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November 08th 2014 print

Michael Kile

Catastrophism Out in the Cold

America's Democrats, and one well-heeled 'carbon capitalist' in particular, received a monumental thrashing in the US midterm elections, despite a lavishly financed ad campaign of eco-alarmist propaganda. It seems voters are nowhere near so dopey as their betters imagined

polar bear blows raspberryWhen Australia stopped for a four-legged race last week, on the other side of the world a bigger crowd watched a two-legged one, the US mid-term elections; where big bucks were spent trying to convince gubernatorial and senate voters that climate change ‘is a real and present danger’ – and on depicting ‘deniers’ as intellectually challenged ‘cavemen’ who ‘like it hot’. 

Folly, n., sing., 1. An act of foolishness; e.g., standing between a climate-capitalist* and a bag of carbon (dioxide) credits, or a Republican and a bottle of Filibuster Bourbon Whiskey; using eco-fear attack ads to try and influence an election. 2. An undertaking that has, or will have, an absurd or costly outcome; e.g., attempting to control global weather or climate by ‘decarbonising’ human activity [Middle English folie, from Old French, from fol, foolish, from Late Latin follis, windbag, fool].  

Some creatures on planet Earth have an innate capacity for camouflage and regeneration, but few can compete with homme Americain.  Consider the case of billionaire, Mr Tom Steyer, and his metamorphosis from mild-mannered hedge fund guru and coal project financier into a Planet Protector who wanted a “win on climate” in the mid-term elections.

Despite Hollywood’s current fascination with resurrecting comic book superheroes, even it would struggle to depict such a transformation, at least without a follow-the-money tale somewhere about the joys of feasting at the trough of carbon (dioxide) commoditisation, one of this century’s greatest rorts (or honey-pots, depending on your profession, politics, whether you or your pension fund have made big bets on ‘green’ energy, or your developing country expects to seal-the-deal over ‘climate reparations’ in Paris next year.

As one of President Obama’s biggest fund-raisers, Mr Steyer’s entry into the carbon-space is driven by more than the power of positive thinking. Generous government-taxpayer subsidies are underwriting a vast renewable energy push across the globe. As long as public largesse continues, serious money will be made here, especially by canny folk spruiking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest serve of ‘severe and persuasive’ alarmism).

*Climate-capitalist: A capitalist whose success crucially depends on special government tax-breaks, grants or other incentives designed to encourage alternative (‘renewable’) forms of power generation.

Mr Steyer is in good company. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE), a majority-owned subsidiary and one of the largest US power suppliers, recently announced plans to double its $US15 billion ($17bn) commitment to renewable energy projects (currently 36% solar, 56% wind and 8% geothermal).

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Mr Buffett makes no secret of the fact that, according to The Wall Street Journal, BHE’s “renewable-energy investments have been driven in large part by tax credits, which the US government has for years offered to offset the costs of building solar and wind farms.” Withdrawing them would have a “significant impact” on the “economics of investing in renewable power.”

The climate-catastrophist brigade would not welcome any regulatory change that could remove its “special interests”. No surprise, then, that Mr Steyer’s NextGen Climate is acting “politically to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity” and wants to “get climate change denial out of our politics”.

“Working at every level, we are committed to supporting candidates, elected officials and policymakers across the country that will take bold action on climate change—and to exposing those who deny reality and cater to special interests.” 

But NextGen’s multimillion-dollar strategy faced three challenges. Firstly, “climate change” alarmism was not an issue for the voting public. It was “one of the dogs that didn’t bark”, and ranked as the least important of 13 issues in the election in a recent Gallup poll. According to Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times, “Even in races featuring the ‘Steyer Seven’ — the Democratic candidates selected by Mr Steyer as the chief beneficiaries of his [US70 million] largesse — the issue is barely registering on the campaign trail.”

NextGen’s second challenge was to increase the youth vote. Every “next-generation” voter it got to a ballot box increased the probability of a Democrat win. As President Obama stressed last week:

The bottom line is, during the midterm elections too often Democrats don’t vote, black folks don’t vote, young people don’t vote. And we can’t afford to be sitting at home thinking the midterms don’t matter, because I’ve got two years left in my presidency and I want to make every single one of them count and I need a partner in Congress.

And the truth is that in most of these states, in most of these congressional districts, if we have high turnout we win and when we have low turnout, we lose. It’s as simple as that. So what I need everyone to do is just go out there and vote.”

The president was right to be concerned; the demographic that gave him office is now disillusioned with politics.  Less than a quarter of eligible voters under thirty-years-old indicated a definite intention to vote a week before the election. Despite his plea, turnout was low. Data from the United States Elections Project shows only 36.6% cast a vote, compared with 40.9% in 2010.

Thirdly, NextGen Climate’s eco-fear attack ads were fictions made in Dudsville. They join other exhibits in the gallery of media “mind bombs” (here), including the “exploding sceptic” video and  the warm and whimsical Monster Climate Petition. The ads show just how tricky climate politics (and ‘post-modern’ climate science) has become. Fortunately, US regional audiences ignored the propaganda.

Immerse yourself in this cringe-worthy 31-second “cavemen” ad from NextGen’s Florida campaign and marvel at such a neat validation of Mencken’s Law.

Mencken’s Law: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of [climate and extreme weather cliams] hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

In this ‘docudrama’, allegedly “based on real events modified for the screen”, the force of authority – represented by “97 actors playing scientists”, all dressed identically in white lab-coats – confront the force of ignorance, represented by three ‘cave-men’, at the base of a barren hillside, presumably somewhere not far from Burbank, California.

