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March 9, 2001

The Eco-Nuts Are Back!

National Forecast (Political Climate): Chilly, high-level disturbances, ominous clouds unlikely to blow over soon….

Commonsense observers are rightly dismayed over comments from the socialist Democrat Party Commissar of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman. Preparing for the G8 environmental ministers’ summit in Trieste, Italy, Whitman said, “There’s no question but that global warming is a real phenomenon, that it is occurring. And while scientists can’t predict where the droughts will occur, where the flooding will occur precisely or when, we know those things will occur. The science is strong there. …This president is very sensitive to the issue of global warming. We expect the United States to be a partner [in modifying terms of the Kyoto Treaty to get it enacted as U.S. law].”

Queried further on the issue by conservative commentator Robert Novak, Ms. Whitman said, “George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believes in a multipollutant strategy, and that includes CO2. He has also been very clear that the science is good on global warming.” And, then, she answered a follow-up question from Novak about why Bush had never indicated to voters that he shared his presidential opponent Al Gore’s basic position on catastrophic global warming: “Maybe they didn’t listen closely enough [to Bush], but he was very clear about that during the campaign.”

Novak concluded, “In fact, he [Bush] was not that clear,” noting that Bush touched on global warming only once during the general election, asking Gore during the October 11th debate, Weren’t “some of the scientists … changing their opinion a little bit on global warming?” Rest assured, your Editorial Board at The Federalist was also paying close attention during the whole campaign, and we heard Candidate Bush make another brief comment earlier, stating he believed global warming was “real,” then the next day offering a clarification softening that position. If Candidate Bush was “very clear” to voters about anything, it was in criticizing Gore for environmental extremism, including Gore’s views on global warming.

In response to Ms. Whitman’s faulty assertions, The Washington Times countered, “[D]ramatic predictions of global climate change, such as those enshrined in the IPCC’s [the U.N.‘s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] recent report, are of dubious value. One could undoubtedly receive auguries of equal value from psychic weather hotlines.”

As we wrote in May 1999 (Federalist #99-21/22), “Good public policy follows good science, but we must be especially wary of science that seems to follow politically favored but heretofore unsubstantiated positions. The consequences are bad enough when political candidates find a parade and rush to the head of it; worse, when scientists follow suit. Politicized science is treated as a techno-talisman, with magical powers capable of shutting down all debate, rendering opponents speechless. …Claims that global warming is a settled fact are overblown. Different temperature measures have produced different indications about possible trends in global climate change. Furthermore, natural patterns of variability in world temperature may falsely suggest trends over a relatively small segment of measurements. (As … noted, observers tend to see any research sample of any size as overrepresentative of the entire data set; thus, people would too easily believe a string of high temperatures proves warming trends, when such an observed pattern could be wholly within natural variations.) And commonsense observers rightly ask whether even cumulative effects of manmade phenomena could possibly match the scope of such frequent natural disasters as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes.”

No intervening findings call for a change in our view. Meteorology Professor Richard S. Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology summed up mere days ago: “The whole notion of a scientific consensus [on global warming] has been contrived to disguise the genuine disagreement among scientists on a number of different issues. …To think that hundreds of scientists could be in full agreement in dozens of separate disciplines is ridiculous. The aura of certainty with which the IPCC’s conclusions are being reported is clearly more a matter of politics than science.”

The science of global climate change has indeed been clouded by politics. Briefly, the theory of catastrophic global warming entwines several separable hypotheses: that the Earth’s temperature as a whole is rising; that this pattern of heating is unnatural; that the process is inexorable if current conditions persist; that the process is deleterious; that the process is attributable to human activity; that coordinated human action controlled by international treaties can reverse the process. And the emphasis now is on the belief parroted by Ms. Whitman, that rising carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has heated the planet, so that controlling CO2 emissions by treaty agreements will ameliorate the harm. But this molecule is natural, not a pollutant; if you are still breathing as you read this, you just exhaled some of it. Nearly 20,000 scientists to date have signed a petition stating, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

And CO2 is a byproduct of much of the free exchange guaranteed to us by our constitutional republic. Jack Kemp noted that implementing the policies recommended by global warming advocates would produce “massive hikes in energy costs masquerading as environmental safeguards.” Further, the legal consequences of government acceptance of global warming as a hazard could follow the model of tobacco litigation, with lawyers filing trillions of dollars in damage claims against CO2 producers for weather-related injuries and damages. And Candidate Bush was explicit in promising to oppose any policies to “drastically increase the cost of gasoline, home heating oil, natural gas and electricity,” as CO2 limits definitely would.

Al Gore’s allies are ecstatic over the eco-position staked out by Ms. Whitman, and they are demanding actions consonant with it. “Policy action is what’s going to count on this issue, but the administration’s recognition, as expressed by Whitman, of the threats climate change poses and consideration of measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are key first steps in the right direction,” gloated Patty Glick of the National Wildlife Federation.

Let us be “very clear” – to borrow Ms. Whitman’s infelicitous phrase. Our Constitution guarantees a republican form of government; that is, a representative government, which requires that candidates never willfully “misrepresent” their views to voters. On more than one occasion, Candidate Bush drew explicit distinctions on environmental policy via criticism of Gore’s positions. However, if Whitman’s assertion is accurate that Mr. Bush believes “the science is good on global warming,” then we have been misled. Accordingly, we anxiously await Mr. Bush’s refutation of Ms. Whitman’s claims.

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