Max Boot is a Washington Post (tagline – “Journalism Lies For Darkness”) columnist who claims to be a conservative. He has written a column repenting of his climate change skepticism and asking why other “conservatives” don’t do the same. The article is of limited interest in terms of making a convincing case and could have been written by any columnist who believes in Catastrophic Anthropic Global Warming (CAGW) in the last decade or two. As such however it serves as a worthwhile subject for fisking because it is so predictable:

I was wrong on climate change. Why can’t other conservatives admit it, too?

I admit it. I used to be a climate-change skeptic. I was one of those conservatives who thought that the science was inconclusive, that fears of global warming were as overblown as fears of a new ice age in the 1970s, that climate change was natural and cyclical, and that there was no need to incur any economic costs to deal with this speculative threat. I no longer think any of that, because the scientific consensus is so clear and convincing.

First out of the gate is the required admission of previous heresy and recanting of it. As someone who has spent a lot of time on this issue I’d say his previous position is pretty much correct:

  1. The science is inconclusive
  2. The fears are overblown
  3. Climate change is in fact natural and cyclical
  4. There is therefore no need to incur costs to deal with it

As he goes into “detail” we’ll explain all of these, but it is worth pointing out that climate science has a truly terrible record of making predictions that come true and completely failed to predict things like the “pause” in global temperature rise in the early 2000s

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released Friday by the U.S. government, puts it starkly: “Observations collected around the world provide significant, clear, and compelling evidence that global average temperature is much higher, and is rising more rapidly, than anything modern civilization has experienced, with widespread and growing impacts.” The report notes that “annual average temperatures have increased by 1.8°F across the contiguous United States since the beginning of the 20th century” and that “annual median sea level along the U.S. coast . . . has increased by about 9 inches since the early 20th century as oceans have warmed and land ice has melted.”

The first thing to note here is the qualifiers in the base document. Modern civilization has never experienced these temperatures/rises. Modern civilization is the last 200-300 years and neatly excludes the Roman and Medieval warming periods as well as any number of prehistoric periods where analysis of ice cores etc. suggest both hotter temperatures and fast temperature changes. Consider the actual magnitude of this rise. 1.8°F is 1°C. If you look at the annual temperature swing in the central US – places like the Dakotas, say – the difference in temperature between January and August every year is about 80°C. A winter min -40°C and a summer max 40°C (more or less) which means that in the last 120 years temperatures have increased by about 1.25% of the annual swing. If you compare it to the range between the absolute lowest temperatures possible on Earth (close to -100°C) and highest reported (over +50°C) it’s even less. As Willis Eschenbach pointed out at WattsUpWithThat recently the real question should be:

Why does the global temperature change so little?

Moreover as the same post points out despite almost 40 years of study and massive increases in computing resources available the estimate of climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 has remained essentially unchanged in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C. So in fact the “science” has not in fact got any more accurate all of a sudden. Mr Boot has either been misled or is deliberately attempting to mislead his readership.

The report attributes these changes to man-made greenhouse gases and warns: “High temperature extremes, heavy precipitation events, high tide flooding events along the U.S. coastline, ocean acidification and warming, and forest fires in the western United States and Alaska are all projected to continue to increase, while land and sea ice cover, snowpack, and surface soil moisture are expected to continue to decline in the coming decades.”

The U.S. government warnings echo the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In October, it released a report that represented the work of 91 scientists from 60 countries. It describes, in the words of the New York Times, “a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.”

As I noted recently global food production has increased so much in the last 50 years that we have essentially eliminated famines due to weather/crop failure (political issues may still cause local famines) while using less land to do so, so just as Ehrlich and co were 100% wrong in predicting mass-starvation in the 1970s, there seems no reason to expect worsening food shortages in the coming decades.

The wildfires are already here. The Camp Fire blaze this month is the most destructive in California history, charring 153,000 acres, destroying nearly 19,000 structures, and killing at least 85 people. The second-most destructive fire in California history was the one last year in Napa and Sonoma counties. The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies notes that climate change has contributed to these conflagrations by shortening the rainy season, drying out vegetation and whipping up Santa Ana winds. Massive hurricanes are increasing along with wildfires — and they too are influenced by climate change.

The wildfires are not in fact here. To the extent that they are, it is due to what the NY Times said (in January) was lack of logging before they decided to blame it on Trump instead

Hurricanes are not in fact increasing. There are lots and lots of places on the web where you can see that this is the case. At the Weather Underground page the top bullet is:

There is no evidence of a systematic increasing or decreasing trend in ACE for the years 1970-2012.

Nothing I have seen in the last few years has changed that – not even the hurricanes landing in the US in the last couple of years (after a decade or so of no hurricanes making landfall). What does affect perceived losses from such events are people living in flood-prone and fire-prone areas in greater numbers. The population of Paradise, Ca grew by about 60% in the last 50 years etc. the population of Houston more or less doubled in that time and so on. However on a normalized basis (i.e. accounting for more people living in affected areas) there is not trend at all in losses.

It’s time to sound the planetary alarm. This is likely to be the fourth-hottest year on record. The record-holder is 2016, followed by 2015 and 2017. A climate change website notes that “the five warmest years in the global record have all come in the 2010s” and “the 10 warmest years on record have all come since 1998.”

So these hottest years are how much hotter than the previous ones? something like a fraction of a degree (see note above about how temperatures are rising 1°C in over a century). So what?

