If you fancy yourself a person who values science, rational discourse, and data-driven truths, one assumes you also value skepticism and dissent — and it’s almost certain that you wouldn’t advocate that some debates be off limits. Well, one person with no compunction about shutting down dissent is John Kerry, whose recent comments about climate change to an audience at a U.S. embassy-run American Center in Indonesia were a lot more loathsome than people might gather.
“We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts…”
Now, I believe climate change is real. Not with the certitude I believe gravity is real or the moon exists, or even in the way I believe the ideas of evolution are pretty sound. What I am certain of, though, is that like me, Kerry has a preposterously insufficient grasp of the intricacies of climate modeling and no idea how much of the variations we see can be chalked up to anthropomorphic causes and how much of it is organic. From what I can gather, the complexity and depth of the scientific debate over climate change is far from being as cut and dry as those who politicize it — this administration being the one of the worst offenders — would like it to appear.
But even if it were not, advocating that meteorologists at MIT or world renowned physicists or pioneers of Atmospheric Science, whose theories diverge from the consensus, should be shut out of debate is in serious conflict with the ideals of an open society. But it gets worse. Call it libertarian paranoia, but seeing a high-ranking American government official preaching to the world that “we” shouldn’t allow debate on policy because one party happens to believe it’s “the right thing” (perhaps the least scientific phrase ever concocted) is particularly loathsome. And that’s exactly where Kerry goes in his very next thought:
“…Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits.”
For starters, you’d think that hearing a cabinet member calling for the end of discourse would be something a reporter with access to Kerry might want to follow up on. What exactly does he mean by “should not allow”? Perhaps we can imagine this going down in alternative historical form — Donald Rumsfeld said “we” should not allow “any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right in Iraq outweigh the benefits” — and move forward from there.
This is the formula: scientific consensus cannot be challenged. The solutions and policies we offer are as irrefutable as science and, consequently, also unchallengeable. So only “deniers” weigh the economic trade-offs of environmental policy, or the wisdom of dumping billions of dollars and untold resources into cronyism and questionable technologies, or challenge the highly dubious contention that left-wing environmental policies, even if successful, would alter the trajectory of the supposed climate catastrophe. We’re not allowed to debate whether focusing on human adaptability is a better bet than the miniscule chance that we can stop the explosive growth of prosperity in the developing world.
Or, even more important, a debate over whether we should want to. What is the morality of working to deny billions of people the energy and technology that could lift them out of poverty? Kerry called on all nations to respond to “the greatest challenge of our generation.” In Indonesia, somewhere around 32 million people live in crushing poverty that can only be alleviated by expanding marketplaces, which, in turn, guarantee that millions of people will be using more carbon-emitting energy. Since fossil fuels have done more to alleviate poverty and suffering than any charity or safety-net program known to mankind, it’s probably worth discussing.
It’s the prerogative of democratic nations to undertake policies that this administration supports, but it’ll be the proles (certainly not the Inner Party) that foot the bill for these quixotic plans. There is a wide array of issues to wring our hands over that are more consequential than climate change (one being the increasingly unsettling authoritarian rhetoric of our leaders.) I’d be thrilled if we invented the flux capicitator to deal with all this, but until then, remaining skeptical about the predictions of science — which is so often wrong — and the economic feasibility and morality of left-wing environmental policy seems like a prudent choice.
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist and author of the forthcoming The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter.