Global warming politics may be worse than real thing

The controversy over climate change is, like many public issues in our world, fraught with emotion and spin.

Amidst the hysteria and a plethora of conflicting information from activists on both sides of the question, it’s hard for Joe or Jane Average to know what to think, or more importantly, how to respond.

Denying that we’ve experienced climate change is idiotic, pure and simple. We have thermometers and historical records – objective data. We’re watching icebergs melt in parts of the world, so we know it’s warmer.

Of course, this has happened repeatedly over the millenia, but our society has tended to ignore that.

The place that this natural phenomena has assumed in our political landscape is equally foolish and scary.

It’s become a political hot potato, and it’s gained big ascendency in the 2020 presidential race.

An impressive lineup of scientific organizations have recognized the importance of this issue, and the majority assert that it’s mostly the fault of us humans, who produce the greenhouse gases blamed for the rising temperatures.

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has become a poster child for the issue – literally. In San Francisco, a giant mural of her face is going up in the heart of the city.

She’s done a good job of it, missing school to sail across the Atlantic on a racing yacht (because flying pollutes the air) to address the  UN Climate Action Summit in New York earlier this year. Her activism has actually been named the “Greta Effect,” raising awareness of the issue among her peers and government officials, who obviously are moved by her singular dedication and straight talk.

This is a big deal. The media have largely bought in, reflecting the endorsements of the majority of the scientific community.

The problem, as has been pointed out by observers in a wide variety of forums, is that all this may not be as cut and dried as proponents would have us believe. And this isn’t the first time this has happened.

Anyone who’s over 50 will likely recall the acid rain scare of the 1970s and ’80s, which attributed damage to lakes and forests to emissions from utility emissions. Though not on the scale of CO2-based climate change, that concern resulted in a more than half-billion-dollar, 10-year-long national Acid Precipitation Assessment Program study ordered by Congress, which determined … that damage to one species of high-elevation red spruce trees of New England and acidity in lakes was actually due to natural causes.

The red spruce that survived the Acid Rain scare, by the way, are healthier than ever, according to a study by the University of Vermont and the U.S. Forest Service, released several years ago. Funny thing too, scientists now say that the sulfur dioxide blamed for acid rain actually combats climate change.

Acid rain, though it didn’t pan out to be exactly the problem initially feared, was still a boost to the  environmental movement because activists learned how to get the public’s attention, and how to get the government motivated to spend money and take action.

There have been other recent issues that have prompted widespread public concern: overpopulation, pesticide residues, West Nile virus, bird flu, Y2K, cellphone radiation, mad cow disease, etc. But none have gained the traction in the public arena that global warming has.

Before we go further, we need to make ourselves clear: Climate change is a real problem – like all of the examples just cited. In some of those cases, action by government (such as giving inoculations or cracking down on pesticides found to be dangerous) have likely averted bigger problems.

But politics is about power, and when scientists realize they have identified a “problem,” attention and money generally follow if they can generate sufficient attention. Scientific research is costly. Government money or foundation grants are helpful.

Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, wrote last year that “the tidal wave of funding does reveal a powerful financial motive for scientists to conclude that the apocalypse is upon us. No one hires a fireman if there are no fires. No one hires a climate scientist (there are thousands of them now) if there is no catastrophic change in the weather. Why doesn’t anyone in the media ever mention this?”

The examples above should also indicate to us that scientists are not omniscient. Almost all natural science, which includes climatology, is based on theories, which can sometimes be proven, but often are not.

Turns out, for instance, that preserving the spotted owl is a little more complex than just not cutting trees in national forests.

Not only is funding a big factor in all of this, but ostracism has become as well. Scientists, such as George H. Taylor, former director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University, have lost their jobs when they’ve questioned the scientific consensus.

The fact is, objective data indicates that the Northern Hemisphere climate has varied over the past 1,000 years, from relative warmth before the 14th century to cold periods between the 15th and early 19th centuries. But, of course, the most recent warming trend has been unprecedented.

But what should really scare us is when science, particularly unproven, becomes a tennis ball in the public arena. Formulation of public policy is always messy and it gets more so when personalities get involved.

Most recently we’ve witnessed the latest face-off on this front, between President Trump and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the wake of the latest wave of terrible wildfires that have erupted in that state.

In an exchange of tweets (which in itself should be a portent of debased political dialogue), Trump lambasted Newsom’s “terrible job” in relation to the state’s forest management practices, stating the governor should stop listening to environmentalist “bosses” and “clean” the forest floors.

He also took the opportunity to slam Newsom for state water-management practices, suggesting that California must open up what he called “ridiculously closed water lanes” out of Northern California.

The president threatened, as he has previously, to withdraw federal funding to California.

Newsom has criticized PG&E, the electrical utility blamed for last year’s Camp Fire, and which has subsequently initiated blackouts in areas of high fire danger in recent weeks. The governor has threatened a takeover of the struggling investor-owned company unless it can emerge from bankruptcy with a solid plan to protect homeowners and consumers and avoid widespread outages before the 2020 fire season.

Following Trump’s tweet, Newsom fired back, tweeting: “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

Really? Think about what’s being said here: The president blames the state for poor forest management, which may not be entirely preposterous. However, it should also be noted that the federal government controls the majority of California’s forests.

Newsom, whose style isn’t dissimilar to Trump’s in that he clearly enjoys the spotlight, particularly if it involves some contact sport, certainly didn’t back down.  But his line of argument smacks of fallacy.

Yes, it may not be entirely self-serving to assert that the warming trend of recent decades bears at least part of the responsibility for the increase in wildfires’ frequency and severity in the West.

Blaming human behavior for climate fluctuations might be legitimate, but it’s clearly become a strategem in the never-ending grab for power.

And that’s probably more dangerous to all of us than melting icebergs.