THE TROUBLE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE

by Maggie Gallagher
January 14, 2011

A headline in Der Spiegel's online magazine reads: "Green Groups Try to Sex Up Climate Change."

It's a fascinating analysis of how environmental groups are trying to restart a fickle public's interest in preventing global warming.

The problem? Interest in global warming among regular voters in democracies has fallen off a cliff. "Environmentalists and scientists are concerned about the massive drop in public interest in the topic over the last year," the article states.

Why the great change? Much of this has to do with the damage done by "Climategate," the release of e-mails showing global warming scientists acting as "gatekeepers" to prevent critiques of their work.

The case for massive changes in our economy to reduce global warming rests on the speculative future, not on anything tangible we can see around us. It requires a new, absolute faith in the scientists who are predicting disaster if we fail to act.

When those scientists, however well-intentioned, demonstrated that they were not committed to pure reason -- that they are human beings who sometimes attack each other and attempt to punish dissenters when they think the issue is important enough -- voters lost faith.

The special status of science in our society as the pathway to truth has created a new set of incentives to manipulate science in order to achieve power -- even wanting the power to do good is a form of lust for power.

Science is a pathway to truth only when the road remains open. Even when ultimately proved wrong, dissenters to scientific consensus are what keeps science from becoming just another form of dogma. "Trial and error" is the heart of the scientific process, which paradoxically produces truth.

But activists need something else: They need moral truth -- truth that compels the dissenters and the doubters, too.

So now, according to Der Spiegel, looking to "turn the tide," green groups are searching for "mind-bombs," or "highly emotional images that reduce a complex problem to one core message."

This search explains the ugly video they tried first and quickly pulled: exploding children who refused to "help" stop climate change into a bloody mess. What kind of movement imagines that the public is going to put up with this?

But they haven't yet found a good substitute. Polar bears are too remote, hockey-stick graphs turn out to be false, wind turbines generate little emotion and Al Gore has dropped off a cliff, too.

But Der Spiegel notes that some innovative new strategies are emerging: "Climate activists have begun directing millions in funding into training programs for environmental journalists, with the goal of encouraging what's known as 'advocacy journalism.'"

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has even created a new "code of conduct" governing interactions between scientists and journalists. In a strange new directive on the careful use of language, the IPCC warns scientists to avoid using certain words -- words like "risk" and "uncertainty."

This analysis, however, leaves out what is probably the most important reason for the sudden drop off of public interest in speculative environmental disaster: economic collapse.

Even liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi knew better than to attempt to use the lame-duck session to pass cap-and-trade bills that would burden economic growth. The worst problem the climate change advocates have to deal with goes unacknowledged: The solutions they propose are so destructive that ignoring the problem begins to look good in comparison.

Destroying jobs now so that sea levels will not rise in 50 years is not a good trade-off to the general public.

Maybe it won't happen. Maybe they are wrong. Maybe it won't be as harmful as they predict. Humans have been adapting to climate change for thousands of years.

Maybe, rather than impoverishing people now, we should trust that human beings in the future will find new ways to adapt to climate change -- and maybe even find ways to help polar bears do so, too.

(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 15 years.)