Global Warming as Mass Neurosis

Bret StephensBy Bret Stephens

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the mass hysteria phenomenon known as global warming. Much of the science has since been discredited. Now it’s time for political scientists, theologians and psychiatrists to weigh in.

What, discredited? Thousands of scientists insist otherwise, none more noisily than NASA’s Jim Hansen, who first banged the gong with his June 23, 1988, congressional testimony (delivered with all the modesty of “99% confidence”).

But mother nature has opinions of her own. NASA now begrudgingly confirms that the hottest year on record in the continental 48 was not 1998, as previously believed, but 1934, and that six of the 10 hottest years since 1880 antedate 1954. Data from 3,000 scientific robots in the world’s oceans show there has been slight cooling in the past five years, never mind that “80% to 90% of global warming involves heating up ocean waters,” according to a report by NPR’s Richard Harris.

The Arctic ice cap may be thinning, but the extent of Antarctic sea ice has been expanding for years. At least as of February, last winter was the Northern Hemisphere’s coldest in decades. In May, German climate modelers reported in the journal Nature that global warming is due for a decade-long vacation. But be not not-afraid, added the modelers: The inexorable march to apocalypse resumes in 2020.

This last item is, of course, a forecast, not an empirical observation. But it raises a useful question: If even slight global cooling remains evidence of global warming, what isn’t evidence of global warming? What we have here is a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that global warming isn’t happening. It does mean it isn’t science.

So let’s stop fussing about the interpretation of ice core samples from the South Pole and temperature readings in the troposphere. The real place where discussions of global warming belong is in the realm of belief, and particularly the motives for belief. I see three mutually compatible explanations.

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism. Take just about any other discredited leftist nostrum of yore – population control, higher taxes, a vast new regulatory regime, global economic redistribution, an enhanced role for the United Nations – and global warming provides a justification.

Read the rest of this piece at the Wall Street Journal.

14 Responses to Global Warming as Mass Neurosis

  1. Rob N. Hood July 4, 2008 at 5:58 pm #

    I’m not a climatologist, but my sense from paying attention to media reporting on this issue over the last two decades is that there is not only a one percent chance that global warming is both real and anthropogenic, but rather a ninety-five percent chance. Perhaps ninety-nine. Yep, sure, there are a few scientists out there still making the opposite argument. Probably some of them even aren’t on oil company payrolls! But the vast majority of reputable climate scientists now agree that this is happening, that we are making it happen, and that the results will be catastrophic. This, after ten and twenty years of a (somewhat) healthy scientific skepticism about those claims, which only further underscores the validity of the findings.

    So what will they say about us five centuries from now – those very few, very toasty, remaining humans, living on mountain tops, the only dry land to be found? What they’ll say is probably unprintable in any family newspaper, that’s for sure. But in-between the expletives I think you’d be likely to find words like … “unconscionable” … “breathtakingly stupid” … “astonishingly selfish” … and, “If you weren’t already dead I’d kill you!”

    Last week we had James Hansen reminding Congress, twenty years after originally doing so, of the gravity of this situation. One of the top scientists from one of America’s premier science agencies – who was told, by the way, to shut the hell up by the Bush administration – was reminding us yet again that we are facing mass species extinctions and ecosystem collapse among the lovely perils awaiting us if we continue in the current direction. Assuming, that is, that it isn’t already far too late to turn it around now.

    Think about that for a second: Mass extinction. Ecosystem collapse. Meteor. Ninety-five or better percent chance.

  2. And your point? July 7, 2008 at 9:51 am #

    Okay, so you have proven global warming is a scam, does that mean that it is okay to go back to heathenism and treat our planet anyway we want? Is it now okay for me to go outside and spray as many aerosol cans as I want just for the fun of it. Can I make a big pit in my backyard and burn whatever I wish in it? Our kids will still inherit “our” planet. Are we not responsible for taking good care of it for them until we pass it on? Even if global warming is a scam, there has been some great advances in environmentalism that will help protect our planet from the eventuality of changing our global climate.

  3. Dan McGrath July 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm #

    We absolutely advocate responsible stewardship of our natural environment. You won’t find anyone over here opposed to clean air and water. Carbon Dioxide, however, is not a pollutant!

  4. Steve Scubanski July 7, 2008 at 12:48 pm #

    Excellent reply, Dan. You’re right on regarding CO2.

