At the heart of the debate about climate change is a simple scientific question: can a doubling of the concentration of a normally harmless, indeed moderately beneficial, gas, from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.06% of the atmosphere over the course of a century change the global climate sufficiently to require drastic and painful political action today?
In the end, that’s what this is all about.
Most scientists close enough to the topic say: possibly. Some say: definitely. Some say: highly unlikely. The ‘consensus’ answer is that the warming could be anything from mildly beneficial to dangerously harmful: that’s what the IPCC means when it quotes a range of plausible outcomes from 1.5 to 4 degrees of warming.
On the basis of this unsettled scientific question, politicians and most of the pressure groups that surround them are furiously insistent that any answer to the question other than ‘definitely’ is vile heresy motivated by self-interest, and is so disgraceful as to require stamping out, prosecution as a crime against humanity, investigation under laws designed to catch racketeering by organized crime syndicates, or possibly the suspension of democracy.
For yes, that is what has been repeatedly proposed by respected and senior figures in the climate debate.
James Hansen, former head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute and the man whose congressional testimony in 1988 kick-started the whole debate, said a few years back, of fossil fuel company executives: ‘In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature’.
As I am finishing this essay comes news that one of France’s leading television weather forecasters, Philippe Verdier, has published a book arguing that he thinks the problem of climate change is being exaggerated. As a result he was first taken off the air and then unceremoniously sacked.
Imagine, for a moment, that he had published a book saying the opposite: that climate change is going to be worse than we think. He would have been feted, rather than fired.
This is censorship, and the fact that it is happening less than a year after, and in the same city as, the Charlie Hebdo killings, when the world joined together to say ‘Je suis Charlie’ and insist that free speech must be protected, is astonishing.
Recently 20 senior climate scientists wrote to President Obama and his attorney general to support a senator’s call that the administration mount a ‘RICO (Racketeer Infuenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change’.
Remarkably, Dr Roger Pielke Jr, professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, then discovered that that the lead signatory of the letter from the 20 scientists, Professor Jagadish Shukla of George Mason University, has been paying himself and his wife $1.5 million a year, via his ‘non-profit’ Institute of Global Environment & Society Inc. of which he is President and CEO.
The money came entirely from public grants climate grants and was on top of his $250,000 university salary. Two of his daughters were also on the institute’s payroll. Is it any wonder that he very much does not want anybody to conclude that climate change is a crisis? Is it any wonder he wants sceptics silenced by prosecution? And is it possible that the huge flow of money he receives has incentivised him to (in his own words) ‘knowingly deceive the American people about the risks of climate change’ in the other direction?
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