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Column: When in Doubt, Blame Climate Change

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says last year was the hottest on record in the contiguous United States. As The New York Times put it in a recent headline, it was “not even close.”

A couple of days later, The Times published a roundup of global weather gone wild, reinforcing the shift that took place some time back, in which “global warming” became the more vague and menacing “climate change” — a semantic adjustment that neatly accounted for the annoying lack of statistically significant global warming in recent years.

Along with heat in the United States, The Times story described snow in Jerusalem, endless rain in Britain, heat waves in Brazil and Australia and an arctic air mass settling in from Central Europe to South Asia — a cold wave severe enough to cause several hundred deaths. In Siberia, it was so frigid that natural gas liquefied in its pipes.

Omar Baddour of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva told The Times that these events were a sign that, as the paper put it, “climate change is not just about rising temperatures but also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.”

In other words, if the temperature isn’t rising globally then “climate change” is pretty much anything bad that happens. I wish I could remember the blogger who crystallized the fallacy at work here, but he nailed it perfectly: If everything that happens becomes evidence for what you want to believe, how can you call it “science”?

The Earth may well start warming again and human activity may be the cause, but there are signs that many people have lost patience with the greens’ insistent predictions of doom.

At the “Watts Up With That” blog, meteorologist Anthony Watts found that search trends on Google for “global warming” and “climate change” have radically dropped off in recent years, while searches for “extreme weather” barely registered.

One reason may be that many people picked up on the dodginess of the shift from “global warming” to “climate change.” The Climategate scandal of 2009 — in which scientists wrote back and forth on how to thwart freedom-of-information filings or manipulate data — was a major blow to the theory’s credibility.

Then there’s the lack of significant warming since 1998, still the hottest year on record globally. What’s more, that trend will continue if you believe scientists at the British Met Office, an agency sometimes described as Britain’s NOAA.

The Met created a minor flap recently when, over the Christmas holiday, it posted a new set of predictions coughed up by its computer models. Unlike the previous year’s forecasts, these saw no significant warming for the next five years.

Moreover, the greens have failed to propose any workable policy levers for dealing with “climate change.”

The Kyoto process was stillborn given the refusal of big developing countries like China and India to participate. And the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade bill rightly died in the Senate. Politicians, especially in a chronically weak economy, aren’t likely to approve measures that could reduce growth and jobs even more, especially given the failure of climatologists to explain why global warming seems to have ceased.

The greens’ biggest problem is their tendency to package proposed remedies with a big dose of redemptive castor oil. We must do penance for our sins of waste, we’re told. But if they’d drop the moral exhibitionism, constructive options might appear.

You want a carbon tax? Fine. Make it revenue neutral and use the proceeds to lower the payroll tax — a direct levy on job creation — and cut taxes on saving and capital formation. That could well change the nation’s energy-use patterns, but I suspect many greens would see a downside: It might also accelerate growth and jobs.

E. Thomas McClanahan is a member of The Kansas City Star editorial board.

Related

Letter: Misinformation About Climate Change

Friday, January 25, 2013

To the Editor: I was disappointed that the Valley News chose to publish E. Thomas McClanahan’s ill-informed piece on climate change. Instead of focusing on the current scientific data and thinking, he repeated many misconceptions. The Earth’s climate is a complex system, and the effects of the warming we have seen (0.8 degrees C over the last 150 years) and …