The Climate Maggot Problem

The war on rigorous science is now coming from all directions.

Over at National Review, Reihan Salam has a piece regarding Australia's purported repeal of its carbon tax where he argues that “the key to reducing carbon emissions is encouraging fundamental breakthroughs in low- and zero-carbon energy that will give rise to attractive business models that don’t require artificial subsidies, and that thus can spread rapidly across borders, and in particular to the developing world.” The only reason you would want to reduce carbon emissions in such a manner is because you've bought into climate alarmism. Apparently NRO is throwing in the towel on this core issue. You can't rationally argue from both sides of the fence, but we all know it is really just about money. Follow the money on the climate trail and the answers become clear.

Furthermore, what about the free market? As I have already discussed at length, Australia still has carbon pricing and carbon taxation. Tony Abbott's government repealed one form of carbon taxation down under, but their plans are to replace it with other forms of carbon taxation -- perhaps even less economically efficient and more onerous than what previously existed. To respond to Salam, why should we be “encouraging fundamental breakthroughs in low- and zero-carbon energy that will give rise to attractive business models that don’t require artificial subsidies”? This is the argument that we need to initially subsidize in order to achieve some form of a desired non-subsidized utopia. That is about as far away from true free market thinking as possible. In fact, this economic prescription is effectively liberalism -- something I would expect to see promoted in the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times, not National Review.

The unfortunate pattern that is emerging is as follows. Left-wing commentators (and many political parties) are advocating for a market-based carbon tax. Supposedly right-wing commentators (and pseudo-conservative political parties) are instead rejecting a market mechanism for carbon pricing, and instead trying to pawn off some absurd suite of regulatory mechanisms coupled to subsidies in order to reduce carbon emissions. Although the correct option is none of the above (aka, no carbon pricing -- either direct or indirect), if one of these options had to be chosen, it would be the market mechanism (i.e., an outright carbon tax). To see conservative commentators and political parties arguing that a particular outcome is better achieved via government regulation, subsidies, and picking winners rather than a pure market-based approach removes any credibility from the right-of-center movement when it then argues for a free market preference on other issues. Either the market is the most efficient approach, or it is not.

Consequently, we need look no further than topics such as emissions reduction to understand why the conservative movement is not succeeding. Rather, it is losing and has been doing so since the era of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s. The public can see the incoherence and hypocrisy on the right, and to a large extent it all boils down to crony capitalism. For many on the right, crony capitalism is more repugnant than socialism, and if push comes to shove at the ballot box, they will choose socialism over a fake conservative political movement. History teaches us this lesson, and the American electoral record is clear. Reagan won the two largest back-to-back victories in U.S. history based on a solid free-market conservative platform. Since Reagan, the GOP has moved away from this platform back towards the middle, fully embracing crony capitalism and big, powerful government along the way, and they have lost the popular vote for president in five of the last six elections -- if trends are any indication, 2016 has a strong chance of making it six out of the last seven.

The right has some choices to make, and it must make these now in order to allow time for policy wonks to construct a coherent message for upcoming elections in the USA, Canada, and elsewhere. First off, decide whether or not emissions reductions need to be a core policy plank. My vote is no, since the science isn't anywhere close to settled, and moving ahead with a policy constructed on incomplete and/or faulty science is a recipe for economic disaster.

Thus, outlets such as National Review need to stop trying to rush us into making climate-related decisions. Just for curiosity, I reviewed National Review's mission statement once again: “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Fine, then why is this magazine yelling “go” on emissions reductions when real conservatives are all yelling “stop”? As I read NRO's mission statement -- and Buckley is clear as a bell with his views -- everything within it rejects everything that Salam is arguing for in terms of emissions reductions at this point in the scientific debate, especially when coupled to government regulations and innovation subsidies.

But if the answer for some on the right to the question of whether or not to reduce emissions is yes, then to reject the market mechanism of a carbon tax in favor of regulations and subsidies and the nebulous world of “encouraging” innovation is pure nonsense, placing one in an inferior intellectual position to those on the left and undermining the right's arguments on all other debates about the role of government versus the role of the market.

I'm sure some conservative policy advisors and politicians think they are being clever on this topic, but they are not. In the long run, they are undermining the very cause they claim to be fighting for.

Which leads us to the other side of the war on science, coming from the left. Over at the Washington Post, Danielle Paquette has an article entitled “Attack of the Chicago climate change maggots.” The climate change debate is certainly breeding maggots on all sides of the political spectrum, but not the ones Paquette is describing. The real climate maggots are feeding at the tax dollar trough of climate alarmism.

Paquette provides some statistics to support her claims that the insect versions of maggots are becoming more problematic in the Windy City due to climate change:

“In Chicago over the past century, downpours that force human waste up pipes and into homes -- storms that dump at least 1.5 inches of rain in a single day -- have struck the city more often. Annual precipitation in the Midwest grew about 20 percent during the past century. Rains of more than 2.5 inches a day are expected to increase another 50 percent in the next 20 years. That means more flooding -- and more clean-up costs for people like Burns.”

Have precipitation events “that dump at least 1.5 inches of rain in a single day” increased over the past century in Chicago? The short answer is yes. The figure below shows the number of these storms each year since records began in 1871.

But this is where good science journalism gets separated from poor science journalism. In order for anthropogenic climate change to be the causative factor behind the increasing number of storm events with more than 1.5 inches of precipitation in Chicago, there would need to be a correlation between atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and the number of events. And there most certainly is not. Look at the plot above. The number of these events was approximately constant for the first several decades of the 20th century, then increased from the 1940s to the early 1960s and has since been in decline. Good luck linking that complex overall trend to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, since 1970 the number of these storm events in Chicago has a negative correlation (i.e., declining) -- not positive. Recall, yet again, that the National Climate Assessment repeatedly tells us that it is since 1970 that the effects of anthropogenic climate change should be most evident. If this is the case, climate change appears to be resulting in fewer of these severe storms in the Chicago area over time, not more. The devil is always in the details for climate science, as in all other areas of science. Shoddy science reporting just cherry-picks information but fails to investigate whether historical patterns match the hysterical claims and required causal mechanisms. In this case, the historical climate data for Chicago in no way supports any claims that anthropogenic climate change is leading to more storms with precipitation over 1.5 inches.

Annual precipitation in Chicago? There has been no significant trend since at least 1970, and the correlation since 1970 is negative (i.e., less precipitation), not positive. Another climate alarmism fail here, too. What about the claim that “rains of more than 2.5 inches a day are expected to increase another 50 percent in the next 20 years”? That's a remarkable prediction, given that there is no hint of a significant trend in these events for Chicago since at least 1970. Once again, the correlation since 1970 is negative (i.e., towards fewer events per year), not positive. But somehow the number of events will increase by “50 percent in the next 20 years”?

Good science journalism wouldn't just repeat what some alarmist scientists claim. Instead, it would take the time to get into the data (which is all available online for free, and very easy to access and analyze), investigate the data itself, and thereafter report any discrepancies between these types of original investigations and what the scientific sources are claiming. That few scientists speak out publicly against these failings is very telling about the corruption in the academy, and that some conservatives are advocating for a “go fast” approach on climate alarmism -- when the complete opposite track is in order -- also highlights a sickness on this side of the spectrum as well. Heed Buckley's counsel instead and yell “stop” against this mass hysteria when nobody else is inclined to do so.