  5. Joseph Morehead July 7, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    Anything can be a pollutant in large quantities. Anything.
    So please explain once again, in length, how Carbon Dioxide is not a pollutant.

  6. Phidippides July 8, 2008 at 11:51 am #

    I think that conservatives enjoy clean air and water and earth as much as the California liberal. After all, conservatives occupy much of the rural land between the East and West Coasts and are avid hunters, fishers, and outdoorsmen. But modern environmentalism goes well beyond responsible stewardship toward the environment and essentially advocates socialism.

  7. Lara July 10, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    And your pointis …

    You want us to buy in to this silliness so you can feel better? Nobody is saying that it is okay to pollute or litter. What I am saying is that the global warming crowd is not really aware of the scientific process and apparently they lack the education to be rational and circumspect about the issue. Not to mention, incredibly arrogant, accusatory, sarcastic and just plain obnoxious. I assure you that Al Gore is not the second coming of the savior. He is a greedy self serving jerk who desperately need a college level science class, complete with lab exercises.

  8. Rob N. Hood July 13, 2008 at 9:14 am #

    Yes Dan, we know… but it is a greenhouse gas.

  9. Earth Pro July 13, 2008 at 10:16 pm #

    If you go against the grain on this issue, you are naturally labeled as someone who ‘hates’ the environment! Sad

  10. Eric July 14, 2008 at 6:08 pm #

    To Joseph… I think you’re a bit confused as to what a “pollutant” is. That set aside, I think all CO2-fearing liberals are hypocritical: If they’re really THAT afraid of excess CO2 levels and are THAT determined to do something about it, consider voluntary human extinction. Seriously… the human body transforms oxygen to carbon dioxide with every breath! We’re CO2-producing machines! All the billions of us! But I suppose that for the fanatic, jumping off a bridge is akin to Al Gore giving up his private jet… it’s just not gonna happen… why? Because, just like Al Gore, even the most fanatic liberal, deep inside, doesn’t believe the B.S. either. Or, maybe they’re just too selfish to make the ultimate sacrifice for the planet. Oh, that’s right… it’s a “feel good” movement not to be taken THAT seriously.

    Global warming is a business. Al Gore has LOTS of stock in so-called green companies and carbon credits, so of course he’s going to spread his doomsday message. He’s the kind of guy that gives the rest of us capitalists a bad name.

  11. Dan McGrath July 15, 2008 at 9:24 am #

    Carbon Dioxide accounts for about 0.04% of the atmosphere. Water vapor is the prime mover when it comes to the greenhouse effect. How about we ban that pesky chemical pollutant, dihydrogenmonoxide? That’s the real culprit. Oh… And the sun. Still working on a way to black that out.

  12. Rob N. Hood July 18, 2008 at 10:43 pm #

    Gosh, I’m sure glad you conservatives aren’t “arrogant, accusatory, sarcastic or obnoxious.” I would hate to see what that is like coming from such folks who don’t do that sort of thing and are above all that… And truly, hypocritical liberals such as myself, really need to get some good ol’ American courage to back-up all our hateful rhetoric and do the right thing and extinguish ourselves- as the lovely right-winger above suggests. You people are so mature, well-informed, and level-headed! What are us creepy liberals thinking when we try to use our weak and communist/socialist brains??!! Sure glad Dan didn’t delete those wise and wonderful words- we all need you people to show us what actual intelligent and reasonable people are really like. NOT.

  13. Anders Johnson July 30, 2008 at 7:36 pm #

    To whoever believes human extinction is a solution just as valid as reasonable ones. According to my calculations, humans convert only about 4-5% of total air intake into CO2. This means the daily roughly 900 grams of CO2 are released per person just by breathing. Converting this we get about 0.00099 tons of CO2 per day. Compare that to driving 24 miles daily in an average-fuel-economy car, which produces approximately .0132 tons of CO2 daily. So either one person can stop driving or 13-14 people can stop breathing. Even being generous to car millage, it’s still one person sacrifices driving vs. 6-7 people sacrifice their lives. It’s petty, really, the argument against curbing pollution.
    And you can’t deny the greenhouse effect. If you think greenhouse gases are irrelevant go try to live on the frozen tundras of atmosphere-less Mars.

  14. Dan McGrath August 3, 2008 at 12:51 pm #

    NASA reports that there IS global warming on Mars and that it occurred concurrent with Earth’s warming trend. Must be those mars rovers we sent up there – oh, wait – they’re solar-powered!

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