Complete Polarization In The World Of Politics: Climate Change Edition

Perhaps you think that science, of all things, should be above politics.  After all, the whole idea of the scientific method is to divorce our efforts to understand the physical world from the misdirecting influences of political power and groupthink.  In science, there is only one relevant question:  Does the best available evidence support or refute the hypothesis at hand?  How could politics possibly get mixed up in that?

The simple answer is, this is human affairs.  And in human affairs, when money and power are at stake (and sometimes, even when they are not), people are going to form themselves into teams and tribes to fight it out.  Evidence?  What's that?

You probably have seen polls showing very large gaps in opinions on the subject of "climate change" between Republicans and Democrats.  For example, this Gallup poll from March found that 66% of Democrats "worry a great deal about climate change," while only 18% of Republicans do so.  That's rather a huge divide, although not quite complete polarization.  

However, as things are now playing out in our Congress and in the courts, the polarization on the issue of climate change is nearing one hundred percent.  Democrats are in complete unanimity in declaring climate change to be a crisis and demanding massive government-directed "solutions," while Republicans have fewer and fewer non-skeptics in their ranks.  I'm old enough to remember that the Republican presidential candidates in both 2008 (McCain) and 2012 (Romney) had drunk the climate Kool Aid.  (I actually went to a fund-raiser for Romney in 2012, only to hear him deliver a talk that was largely about how he was going to solve the climate crisis by some kind of new coercive regime.)  Those days are over.  Can anybody name a member of the younger generation of Republicans in Congress who is not a skeptic? 

To get an idea how far things have gone, consider the recent confirmation battle over James Bridenstine.  Trump nominated the Oklahoma Congressman to be administrator of the space agency, NASA, back in September 2017, and the nomination proceeded to go nowhere for 7 months.  After a Perils-of-Pauline excursion through a committee and toward the floor, the nomination finally came up for a vote on April 19.   Space News characterized the matter as "[t]he most contentious nomination process for a NASA administrator in the agency’s six-decade history."  The final Senate vote on the nomination was 50-49, with every single Republican voting in favor, and every single Democrat voting against (McCain was absent due to his health).

The NASA administrator should be about the least politically-contentious job in the government.  How did this position get to be the subject of a contentious months-long fight and a straight party-line vote?  The simple answer is climate change.  Buried in NASA is something called the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, located here in Manhattan at Columbia University.  GISS is one of the main sources of world surface temperature (ground-based thermometer) data, which data are the regular basis for press releases from the government declaring the latest year or month to be the "hottest ever" on some basis or other.  GISS is headed by one Gavin Schmidt, one of the leading proponents of the global climate scare.  

The published GISS data, under the direction of Schmidt, have been subjected to "adjustment" and "homogenization" by algorithms that substantially enhance the apparent warming, mostly by adjusting earlier-year temperatures downward, but in some part also by adjusting recent-year temperatures upward.  GISS has systematically adjusted not only the raw temperature data from the network of thermometers, but also data that it itself previously officially reported.  To learn more about this subject than you will ever want to know, read the eighteen-part Manhattan Contrarian series titled "The Greatest Scientific Fraud Of All Time."   GISS puts out substantial information about what they do, but not enough to enable full replication and critique by independent scientists.

Oh, and Bridenstine, during his time in Congress, became known as a prominent climate skeptic.  Over at Oil Change International they have put together a collection of really, really scary quotes from Bridenstine, like:

“Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.”

“I would say that the climate is changing. It has always changed. There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today."

At his confirmation hearing [Bridenstine] said: “I believe that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. I believe that humans have contributed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” but when pressed by Sen. Brian Schatz, Bridenstine would not say if humans were the primary contributors to climate change. 

In other words, forget about space exploration.  This guy might actually call in some independent people to check whether the climate data we are getting from NASA/GISS can be trusted.  He must be stopped!  But actually, at the moment he seems to have made it through the Senate.  Let's see where this goes next.

And then we have the courts.  You know -- the places where the lady holding the scales of justice wears a blindfold to indicate that she won't even peak to see whether politics would dictate a preferred result here.  If you believe that, consider two recent results from two different courts.

As background, you probably are aware that the major oil companies, and most notably Exxon Mobil, have come under siege recently from government lawyers in deep blue jurisdictions, including the Attorneys General of New York (Schneiderman) and Massachusetts (Healey) and certain County and City Attorneys in California.  In 2015 Schneiderman and Healey initiated what they claim to be "criminal" investigations, although three years in no charges have been filed (and no plausible potential charges have even been suggested).  The Counties and Cities in California have brought civil lawsuits, sounding in common law "nuisance," claiming potentially billions of dollars in damages from what they assert will be rising sea levels caused by climate change.

In June 2016, Exxon tried a counterstrike by filing a lawsuit in federal court in Dallas, Texas seeking discovery against Schneiderman and Healey as to what it claimed was the political motives behind the supposed criminal investigation.  Exxon supported its complaint with a litany detailing meetings between and among the AGs and climate activists, where the activists urged the AGs to use their powers to investigate oil companies.  The Dallas judge (Kinkeade) initially issued an opinion containing some statements favorable to Exxon's position, but then in March 2017 Judge Kinkeade transferred the case to the Southern District of New York.  Transferring a case from one state to another is something that federal judges can do within the federal court system.  Upon transfer, Exxon's case came before Obama-appointee Valerie Caproni.  On March 29 this year, Judge Caproni dismissed the case with an opinion that was highly critical of Exxon's gambit.  Key quote:

Exxon’s allegations that the AGs are pursuing bad faith investigations in order to violate Exxon’s constitutional rights are implausible and therefore must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Meanwhile, in January of this year, Exxon initiated a similar gambit with regard to the California nuisance lawsuits.  This time it brought its claim in the District Court of Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth) -- that is, a state court, rather than a federal court. Like the previous case against Schneiderman and Healey, this complaint again seeks discovery against government lawyers responsible for the claims against the company; and also like the previous case, this one goes through the litany of efforts by activist environmental lawyers to induce the government agencies to use their powers to go after the oil companies.  The new case also added a series of allegations from bond prospectuses of the California cities and counties seemingly in direct contradiction of their assertions in their complaints of imminent destructive sea level rise.

In this new Texas case, the California cities and counties did not "remove" to federal court (I don't know why not), but rather moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction over them.  The Fort Worth judge, Wallace, denied those motions in "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" dated April 25.  It's fair to say that Judge Wallace's conclusions are about the opposite of those of Judge Caproni on mostly the same allegations.  Examples:

At the conference, Potential Defendant Pawa targeted ExxonMobil's speech on climate change, and identified such speech as a basis for bringing litigation. Mr. Pawa claimed that "Exxon and other defendants distorted the truth" (as Mr. Pawa saw it) and that litigation "serves as a 'potentially powerful means to change corporate behavior."' Myles Allen, another participant at the La Jolla conference, claimed that "the fossil fuel industry's disinformation has effectively muted a large portion of the electorate."  . . .  ExxonMobil's potential claims of First Amendment violation, abuse of process, and civil conspiracy would arise from the Potential Defendants' contacts with Texas.

The issues for decision before the two judges were not completely congruent, but it's fair to say that they viewed very similar matters from a completely opposite perspective based on the polarized political situation. 

Anyway, I can't wait for the California government lawyers and the environmental activists to get deposed by Exxon in their Texas case.