If you had told environmentalists on Election Day 2008 that four years later there’d be no successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, that a Democratic Congress would not have enacted any meaningful climate legislation, that domestic oil production would be soaring even after a catastrophic offshore oil spill, and that the environmental community would be having a lively internal debate about whether it should support reviving nuclear power, most might have marched into the ocean to drown themselves. Yet that’s the state of play four months into President Obama’s second term.
Start with climate change. Early in March, the hacker or leaker of the two email caches from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that rocked the climate science world in 2009 and again in 2011 released the remaining batch of material. The news produced barely a shrug even among climate skeptics, partly because the file contains 220,000 emails and documents (as opposed to about 1,000 in round one, and 5,000 in round two), making it impossible to review comprehensively. But it also appears unnecessary, as the climate change story has been overtaken by facts on the ground. Most significant: The pause in global warming—now going on 15 years—has become so obvious that many of the leading climate scientists are grudgingly admitting that global warming has stopped. James Hansen, who recently stepped down as NASA’s chief climate scientist to become a full-time private sector alarmist, is among those admitting that the recent temperature record has flatlined.
After two decades of steady and substantial global temperature increase from 1980 to 1998, the pause in warming is causing a crisis for the climate crusade. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The recent temperature record is falling distinctly to the very low end of the range predicted by the climate models and may soon fall out of it, which means the models are wrong, or, at the very least, something is going on that supposedly “settled” science hasn’t been able to settle. Equally problematic for the theory, one place where the warmth might be hiding—the oceans—is not cooperating with the story line. Recent data show that ocean warming has noticeably slowed, too.
These inconvenient data are causing the climate science community to reconsider the issue of climate sensitivity—that is, how much warming greenhouse gases actually cause—as I predicted would happen in these pages three years ago: “Eventually the climate modeling community is going to have to reconsider the central question: Have the models the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] uses for its predictions of catastrophic warming overestimated the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases?”
A steady stream of scientific studies (often government-funded) published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that conclude climate sensitivity is overestimated were ignored by the media, with the notable exception of New York Times science blogger Andrew Revkin. But the media blackout was broken in dramatic fashion by the Economist in its March 30 edition, with a long feature about the growing doubts over the catastrophic warming projections that have been the lifeblood of the climate campaign. The Economist reviewed a number of new findings that conclude the likely range of future warming will be much more modest—and manageable—than the Al Gores of the world have been claiming.
That the Economist would break with the pack is significant because the august British newsweekly had been among the most prominent media voices beating the drum for climate catastrophe and radical action to suppress hydrocarbon energy. Now it offers this zinger: “If climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch.” A Reuters story last week notes that scientists are “struggling” to explain the pause in warming. Expect other media to follow—if they continue to give the issue much coverage at all. The New York Times shut down its environment news desk in January and discontinued its Green Blog in March, concessions to the fact that readers are thoroughly bored with the issue. Recent opinion surveys find that public concern about climate change is at 20-year lows, not just in the United States but almost everywhere.