Imagine if these figures reflected a rise in terrorism — or illegal immigration. Republicans would be freaking out. Yet they are oddly blasé about this climate code red. President Trump, whose minions buried the climate-change report on the day after Thanksgiving, told Axios: “Is there climate change? Yeah. Will it go back like this, I mean will it change back? Probably.” And, amid a recent cold snap, he tweeted: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

Republicans have in fact “freaked out” at recent rises in illegal immigration but those rises have been proportionately greater. Democrats have “freaked out” about mass shootings when the increase in such events is about as low as the increase in temperatures. As for “what happened to Global Warming?” Climate skeptics have been making similar jokes ever since Al Gore did his inconvenient truth film.

By this point, no one should be surprised that the president can’t tell the difference between short-term weather fluctuations and long-term climate trends. At least he didn’t repeat his crazy suggestion that climate change is a Chinese hoax. Yet his denialism is echoed by other Republicans who should know better. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told CNN on Sunday: “Our climate always changes and we see those ebb and flows through time. . . . We need to always consider the impact to American industry and jobs.”

By this point, no one should be surprised that Max Boot can’t tell the difference between short-term weather fluctuations and long-term climate trends either.

We do need to consider the impact on U.S. jobs — but that’s an argument for action rather than, as Ernst suggests, inaction. The National Climate Assessment warns that global warming could cause a 10 percent decline in gross domestic product and that the “potential for losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century.” Iowa and other farm states will be particularly hard hit as crops wilt and livestock die.

Note all these “coulds”. Also note that a 10% crash in GDP is something that lots of places witnessed in the fall out to the 2008 financial meltdown. Ehh. So what? [Update – as Scott Adams points out it is a 10% correction to a 700% increase, so that’s even less of an issue] All of this is based on assumptions about climate sensitivity to CO2 that is at the higher end of the 1.5°C to 4.5°C range and similarly high predictions about the growth in CO2 emissions due to fossil fuels. Judith Curry has a recent post asking whether the prediction is likely and suggesting that it isn’t (in the comments there is a lot of excellent additional evidence in that regard). Similarly she and Nic Lewis have done a lot of work suggesting that the actual sensitivity is at the lower end of the range.

Allow me to summarize: If CO2 growth is extremely high AND if sensitivity is extremely high then bad things will happen. If neither are true then all these predictions are just fear-mongering. Evidence to date suggests the latter.

Compared with the crushing costs of climate change, the action needed to curb greenhouse-gas emissions is modest and manageable — if we act now. Jerry Taylor, president of the libertarian Niskanen Center, estimates that a carbon tax would increase average electricity rates from 17 cents to 18 cents per kilowatt-hour. The average household, he writes, would see spending on energy rise “only about $35 per month.” That’s not nothing — but it’s better than allowing climate change to continue unabated.

So the fix is a carbon tax that raises costs to households by a bit more than $1 per day? Really? Fluctuations in the price of oil and natural gas are greater than that. Something (e.g. the resent protests in France) suggests that the carbon tax, if implemented, will be considerably higher than that. More to the point how does a carbon tax fix the problem? If we’re going to be serious about reducing CO2 emissions we need to replace energy from fossil fuels by energy from something else in a big way. The only way to do that with today’s technology is to build multiple gigwatts of nuclear power and that is something that no politician who subscribes to CAGW is actually proposing. If the US doubled or tripled it’s proportion of electricity derived from nukes that might make a difference (depending on whether other nations did too), building a few megawatts of windfarms and solar panels won’t.

I’ve owned up to the danger. Why haven’t other conservatives? They are captives, first and foremost, of the fossil fuel industry, which outspent green groups 10 to 1 in lobbying on climate change from 2000 to 2016. But they are also captives of their own rigid ideology. It is a tragedy for the entire planet that the United States’ governing party is impervious to science and reason.

Boot blames lobbying because conservatives are apparently too stupid to do anything that they don’t get money to do. That’s an interesting proposition and suggests that perhaps Mr Boot and his new pals in the Climate Change Fearmongering Industry are entirely coin-operated. On the other hand it is possible that the other conservatives have done the sums like I have and decided that CAGW is likely bunk. That doesn’t BTW mean they think that climate change isn’t happening, just that climate change is probably not entirely human caused and is unlikely to be anything like catastrophic. To the extent that these other conservatives are “captives of their own rigid ideology” I suggest the ideology they are captive to is one that requires actual evidence. Climate change fear-mongers are bad at presenting testable predictions (when their models are tested they tend to fail) and worse are estimating the economic effects of their proposed changes – indeed when looked at on a lifetime CO2 emissions basis most “fixes” (electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines…) are at best carbon neutral and at worst actually add more CO2 than not using them would. Furthermore, as Instapundit has said many times, if CO2 is such a huge danger then you’d expect the scientists, activists, lobhyists and politicians to adopt a considerably lower CO2 emitting lifestyle than they actually do. How many environmentalists turn off/down the heat/air conditioning? how many telecommute, cycle/walk to work? etc. The revealed preference of their actual behavior is indeed revealing.

Something tells me that the party that is “impervious to science and reason” is not in fact the Republicans.

As for Max Boot, he seems to be doing an excellent job of sucking up to the the Climate Change lobby and uncritically accepting everything they say. As for the Washington Post? well I’d day this article fits right in with its new tagline.

Washinton Post
Journalism Lies for Darkness

And if the climate change lot have their way we’ll all be in their darkness