The Phantom Menace (of Global Warming)

Top Stories of the Year: #5

It’s time to count down the top stories of the year, looking back at the big events of 2015 and reviewing my own coverage of them.

We’ll start the countdown with #5, which is the least important of the big stories because it’s not about something that’s actually happening. It’s about how a whole section of our top political and cultural leadership is pretending that something that isn’t happening is actually the most vital and pressing issue of the day. Which is pretty important in its own right.

I’ll call this The Phantom Menace, which you can consider a tribute to the return of the Star Wars saga, or perhaps an unwelcome reminder of everybody’s least favorite prequel. (It’s a close call between the three, but Phantom Menace had the most Jar-Jar Binks, so it wins.)

I am talking, of course, about “climate change,” the lame euphemism for claims about catastrophic human-caused global warming.

The role of global warming in this year’s news is summed up in the recently concluded Paris Agreement: a gigantic international meeting held within a month of a massive terrorist attack on that city, for the purpose of diverting everyone’s attention away from the threat of terrorism.

As I wrote last week:

After last month’s massive terrorist attack brought the disastrous civil war in Syria and the renewed threat of radical Islam back to the forefront of everyone’s minds, world leaders met in Paris to forge an ambitious agreement—about global warming.

You didn’t think they were going to do something big and important about terrorism, did you?

No, they’re much more interested in what our own president clearly regards as the real issue of the day, “climate change.” And so the global warming conference ended with the Paris Agreement, which was hailed by both The Guardian and Slate as the “end of the fossil fuel era.”

I also noted that, for all that triumphalism about ending fossil fuels, the Paris Agreement is just a massive pretense in which “everything is legally binding, except the actual heart of the agreement.” But I noted that it serves a purpose.

Consider President Obama’s pronouncement that the agreement is “a testament to American leadership.” “We came together around a strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment.” For a president whose administration is known for the absence of American leadership and who is palpably not “meeting the moment,” you can see the incentive to pretend that he is by signing some phony-baloney agreement to solve a phony-baloney problem.

The intellectual basis for this evasion is summed up in the preposterous claim that global warming caused ISIS. After tracing the actual causes and origins of the Syrian civil war, I noted:

All of these facts are readily available to anyone who follows the news. And then there is the role in these attacks of a major world religion with about a billion followers that has been around for 1400 years—a primary cause that is a little hard to miss. Yet President Obama, [Bill] Nye, and many other water-carriers for the Left offer us glib pronouncements about how this is all about water shortages in Syria. This is spectacular, willful ignorance dressed up as love for science.

This is the reason Obama doesn’t have much of a strategy for destroying ISIS and recently admitted that he was out of touch about how important the Paris attacks were, because he didn’t watch enough cable news shows. I don’t even know where to start in describing how pathetic that is.

But the left does have a plan to vilify and censor global warming skeptics, with New York’s attorney general launching an investigation to punish Exxon-Mobil for having briefly funded a few climate skeptics.

To be sure, this case will take forever to go through the courts…. But this is another case where the prosecution is the punishment. Just the prospect of being dragged through the courts and publicly maligned by prosecutors is deterrent enough.

This prosecution is not really aimed at Exxon, which has pockets deep enough to fight if it chooses…. [T]he real target is everybody smaller than Exxon. The message is going out that they will face political reprisals, including embarrassing and expensive persecution in the courts, if they ever give a dollar to a climate skeptic….

It seems Schneiderman has learned from the neo-authoritarians in Russia and China how to impose political control. There is no need for anything so crude as outright censorship. Anybody can say what they like, if they’re shouting on a street corner or writing in the pages of some obscure journal for intellectuals. But nobody can get any money to broadcast their views more widely because anyone with money faces ruin if they stand out against the powers that be.

And President Obama has a plan of attack for destroying our most plentiful sources of energy, under the guise of a transition to “clean power.” This “clean power,” as I explained, is based on absurd assumptions and is scientifically impossible.

So why create a national electricity scheme that is impossible to build? Perhaps because its purpose is not to build but to tear down. If you come up with a plan that claims it will reduce existing sources of energy in favor of new sources of energy—and those new sources turn out to be speculative at best, and physically impossible at worst—then it’s fair to conclude that the real essence of the plan is simply to reduce existing sources of energy.

So our leaders are dispirited and ineffective when it comes to deciding on a plan to destroy our actual enemies—but apply endless vigor and initiative to coming up with plans to dismantle our own civilization.

The delusion that global warming is the only really important issue of our era, eclipsing everything else, is embraced by elites in all areas of the culture. It benefits from the kind of universal dissemination characteristic of a new religion—which is reflected in the inroads it has made in converting leaders of the old religion.

Thus, for example, Christians are under unprecedented attack in the Middle East. Syrian Christians who speak the language of Christ, Aramaic, and whose churches were first established by the Apostles themselves, have survived for 2000 years but are now fleeing the expansion of ISIS. Yet Pope Francis, who should be one of their most outspoken champions, has been devoting much more of his time as a partisan shill for global warming. I pointed out the totally one-sided presentation of the scientific claims about global warming in the Pope’s latest encyclical.

