Wrong Way To ‘Win’ The Cli­mate De­bate

New York Post - - POST OPINION - BJORN LOMBORG Bjorn Lomborg is di­rec­tor of the Copen­hagen Con­sen­sus Cen­ter.

AL GORE re­cently had a telling al­ter­ca­tion with a jour­nal­ist. The Spec­ta­tor’s Ross Clark wanted to ask him about Mi­ami sea-level rises sug­gested in the new film, “An In­con­ve­nient Se­quel.” The re­porter started to ex­plain that he had con­sulted Flor­ida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity sealevel-rise ex­pert Shi­mon Wdowin­ski. Gore’s re­sponse: “Never heard of him — is he a de­nier?” Then he asked the jour­nal­ist, “Are you a de­nier?”

When Clark re­sponded that he was sure cli­mate change is a prob­lem but didn’t know how big, Gore de­clared, “You are a de­nier.”

I was re­cently on the re­ceiv­ing end of a sim­i­lar re­buff from Chile’s en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter. I’d writ­ten an op-ed for a Chilean news­pa­per that, among other things, quoted UN find­ings on how lit­tle the Paris cli­mate treaty would achieve and ar­gued that vast in­vest­ment in green en­ergy re­search and de­vel­op­ment is a bet­ter pol­icy. Marcelo Mena pro­claimed, “There is no room for your cli­mate-deny­ing rhetoric in Chile.”

Some­thing odd — and dan­ger­ous — is hap­pen­ing when even peo­ple who ac­cept the re­al­ity of man-made cli­mate change are la­beled “de­niers.” The un­will­ing­ness to dis­cuss which poli­cies work best means we end up with worse choices.

Con­sider the case of Roger Pielke, Jr, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who worked ex­ten­sively on cli­mate change. He be­lieves that cli­mate change is real, hu­man emis­sions of green­house gases jus­tify ac­tion and there should be a car­bon tax.

But he drew the ire of cli­mate cam­paign­ers be­cause his re­search has shown that the in­creas­ing costs from hur­ri­cane dam­age is not caused by storms made more in­tense by cli­mate-change but by more and pricier prop­erty built in vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas. He took is­sue with the UN’s in­flu­en­tial In­ter­na­tional Panel for Cli­mate Change over a chart in its 2007 re­port that seemed to im­ply cau­sa­tion when there was only cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence.

Pielke was proven right, and the IPCC’s sub­se­quent out­puts mostly ac­cepted his ar­gu­ments. Yet, he was the tar­get of a years-long cam­paign, in­clud­ing a mas­sive but base­less take­down that later turned out to have been co­or­di­nated by a cli­mate-cam­paign­ing think tank funded by a green bil­lion­aire, along­side an in­ves­ti­ga­tion launched by a con­gress­man.

Pielke left cli­mate change for other fields where “no one is try­ing to get me fired.” And sidelin­ing him has made it eas­ier for cli­mate­cam­paign­ers to use hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and Maria to ar­gue for car­bon-cut poli­cies, even though th­ese will do very lit­tle to pre­vent fu­ture hur­ri­cane dam­age.

Pielke finds that we should make rel­a­tively cheap in­vest­ments to re­duce vul­ner­a­bil­ity, like lim­it­ing flood­plain construction and in­creas­ing por­ous sur­faces. Ig­nor­ing this means more harm.

Leav­ing out dis­sention echoes the worst of the leaked “Cli­mateGate” e-mails. In 2004, the head of a lead­ing cli­mate-re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion wrote about two in­con­ve­nient pa­pers: “Kevin and I will keep them out [of the IPCC re­port] some­how — even if we have to re­de­fine what the peer-re­view lit­er­a­ture is!”

Jour­nal­ists also en­sure de­bate “pu­rity.” In Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can, cli­mate writer and for­mer CNN pro­ducer Peter Dyk­stra stated baldly that “cli­mate de­nial ex­tends beyond re­ject­ing cli­mate sci­ence,” com­par­ing pol­icy ques­tion­ers to Holo­caust de­niers and dis­miss­ing my own decade of ad­vo­cacy for a green en­ergy R&D fund as “min­i­miza­tion.”

This in­tol­er­ance for dis­cus­sion is alarm­ing. Be­lieve in cli­mate change but won­der how bad it will be? You’re a “de­nier,” says Gore. Be­lieve, but ar­gue that to­day’s poli­cies aren’t the best re­sponse? You’re a de­nier, says Chile’s en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter. Be­lieve, but point out prob­lem­atic find­ings or me­dia re­port­ing? There’s no room for you, say the self-ap­pointed gate­keep­ers of de­bate.

The ex­pand­ing def­i­ni­tion of “de­nial” is an at­tempt to en­sure that pub­lic and pol­icy-mak­ers hear from an ever-smaller clique. John Stu­art Mill calls this “the pe­cu­liar evil of si­lenc­ing the ex­pres­sion of an opin­ion.”

But even if an opin­ion is wrong, de­bat­ing it will teach more peo­ple what is right. And if the opin­ion is right, it of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to ex­change er­ror for truth. In­stead, we’re left with just one “right” way of think­ing.

With dis­si­dence on the Paris Treaty not al­lowed, we are on track to lose $1 tril­lion to $2 tril­lion an­nu­ally to achieve what the United Na­tions finds will be 1 per­cent of the car­bon cuts needed to keep tem­per­a­ture rises un­der 2°C.

That’s not the right way to solve cli­mate change. Say­ing so de­nies noth­ing but eco­nomic il­lit­er­acy.

Be­lieve in cli­mate change but won­der how bad it will be? You’ re a‘ de­nier .’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.