D. Dowd Muska


A Quarter-Century of Climate Silliness

June 13, 2013

On June 23, 1988, a physicist told the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that he was “99 percent” confident that the buildup of certain manmade gasses in the atmosphere was causing a “real warming trend.”

“The greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now,” testified James Hansen, then the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

It was the debut of global-warming hysteria. For 25 years, consumers and taxpayers in every nation have been dealing with the consequences.

In 1986, the Los Angeles Times reported that “almost all scientists” agreed that the greenhouse effect would “happen, given present trends,” but they weren’t certain when: “Pessimistic estimates say 40 years or so; other estimates are for much later in the 21st Century.” It was the pre-“consensus” era, and global warming needed a boost. The Hansen hearing provided one, in spectacular fashion.

Some staging helped. Two decades later, Sen. Timothy Wirth (D-CO) admitted his role in manipulating the event’s “optics”: “We called the Weather Bureau [sic] and found out what historically was the hottest day of the summer. … So we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo, it was the hottest day on record in Washington or close to it.” Not content with playing the percentages, Wirth engineered indoor climate change: “What we did is that we went in the night beforehand and opened all the windows … so that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room.”

Hansen’s sweaty certainty, offered before a dais of fedpols and a gaggle of reporters, garnered global warming the credibility and solemnity it had long sought. And in case there was any doubt about the implications of the “science,” a fellow panelist spooked senators with a grim analog. Hotter temperatures, the Woods Hole Research Center’s George M. Woodwell intoned, have “the potential for turning the world into a form of chaos not greatly different from that produced by global war.”

Professional politicians (most Democrats, but more than a few Republicans) saw the calamitous threat as a way to advance a myriad of goals. Subsidies to “green” energy exploded. NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation received oodles of revenue for climate research. Tax and regulatory assaults were launched against the carbon-dioxide “pollution” spewed by “Big Oil” and the coal industry. Pols’ counterparts abroad joined in -- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol were adopted, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assembled, within a decade of Hansen’s testimony.

The media already knew that fires, floods, and famines were good for sales and ratings, and the promise of more disasters to come -- “extreme events,” Hansen and his ilk claimed, would surely proliferate -- was catnip. But the bottom line wasn’t the sole lure. Science and environmental reporters, then as now, lean hard to the left, and they eagerly embraced a mega-scare that called for a radical rollback of the developed world’s selfish consumption. (The New York Times made Hansen a star, with front-page coverage of his testimony.) D.C.’s dimmest pundits -- e.g., Haynes Johnson, Tom Wicker -- dutifully disseminated global-warming hype.

With the passage of a quarter-century, how has Hansen’s projection held up?

Not well.

The warming that has occurred since that sizzling day in D.C. has been significantly less than his computer models suggested. Even The New York Times has admitted that the “rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.” In a recent blog post, the Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science wrote that “the more we learn, the less responsive it seems that the earth’s average temperature is to human carbon dioxide emissions.”

Hansen continues to be feted by deep-pocketed ecochondriacs in Malibu and Manhattan, and interviewed by scientifically illiterate members of the press. But reality-based observers consider him a pitiable figure. As his climate projection underperformed, he scrambled to find excuses. His rhetoric grew increasingly shrill. (In 2009, he thundered that “trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains.”) He was arrested at protests. Hansen, 72, quit NASA a few months ago, allowing him more time to attend demonstrations. (Canada’s oil-sands industry is a favorite bogeyman.)

The man who sold the world Climate Change Derangement Syndrome is militantly unrepentant. There’s no fool like an old fool.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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