I guess it’s safe to say that my life has a certain Forest-Gump-like quality to it, in the sense that I have been at the scene of important events without playing much of a major role in them. I’ve met famous people, worked on important projects, seen war and the end of war, etc.
I was working as associate producer for a video production company in the early 90s when we were approached by a young woman who wanted us to do a documentary. After a long period of intense psychoanalysis she had come to believe that long-repressed memories of ritual child abuse had resurfaced, were true and were horrible. Her recovered memories were detailed and intense. They contained narratives of horrific crimes committed by satanic child abusers.
Before we took the commission, my boss asked me to investigate. Certainly there were plenty of media stories about this type of incident–there had been accusations, trials and even one or two convictions. So I clipped newspaper articles and talked with a couple of reporters. One of them named an FBI agent who had been assigned to look at the broad phenomenon–he went from case to case, trying to build a picture of what was really going on. I got his details, called him and he volunteered to come out and meet with our team.
And what he said was as horrifying as the stories that the young woman had told. “I’ve investigated hundreds of these cases–done forensics at scenes where these children were supposedly held, ceremonial sites where other children were supposedly sacrificed. I’ve looked for blood, fingerprints, clothing, fibers. I’ve spent years on this. And I’ve never found one piece of evidence that any of this has occurred. I believe this is the largest case of mass hysteria this country has ever experienced. People who are deeply dissatisfied with elements of their lives look for some root cause to hold responsible–and being a victim of satanic child abuse that was so horrible that you repressed all memory of it relieves you of the responsibility for parts of your life you cannot accept.”
And it turned out he was right. There are worshippers of Satan. There are child abusers. They are not the same and what these people thought were repressed memories were dark fantasies.
Fast forward a bit. There have been a number of instances in the past twenty years where phenomenon have emerged that required a validated and logical explanation. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy–a disease of cows that damaged brain activity, then physical control and led to death. Most prevalent in England, press reports speculated that hundreds of thousands of English folk would perish from it. And the press and the politicians claimed scientific support for this. It created a public furor that led to the massacre of millions of cows and a reorganization of the entire agricultural sector in the UK.
As we all know, BSE was a terrible scourge for those afflicted, but it was about 157 people in total who actually suffered from it over a 20-year period. And it turned out that the politicians and the press hijacked the agenda away from more conservative scientists, used their own shoddy math to overrule scientific conclusions and come up with mystery projections of mass infection, deterioration and death.
And so it has been ever since. From the safety of vaccinations and genetically modified organisms to the menace of pesticides and fertilizers, Western Civilization has bounced from scare story to scare story, with each one first seized upon by politicians and the press, then pushed out at the general public as the results of scientific inquiry–and then revealed as hopelessly exaggerated or made up out of whole cloth. Power lines. Cellular telephones. DDT.
These all were new phenomenon that sometimes actually posed a threat to small numbers of people, but were clearly less dangerous than the heart disease, stroke and cancer that actually claim most of us at the end of the day. But their newness counted for more than the small number of victims affected and those who profit from a state of perpetual fear rode that horse as far as they could. Some of them were deft enough to change horses in mid-stream, moving from one alarm to another.
And so what of global warming? Is it in fact another new scare? It has elements of it, surely. There are politicians, preachers and pundits who have sounded the alarm without understanding the issue. There are many who have exaggerated the findings of sober scientists and a few scientists who have been less than sober themselves.
And these…villains… for want of a more incendiary term, these villains have adopted the tactics and strategies that were effective in promoting previous scares. Many resorted to hiding the defects of the science instead of promoting honest exploration. Where the scientists predicted modest sea level rise, the hysterics inflated it to drastic floods and where the scientists said that they couldn’t say what would happen at a regional level, hysterics in each region of the world said that theirs would be hardest hit.
But global warming isn’t like the other scares. First, because the globe actually warmed rapidly for a 25-year period. Not at an unprecedented rate, but at an unusual one. There was a real phenomenon. Second, because those who sought to ride the global warming horse to glory were opposed almost immediately, first by those with vested interests at stake, but later by a large number of very diverse people who reacted against the tone and the hyperbole and decided to check the numbers. So although the European Union and California put in stringent emission limits, the world as a whole did not. And although green energy received billions of dollars in subsidies, they proved additive in nature to the energy mix rather than substitutes for more proven fuels.
And now, decades later, we see that those most invested in climate alarmism have resorted to calling current weather the result of climate change, insulting the scientists who clearly say otherwise and anyone old enough to remember or read of similar events in the past. And the warming has stalled–no warming for 16 years, we’re told, during a period where humans have emitted one-third of all emissions in recorded history. And the line in the sand is drawn.
Without disputing the science behind the theory of global warming, without objecting to the temperature record or the declining ice in the Arctic, it is finally safe to say, as James Hansen did before resigning from NASA, that temperatures have stalled. Or as James Annan has said, speaking safely from Japan, that higher estimates of atmospheric sensitivity will probably be dropped from consideration. The Economist, after a decade of lining up with the most pessimistic of public affairs officers, has written clearly and accurately that climate change needs to be re-evaluated in softer terms. And one now can be a skeptic or a lukewarmer and laugh at those still shrilly hurling insults at those who don’t fall in line with their dogma.
There is apparently a time limit–a half life–for public scare stories. Eventually, like Wakefield’s lies about vaccines and autism or the phony claims about GMOs, things like the Hockey Stick Chart, Gleick’s theft and forgery of opposition documents and the bland overconsumption of energy by those championing its restriction undermine the scare stories and leave the public numb.
The job now is to preserve the scientific narrative that was obscured by the alarmists. The recent period of global warming was not imaginary. We are moving into a future that will see us emitting far more CO2 than we are now. Temperatures may have stalled–but they have not fallen, despite the movement of several phenomenon into phases that push temperatures lower. We’re not out of the woods yet.
But if we can keep the alarmists off the stage and out of the newspapers, perhaps a more realistic dialogue can address the real phenomenon instead of the nightmares.