The Climate Campaign Hits A Dead End. Now What?

Justin Gillis and John Broder of the New York Times -- both veteran climate campaigners -- report yesterday on the matter of carbon dioxide and the ongoing climate conference of nearly 200 nations going on in Doha, Qatar.  The article is filled with the usual scare lines.  ("Further increases in carbon dioxide are likely to have a profound effect on climate, scientists say, leading to higher seas and greater coastal flooding, more intense weather disasters like droughts and heat waves, and an extreme acidification of the ocean.")  But the article appears on page A-6 of the print edition, and on the bottom at that.  Does it seem that no one is paying attention any more?

The climate campaign has hit a dead end.  After throwing enormous resources for decades into the  campaign, the forces of environmentalism have driven into a blind alley, undoubtedly doing serious damage to the movement along the way.

Let's analyze what has happened. 

At its start in the 1980s the climate campaign seemed to be the perfect focus for the environmental movement.  World temperatures showed at least some level of increase over the previous century, There was a plausible physical hypothesis to attribute the increase in temperatures to carbon dioxide emissions from human use of fossil fuel energy, and using that hypothesis to project future temperatures led to predictions of extreme warming and climate disaster.  The obvious solution was to decrease carbon emissions into the atmosphere, but the entire economies of the developed countries ran on fossil fuel energy.  Among big fossil fuel users, the United States was by far number one, with Europe not too far behind.   How to decrease carbon emissions?  The U.N. got into the act with the Kyoto Protocol, a so-called "cap and trade" scheme, administered by the U.N., whereby the developed countries would be forced to buy limited amounts of carbon permits from the third world to keep their economies going.  By the mid-90s it was all falling into place:  looming restrictions on the developed countries for the sin of wealth; vast new powers to the U.N.; enormous transfers of wealth via the U.N. from the developed to the undeveloped countries; and, along the way, saving the planet.  Every environmental organization fell in line behind the campaign, not to mention loads of other big-government-loving groups.

And then it all went terribly wrong.  We'll take it in steps.

Step 1.  The United States Senate declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  China, India and other third world countries with growth potential were smart enough to see what was coming and got themselves excused.

Step 2.  China's economy took off.  India's also started growing dramatically, as did some others like Mexico and Brazil.  China started going on a coal-power binge, building a new coal power plant every week or so.  By about 2005, China passed the U.S. as the number one carbon emitter.

Step 3.  Natural gas "fracking" hit the U.S.  Gas became cheaper relative to coal in the U.S.  Natural gas emits less carbon per unit of energy produced than does coal.  Next thing you know, U.S. emissions started dropping, although the U.S. had never agreed to the Kyoto wealth transfers.  By 2010, the IEA had China's carbon emissions 35% above those of the U.S., and the gap continues to widen.

Step 4.  Around about 1998, temperatures (as measured by the only trustworthy source - satellites) stopped increasing.  Since then, even as worldwide carbon emissions have soared, temperatures have been essentially flat, and the 1998 peak has not been exceeded for over 14 years.  But the hypothesized carbon-temperature physical mechanism should work without any delay of that magnitude.  Suddenly the carbon-temperature link was not so obvious. 

Step 5.  Skeptics raised numerous questions about the supposed certainty of the carbon-temperature link.  Could feedbacks be negative?  Could other mechanisms, such as the sun or ocean currents, have the dominant role in climate forcings?  With every year that the hiatus in temperature increases has continued, the seeming confidence of the climateers has become more and more dubious.

Step 6.  Environmentalists touted new "renewable" energy sources to replace the fossil fuels.  Turns out that all of them need endless subsidies, and, even with subsidies, none of them work.  Because much of the time the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine, an entire network of backup fossil fuel plants is required.  Result: more than double the cost for the same power!

Step 7.  As temperatures refused to rise, the guardians of the surface (i.e., non-satellite) temperature data, all of whom are committed climate campaigners (e.g., James Hansen of NASA GISS here in Manhattan), began to cook the data to prove their case.  A release of e-mails in 2009 showed the climate campaigners working together to exclude dissenting views from the published literature.  And a small army of volunteers with access to the internet arose to keep the temperature czars honest.  Prominent among these volunteers have been Stephen McIntyre of climateaudit, Anthony Watts of wattsupwiththat, Steven Goddard of stevengoddard.wordpress, and Jeff Id (Condon) of the Air Vent.   To give just one example, Goddard embarked on a program to compare U.S. raw temperature data to "adjusted" data as put out by U.S. government agencies.  Result: the so-called "adjustments" uniformly lower older temperatures and raise newer ones to create a record of warming when the underlying data show cooling.  All efforts to get explanations from the temperature czars are met only with silence.  Informed members of the public are rightly suspicious of fraud. 

Which brings us to the current Doha conference.  Seems like no meaningful agreement will be reached.   Well, consider how the ground has shifted.  Twenty years ago the climate campaign looked like sure-thing science and the perfect vehicle to enhance the power of the U.N., punish the U.S. for its success, and transfer wealth from the first world to the third.  Now the climate campaigners keep talking as if some evidence supports their case, but it gets less convincing all the time.   Moreover, to get anywhere with their cause they must  somehow convince China to give up on industrialization and keep its coal in the ground -- not happening.  And is China to be a payor in the big wealth transfer? -- also not happening. 

And most important:  there are still several billion people in this world who lack electricity and automobiles and would like them.  Can they have them or not?  To continue the climate campaign the environmental movement must admit that its goal is to keep the poor poor.

Lots of voices over the past few weeks have blamed Hurricane Sandy on supposed global warming.  Have they noticed that this game is over?