“If a meteorologist can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the [American Mathematical Society] AMS shouldn’t give them a Seal of Approval.”
-Heidi Cullen, Weather Channel Climatologist
“If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.”
-The late Jerry Falwell
Recently, the esteemed paper which runs this column ran an article bearing what was probably intended as jubilant news—President Michael Roth had signed the “Presidents Climate Commitment,” a document designed to make Wesleyan “assess the University’s greenhouse gas emissions and put forth a detailed strategy to reduce them.” Obviously, this seemingly good news has caused nature fetishists to exit from the woodwork en masse, no doubt bearing celebratory grins which showcase the stray grains of granola still stuck in their teeth. In fact, moderate and, occasionally, even conservative students may feel a twinge of relief due to Roth’s decision. After all, if the disciples of the Nobel-Prize-winning, Internet-inventing, former Vice President (emphasis on the “vice”) Albert Gore are to be believed, unless all carbon emissions—even ones as miniscule as cow flatulence—are reduced, we are headed for the modern-day equivalent of Noah’s Flood, and it will strike in our lifetimes if we are not careful. Repent, oh carbon emitting sinners, for the end is nigh!
Except it’s not. At all. In fact, if the recent rulings of Mr. Justice Barton from the UK are to be believed, the rantings of Mr. Gore about the approach of doomsday are wrong on at least six counts. Moreover, despite what the Presidents Climate Commitment says about “scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans,” this “scientific consensus” is an illusory concept. Try telling Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan of meteorology at MIT and a vocal critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that “scientific consensus” trumps his (very educated) opinion. What would former Senior Climatologist for NASA Roy Spencer, another noted skeptic, say if told that his view was negligible because there was “scientific consensus”? Moreover, what would the countless other skeptics in the scientific community, who enjoy positions less august than Dr. Lindzen and Dr. Spencer, say about this notion of “scientific consensus?” And what on earth is a concept like “consensus” doing in a field like science, where individual contributions have overturned “consensus” time and time again? Have we forgotten the days of “scientific consensus” that the sun revolved around the earth, or the Newtonian illusions which Einstein shattered with his theory of relativity? Where are they in the view of the “scientific consensus” alarmist mob?
Now, lest EON attack my dorm with pitchforks and torches prematurely, let me make one thing clear. Several of the positions advocated by global warming alarmists are entirely sound for reasons that have nothing to do with global warming and have everything to do with economic efficiency. For instance, developing alternative energy makes sense even from an economic perspective, because of the long-run impotence of the oil market. Furthermore, more precise measures such as the abolition of corporate welfare for the automotive industry could bring warmth to the hearts of even die-hard economic conservatives like me. Global warming may or may not be caused by humans, but the fuss about it can have positive consequences, either way.
From whence, then, comes my resistance to the notion of the Presidents Climate Commitment? The answer is quite simple: the model endorsed by the Presidents Climate Commitment for combating global warming will not produce any of the desirable effects that could result from anti-global-warming measures. Instead, it forces the University to sustain a draconian level of carbon offsets, under the misguided theory that punishing greater use of carbon dioxide will somehow help to combat climate change. Even environmentalists like Bjorn Lomborg have derided this sort of punitive strategy as ineffective. Moreover, while the University’s intent to reduce its carbon footprint is undoubtedly admirable as a symbolic gesture, it will ultimately have a very small impact on climate change because university campuses are hardly the greatest producers of carbon emissions. That dubious distinction belongs to the agricultural and automotive industries, neither of which shows any interest in being as altruistic as Roth.
Still, one could argue that the symbolic gesture is worthwhile. This would be true if the gesture were merely symbolic. But as EON member Sarice Greenstein ’10 aptly notes in the aforementioned article, “the [Presidents’ Climate Commitment] actually has teeth.” The University can’t just commit to some vague strategy for reducing carbon footprints under this scheme—no, that would be too easy. Instead, we will have to squander millions from our endowment and create a whole new bureaucracy within the University to monitor our carbon emissions, so as to fulfill the “Commitment.” Considering the ailing state of our endowment, this sort of financial indiscretion will either lead to cuts for all sorts of other University programs or to a rise in the already nearly unmanageable cost of tuition. In the former case, the University would lose significant resources that it could use to attract future students or to bolster its academic excellence. In the latter case, students would either be forced to withdraw because of financial difficulties or to expend thousands more dollars to support the Climate Change Leviathan created by Roth.
And for what? So that we can pat ourselves on the back and say smugly that we’ve symbolically helped the fight to reduce carbon emissions? I suppose the people who talk about the “inconvenient truth” that global warming has to be fought are half-right. This punitive strategy endorsed by Roth may be inconvenient, but the notion that it will help anything is simply not true.