But there is a problem with such a lame appeal to authority. A statement is not correct merely because it is made by a person or group considered authoritative, even if they are real scientists. It is, logicians insist, a fallacy of defective induction to claim the truth or falsity of a claim is related to the authority of the claimant. One obvious omission here is any mention of verifiable empirical evidence.

The three anatomically modern Homo sapiens are not, the viewer is told, ‘real cavemen’, but ‘actors playing cavemen’. And a fine bunch of actors they are; easily mistaken for real hairy anatomically modern, ex-Haight-Ashbury hippies a long way from the nearest cave. The central character wears a sleeveless yellow vest with the inscription: “I like it hot.” At 29 seconds, the camera zooms in to focus on one of their ‘SCOTT for Governor” campaign badges.

The voice-over – presumably spoken by an actor who is neither real scientist nor anatomically modern cave-person – claims that “97 out of 100 scientists believe that climate change is real”. But “Governor Rick Scott thinks the scientists are wrong. Rick Scott is for the powerful few, not you.”

The first statement, ironically, could well be true, but it is a red herring. Our planet’s climate has been changing ever since it acquired an atmosphere. The contentious issue today is what causal factors drive its behaviour and whether they can be measured with sufficient accuracy and confidence to be predictable, let alone controllable by an international bureaucratic class. (And where are the infallible laws of climate change that justify a re-engineering of the global energy economy?)

Incidentally, the 97% figure now firmly entrenched in the alarmist lexicon is a fiction. Joseph Bast and Roy Spencer critiqued its widespread use in a co-authored May 26 article in The Wall Street Journal. They were prompted by Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning to graduating students at Boston College about the “crippling consequences” of climate change. “Ninety-seven percent of the world’s scientists,” he said, “tell us this is urgent.”

Where did Mr. Kerry get the 97% figure? Perhaps from his boss, President Obama, who tweeted on May 16 that “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” Or maybe from NASA, which posted (in more measured language) on its website, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

“The assertion that 97% of scientists believe that climate change is a man-made, urgent problem is a fiction. The so-called consensus comes from a handful of surveys and abstract-counting exercises that have been contradicted by more reliable research.”

 “We could go on, but the larger point is plain. There is no basis for the claim that 97% of scientists believe that man-made climate change is a dangerous problem.”

Nevertheless, the ‘most expensive contest’ of the midterm elections was a close thing. Florida Governor Rick Scott (2,861,390 votes) won re-election by a margin of about one per cent – 66,128 votes – with Democrat Charlie Crist polling 2,795, 262 votes.

In addition to three gubernatorial races — in Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine – NextGen focused on four Senate races – Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. Republicans won in Colorado and Iowa, while Democrats took Michigan and New Hampshire. Republican Governor Paul LePage was re-elected in Maine and Democrat Tom Wolfe won in Pennsylvania.

With Republicans beating Democrats across the US and gaining control of the Senate, trying to buy votes with climate alarmism seems to have been a losing bet, especially with “climate change denier” Senator James Inhofe now “the most powerful senator on the environment.”  But Mr Steyer said he is playing a long game here. He defended the apparent lack of success, claiming he was merely laying the groundwork  for an expanded effort in 2016.

“We are very happy about New Hampshire. Michigan was also a really great result. I feel as if we did better than we expected, and we are in this for the long run. I feel energized. I am not feeling down one iota.”

Whether Hot Stuff, Carbon Cowboy and Miss Emissions have the form to beat Sceptic Lad and Filly Buster in the next big race — the Paris 2015 Climate Cup – remains an open question.

One thing, however, is certain. If the public is confused today, it is because the US – and international — political classes still lack a convincing argument for global action that is based on real evidence. Will dodgy promises of a future with less “extreme weather events” and so on be enough?

If it is indifferent, it is unlikely to be more supportive once it becomes more aware of the global decarbonisation plan being pursued in the United Nations – and its cost. The plan, allegedly, will allow the planet’s elusive thermostat to be manipulated by governments. It will allow creation of a “stable” Goldilocks climate just right for everyone everywhere, provided countries, including the world’s poorest, commit to reducing their use of the cheapest source of energy, coal.

UN bureaucracies have been moving towards this highly politicised end-game ever since the 1992, when the UNFCCC codified dubious notions of “dangerous” climate change, “climate debt” and “precautionary” action.

How will the US public vote when it learns that UN climate debt has two components? There is adaptation debt — compensation owed by developed countries to the developing world for alleged damages of climate change they have not caused; and emissions debt – compensation owed for their fair share of the atmospheric space they cannot use if climate change is to be stopped.

When an accurate history of the UN’s long involvement is written, it will become more clear how eagerly the developing world (and other players) embraced it, years before the IPCC and its researchers ruled (incorrectly) the science was “settled”. It will be a case study in politicisation of science and entrenchment of confirmation bias on a grand scale.

Did the UNFCCC’s desired policy options – anthropogenic carbon dioxide and climate “stabilisation” – create a feedback loop between politics, science, and science funding? Did it lead to an overconfident assessment of the importance of greenhouse gases in driving future climate change? Did it compromise agency impartiality and the level of confidence claimed for its model projections (not predictions) and so on?

Meanwhile, a prominent US climate scientist, Judith Curry, concluded: “there is a lot going on that cannot be explained – directly or even indirectly – by warming from greenhouse gases.” The planet’s climate apparently is even less sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide content than previously thought, according to her recent paper.

Not a very solid foundation for a grandiose – and global – public policy experiment, is it?

Note: The characters appearing in the above text are not actors. They are real people, except for the horses.

Michael Kile, November,  2014