Leland Teschler's Editorial: Environmental Extremism is a Good Career Move

June 16, 2009
Readers interested in changing careers for greener pastures might take a hint from the World Business Summit on Climate Change

Readers interested in changing careers for greener pastures might take a hint from the World Business Summit on Climate Change which wrapped up recently in Copenhagen: Environmental alarmism is a growth industry. The meeting was basically a warm-up for negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto is a United Nations treaty that aims to stabilize greenhousegas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that would prevent “dangerous interference” with the climate system.

But the Copenhagen meeting and Kyoto increasingly seem to have little to do with unbiased science and a lot to do with convincing governments to throw money at the green movement, regardless of whether the funds are wisely spent.

So argues Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and director of a think tank called the Copenhagen Consensus. He says speakers at the World Business Summit seemed to have been picked because of their scary views on global warming — though such views are outside mainstream scientific thinking and don’t mesh with the findings of the U.N. panel of climate-change scientists.

The nightmare scenarios outlined at the conference seemed to be proportional to the amount of money at stake. Lomborg points out that U.S. companies and interest groups involved with climate change hired 2,430 lobbyists last year and that 50 of the biggest U.S. electric utilities spent $51 million on lobbyists in just six months. Lomborg calls the partnership among self interested businesses, grandstanding politicians, and alarmist campaigners an “unholy alliance” and says we “shouldn’t be surprised that those who stand to make a profit are among the loudest calling for politicians to act.”

All the more troubling is that even moderate views on global warming rely on peer-reviewed environmental research that itself may be biased in favor of headline-grabbing conclusions. The problem is explained by Patrick Michaels, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Virginia, and Robert Balling Jr., a professor of climatology at Arizona State University. They point out that global warming science competes for public funding with cancer research, AIDS, and a number of other worthwhile efforts. Because scientific budgets are finite, an issue’s perceived importance determines how much funding it receives. The result is a culture, they say, in which any scientific finding that indicates a less-significant impact of climate change threatens researchers’ livelihoods.

And there is evidence that climate-science authors can stack the deck when it comes to the review process. Michaels and Balling cite a practice of the American Geophysical Union. The Union asks authors to provide the names of five people they think would be desirable reviewers. Authors can also submit names of people they think wouldn’t provide an objective review. Michaels and Balling conclude that, “When the writer can influence the selection of reviewers, peer review is pretty much dead.”

All in all, there’s money to be made by serving up apocalyptic global warming predictions, but at a social cost. Consider that framers of Kyoto proposed world governments spend $180 billion annually for measures that, at best, would reduce temperature by 0.3°F by the end of the 21st century. Says Lomborg, “The U.N. estimates that for less than half that amount, we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care, and education to every single human on the planet. The same warped sense of priorities will continue to bedevil us this December in Copenhagen.”

Leland Teschler, Editor

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