­pos­edly “set­tled” con­clu­sions of cli­mate sci­ence.

Four core tenets of pro­gres­sivism are: First, his­tory has a des­ti­na­tion. Sec­ond, pro­gres­sives uniquely dis­cern it. ( Barack Obama fre­quently de­clares things to be on or op­posed to “the right side of his­tory.”) Third, pol­i­tics should be demo­cratic but pe­riph­eral to gov­er­nance, which is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ex­perts sci­en­tif­i­cally ad­min­is­ter­ing the reg­u­la­tory state. Fourth, en­light­ened pro­gres­sives should en­force lim­its on speech ( wit­ness IRS sup­pres­sion of con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy groups) in or­der to pre­vent think­ing un­help­ful to his­tory’s pro­gres­sive un­fold­ing.

Pro­gres­sivism is al­ready en­forced on cam­puses by re­stric­tions on speech that might pro­duce what pro­gres­sives con­sider ret­ro­grade in­tel­lec­tual di­ver­sity. Now, from the so- called party of sci­ence, aka Democrats, comes a cam­paign to crim­i­nal­ize de­bate about sci­ence.

“The de­bate is set­tled,” says Obama. “Cli­mate change is a fact.” In­deed. The ep­i­thet “cli­mate change de­niers,” ob­vi­ously coined to stig­ma­tize skep­tics as akin to Holo­caust de­niers, is de­signed to ob­scure some­thing ob­vi­ous: Of course the cli­mate is chang­ing; it never is not chang­ing — nei­ther be­fore nor af­ter the Me­dieval Warm Pe­riod (end of the 9th cen­tury to the 13th) and the Lit­tle Ice Age ( 1640s to 1690s), nei­ther of which was caused by fos­sil fu­els.

To­day, de­bat­able ques­tions in­clude: To what ex­tent is hu­man ac­tiv­ity con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change? Are cli­mate change mod­els, many of which have gen­er­ated pro­jec­tions re­futed by events, sud­denly re­li­able enough to pre­dict the tra­jec­tory of change? Is change nec­es­sar­ily omi­nous be­cause to­day’s cli­mate is nec­es­sar­ily op­ti­mum? Are the costs, in money ex­pended and free­dom cur­tailed, of com­bat­ing cli­mate change less than the cost of adapt­ing to it?

But th­ese ques­tions may not for­ever be de­bat­able. The ini­tial tar­get of Demo­cratic “sci­en­tific” si­lencers is ExxonMo­bil, which they hope to demon­strate misled in­vestors and the pub­lic about cli­mate change. There is, how­ever, no lim­it­ing prin­ci­ple to re­strain un­prin­ci­pled peo­ple from pun­ish­ing re­search en­ti­ties, ad­vo­cacy groups and in­di­vid­u­als.

But it is dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish what con­sti­tutes cul­pa­ble “mis­lead­ing” about cli­mate sci­ence, of which a

WASH­ING­TON

2001 Na­tional Academy of Sciences re­port says: “Be­cause there is con­sid­er­able un­cer­tainty in cur­rent un­der­stand­ing of how the cli­mate sys­tem varies nat­u­rally and re­acts to emis­sions of green­house gases and aerosols, cur­rent es­ti­mates of the mag­ni­tude of fu­ture warm­ing should be re­garded as ten­ta­tive and sub­ject to fu­ture ad­just­ments ( ei­ther up­ward or downward).” Did Al Gore “mis­lead” when he said seven years ago that com­puter mod­el­ing pro­jected the Arc­tic to be ice- free dur­ing the sum­mer in as few as five years?

The at­tor­ney gen­eral of the Vir­gin Is­lands ac­cuses ExxonMo­bil with crim­i­nal mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion re­gard­ing cli­mate change. This, even though be­fore the U. S. govern­ment in 2009 first is­sued an en­dan­ger­ment find­ing re­gard­ing green­house gases, ExxonMo­bil fa­vored a car­bon tax to mit­i­gate cli­mate con­se­quences of those gases. This grand­stand­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral’s con­tri­bu­tion to to­day’s gang­ster govern­ment is the use of law en­force­ment tools to pur­sue po­lit­i­cal goals — wield­ing pros­e­cu­to­rial weapons to chill de­bate, in­clud­ing sub­poe­naing pri­vate donor in­for­ma­tion from the Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, a Wash­ing­ton think tank.

The party of sci­ence, busy pro­tect­ing sci­ence from scru­tiny, has forgotten Karl Pop­per (1902-1994), the philoso­pher whose “The Open So­ci­ety and Its En­e­mies” warned against peo­ple in­ca­pable of dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween cer­tainty and cer­ti­tude. In his es­say “Sci­ence as Fal­si­fi­ca­tion,” Pop­per ex­plains why “the cri­te­rion of a sci­en­tific sta­tus of a the­ory is its fal­si­fi­a­bil­ity, or refutabil­ity, or testa­bil­ity.” Amer­ica’s party of sci­ence seems ea­ger to in­su­late its sci­en­tific the­o­ries from the pos­si­bil­ity of refu­ta­tion.

The leader of the at­tor­neys gen­eral, New York’s Eric Sch­nei­der­man, dis­misses those who dis­agree with him as “morally va­cant.” His moral con­tent is ap­par­ent in his cam­paign to ban fan­tasy sports gam­bling be­cause it com­petes with the gam­bling ( state lottery, casi­nos, off- track bet­ting) that en­riches his govern­ment.

Then there is Sen. Shel­don White­house, D- R. I., who sug­gests us­ing the Rack­e­teer In­flu­enced and Cor­rupt Or­ga­ni­za­tions Act, writ­ten to fight or­ga­nized crime, to crim­i­nal­ize what he calls the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try’s “cli­mate de­nial ap­pa­ra­tus.” The Jus­tice De­part­ment, which has abet­ted the IRS coverup of its crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, has re­ferred this idea to the FBI.

Th­ese gar­den- va­ri­ety au­thor­i­tar­i­ans are ea­ger to reg­u­late us into con­form­ity with the “set­tled” con­sen­sus du jour, what­ever it is. But they are pro­gres­sives, so it is for our own good.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@ wash­post. com.

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