The Magazine

Scenes from the Climate Inquisition

The chilling effect of the global warming consensus.

Feb 19, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 22 • By KENNETH P. GREEN and STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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The rollout of the IPCC report and the Guardian story attacking us coincide with the climax of what can be aptly described as a climate inquisition intended to stifle debate about climate science and policy. Anyone who does not sign up 100 percent behind the catastrophic scenario is deemed a "climate change denier." Distinguished climatologist Ellen Goodman spelled out the implication in her widely syndicated newspaper column last week: "Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers." One environmental writer suggested last fall that there should someday be Nuremberg Trials--or at the very least a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission--for climate skeptics who have blocked the planet's salvation.

Former Vice President Al Gore has proposed that the media stop covering climate skeptics, and Britain's environment minister said that, just as the media should give no platform to terrorists, so they should exclude climate change skeptics from the airwaves and the news pages. Heidi Cullen, star of the Weather Channel, made headlines with a recent call for weather-broadcasters with impure climate opinions to be "decertified" by the American Meteorological Society. Just this week politicians in Oregon and Delaware stepped up calls for the dismissal of their state's official climatologists, George Taylor and David Legates, solely on the grounds of their public dissent from climate orthodoxy. And as we were completing this article, a letter arrived from senators Bernard Sanders, Pat Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, and John Kerry expressing "very serious concerns" about our alleged "attempt to undermine science." Show-trial hearing to follow? Stay tuned.

Desperation is the chief cause for this campaign of intimidation. The Kyoto accords are failing to curtail greenhouse gas emissions in a serious way, and although it is convenient to blame Bush, anyone who follows the Kyoto evasions of the Europeans knows better. The Chinese will soon eclipse the United States as world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, depriving the gas-rationers of one of their favorite sticks for beating up Americans. The economics of steep, near-term emissions cuts are forbidding--though that's one consensus the climate crusaders ignore. Robert Samuelson nailed it in his syndicated column last week: "Don't be fooled. The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution."

The relentless demonization of anyone who does not fall in behind the Gore version of the issue--manmade climate catastrophe necessitating draconian cuts in emissions--has been effective. Steve Schroeder practically admitted as much when he told the Washington Post that, although he didn't think AEI would distort his work, he feared it could be "misused" or placed alongside "off-the-wall ideas" questioning the existence of global warming. In other words, Schroeder was afraid of the company he might have to keep. For the record, AEI extended an invitation to participate in this project to only one so-called skeptic (who declined, on grounds that reviewing the next IPCC report isn't worth the effort). The other scientists and economists we contacted are from the "mainstream," and we were happy to share with them the names of other prospective participants if they asked. Over the last four years, AEI has repeatedly invited senior IPCC figures, including Susan Solomon, Robert Watson, Richard Moss, and Nebojsa Nakicenovic, to speak at AEI panels and seminars, always with an offer to pay honoraria. Full schedules prevented these four from accepting our invitation; a few more junior IPCC members have spoken at AEI.

But the climate inquisition may prompt a backlash. One straw in the wind was the bracing statement made by Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and one of Britain's leading climate scientists. "I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric," Hulme told the BBC in November. "It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the skeptics. How the wheel turns. . . . Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists, too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror, and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science's predictions? . . . To state that climate change will be 'catastrophic' hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science."

Then in December, Kevin Vranes of the University of Colorado, by no means a climate skeptic, commented on a widely read science blog about the mood of the most recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, where Al Gore had made his standard climate presentation. "To sum up the state of the [climate science] world in one word, as I see it right now, it is this: tension," Vranes wrote. "What I am starting to hear is internal backlash. . . . None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it's not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we've created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say 'climate change is right here!'"

The climate inquisition is eliminating any space for sensible criticism of the climate science process or moderate deliberation about policy. Greenpeace and its friends may be celebrating their ability to gin up a phony scandal story and feed it to the left-wing press, but if people who are serious about climate change hunker down in their fortifications and stay silent, that bodes ill for the future of climate policy and science generally.

Steven F. Hayward is the F.K. Weyerhaeuser fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Kenneth P. Green is a resident scholar at AEI. Both are frequent contributors to AEI's Environmental Policy Outlook.