Francis is just repeating what he has heard from mainstream environmentalists and international green activists. The problem is that those are apparently the only people he is listening to….

Pope Francis has sealed himself off in an ideological bubble that is harder and more impenetrable than the Popemobile. He refuses to recognize that there are alternative ideas outside the leftist orthodoxy on capitalism and the environment. The result is a sense that I’ve never quite gotten before from a papal encyclical: the sense of the pope as a narrow ideologue, captive to a relatively recent political fad.

This is a real shame because the Vatican and the papacy are supposed to operate on a longer time scale, less affected by the political fads of the moment, or even of the century. After all, the Catholic Church is a 2,000-year-old institution with a timeless spiritual remit. It’s what usually makes the popes so interesting to contend with, even for an atheist who frequently disagrees with them.

But Francis has a whole history of merging leftist politics with religion in a kind of “reverse syncretism,” a trend I discussed after a Latin American socialist gave Francis a “Marxifix,” a bizarre mash-up of the crucifix and the hammer and sickle.

I am not a Catholic nor even a Christian, and I know many American Protestants who, shall we say, were never deeply invested in the moral authority of the pope. So what does it matter to us whether or not this pope is surrendering the Church to the left?

Historically, it does matter, because in the 20th century the Church helped change the course of history, vastly for the better, by offering ideological and material resistance to Communism. It mattered that there was a large institution with deep historical roots that was independent from the socialist state and politically correct orthodoxy, driven a different set of values. And it’s discomforting to think what might happen if that’s no longer true.

The religion of global warming is being invoked as a reason to overturn every big institution in our society, from Wall Street to the Vatican. Yet this is just another false god, based on an illusion.

That’s why the biggest theme in my coverage of global warming this year was fighting to reassert a truly scientific outlook in the face of pseudo-scientific propaganda. I debunked the claim that 2014 was the “hottest year on record.” Expect a repeat for 2015, if they can fudge the numbers enough. And expect that the real data will indicate the same thing: that 2015 was about as warm as 2014, which was about as warm as 2010 and 2005. Climate stasis, a plateau in temperatures that has lasted nearly 20 years now, will be re-defined as a runaway increase, in a testament to the warmists’ dedication to post-facto rationalization.

There is an important difference between prediction before the fact and explanation after the fact. Prediction requires that you lay down a marker about what the data ought to be, to be consistent with your theory, before you actually know what it is. That’s something that’s very hard to get right. If your theory is going to be able to consistently predict data before it is gathered, it has got to be pretty darned good. Global warming theories have a wretched track record at making predictions.

But explanations of data after the fact are a lot easier. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. It’s a lot easier to tweak your theory to make it a better fit to the data, or in this case, to tweak the way the data is measured and analyzed in order to make it better fit your theory. And then you proclaim how amazing it is that your theory “explains” the data.

Speaking of predictions, I catalogued seven big failed predictions from environmentalists, from global cooling to overpopulation. (On that one, to my great surprise, even the New York Times is starting to come around—after only 47 years.)

But by now you can get an idea for the major outlines of an environmental hysteria. The steps are: a) start with assumption that man is “ravaging the Earth,” b) latch onto an unproven scientific hypothesis that fits this preconception, c) extrapolate wildly from half-formed theories and short-term trends to predict a future apocalypse, d) pressure a bunch of people with “Ph.D.” after their names to endorse it so you can say it’s a consensus of experts, e) get the press to broadcast it with even less nuance and get a bunch of Hollywood celebrities who failed Freshman biology to adopt it as their pet cause, then finally f) quietly drop the whole thing when it doesn’t pan out—and move on with undiminished enthusiasm to the next environmental doomsday scenario.

I traced that pattern with five more recent debunked claims, including an astonishing and eye-opening report about “horizontal gene transfer.” Seriously, the article is worth reading if only for that one piece of genuine science.

Most fundamentally, I examined what it would really take to prove that catastrophic global warming is happening and that humans are causing it. No one ever lays out the steps it would take, because if they did, they would have to acknowledge how far they are from proving it.

That’s the same reason they’re elevating the imagined threat of global warming over real and immediate threats like terrorism: because they don’t want to grapple with the implications. Terrorism is a problem that calls for solutions the left doesn’t want to pursue—whereas global warming calls for solutions they have been longing to implement for more than a century. It’s almost as if they called the problem into existence for precisely that reason.

Hence the monumental absurdity of events like the Paris climate summit. The more important other issues become—the more our political leaders are called upon to deal with problems whose solutions don’t fit their agenda—the more they have to double down on the failed predictions, overinflate the phantom threat, project it as the real root of every other problem, and then proclaim every minor, ineffectual attempt to address the problem as a historic achievement of bold leadership.

But behind this there is a palpable desperation. Global warming persistently remains near the bottom of voter’s priorities—while terrorism is back on the top of the list. It seems that the more they try to puff up their phantom menace, the more insubstantial is appears alongside all of our real problems.

I’ll continue tomorrow with item #4, an issue that I have not covered as much as I would like, to which I’m planning to return with the luxury of being able to make some deeper philosophical observations.

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