Denial Not Just For The Deniers

Commentary, Climate, Frontier Centre

Those who once called skeptics about catastrophic man-made climate change “deniers” are themselves now in a state of denial as both the science and public opinion shifts against them. Last week, The Globe and Mail carried a combative piece by Gerald Butts, president and CEO of WWF Canada, an organization whose professional alarmism has found its way into the official reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with nary a trace of “peer review.”

Mr. Butts continues, like Davy Crockett at the Alamo , to defend his lost cause, pointing to media authorities and scientific “consensus.” Intriguingly, and with admirable chutzpah, he cites a recent article in the magazine Nature that points out — which should come as a surprise to nobody — that we are biased in our perceptions: “We see the world as we want to see it, not as it is.” Naturally, this proviso doesn’t apply either to Mr. Butts or to the WWF, but only to their “self-centred” opponents.

Unfortunately for Mr. Butts, Nature experienced a little embarrassment last week when its editor-in-chief, Philip Campbell, was forced to resign from the U.K.’s “independent” inquiry into the Climategate scandal over his own blatant warmist bias. Nature, after all, is the magazine that suggested that requests for climate science data by skeptics amounted to “denialist harassment.” As for the article quoted by Mr. Butts, it claimed that “Like fans at a sporting contest, people deal with evidence selectively to promote their emotional interest in their group. On issues ranging from climate change to gun control, from synthetic biology to counter-terrorism, they take their cue about what they should feel, and hence believe, from the cheers and boos of the home crowd.”

True enough, but man-made climate change is not like terrorism or gun ownership or stem cell research. The latter are all established issues. The former is not, and whether you are a conservative or a Zoroastrian, what ultimately counts is that hypotheses are clearly stated and rigourously tested. There is mounting evidence that, when it comes to climate science, this process has been subverted. But doesn’t that mean that there has been a highly-improbable “conspiracy” among those “2,500 scientists” that have always been claimed to be the bedrock of the IPCC’s conclusions? Aren’t scientists the ultimate in objectivity?

No. Take Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of all time. He wrote about the “economic anarchy of capitalist society” and strongly advocated a “planned economy.” Einstein was typical of what Friedrich Hayek called the “fatal conceit” of reflexively believing that the economy needed to be guided from the top by wise men.

He was by no means unusual. Most people would not be surprised if told there was a leftist bias in political science or English faculties, but a 2005 study by academics Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte found that “three out of four biologists and computer scientists now place themselves to the left of center, as do about two thirds of mathematicians, chemists, and physicists.” Indeed, among physicists, the study found that self-described Democrats outnumbered Republicans in American universities by more than ten to one!

One potent but insufficiently noted factor in the climate change issue is that those on the left are inclined to believe in climate change’s “solutions” — greater central control of the economy and redistribution to underdeveloped countries — regardless of climate science. That the policy ends are more important than the scientific facts is obvious from statements by prominent members of the IPCC. For example, Murari Lal, the lead author of the chapter in the 2007 IPCC report in which wildly inaccurate claims about melting Himalayan glaciers appeared, admitted that he knew the information was inaccurate, but “We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.”

How could taking concrete action on the basis of wild exaggeration be considered a good thing unless you regarded such policy action as desirable in its own right? The other factor that might incline leftist True Believers to irrationally harden their support for “settled” science is the oft-repeated conviction that their opponents represent big, selfish corporate interests, (a belief that is utterly at odds with reality). Meanwhile if the deniers are not mere shills, then they must be “libertarians,” whose ideas are obviously too ridiculous even to examine.

As noted, however, climate change is not like health care, or racism, or giving women the vote. It is not a policy issue or a moral issue until the science is established; and even if it had been, that certainly wouldn’t imply grand, dangerous and unworkable schemes such as Kyoto (yesterday, the UN’s chief climate change official, Yvo de Boer, resigned, taking the fall for the disaster of Copenhagen, where a successor to Kyoto was to have been crafted).

The leftist “moral” stance of many supporters may always have been that the science was merely a facilitator for a Better World. Suspicion of that orientation — and rejection of its premises — has led many skeptics to conclude that climate science has been cooked. It increasingly appears they were right.