We live in an age of miracles. Not only does the sun come up each day like clockwork, but George Will has been caught lying about the current state of climate science.
TPM thinks Will should issue a retraction. He probably won't, and it wouldn't really matter if he did. Will's column has always been a bit like the Canal Street storefronts that serve as a conduit for bootleg electronics and jewelry. It's where conservatarian lies go to get a pedigree and a page number. Whether Will corrects himself or not, his claim will live on forever, as surely as hundreds of wingnut bloggers will link to Henry Payne's post on Debra J. Saunders' summary of Fred Barnes' column on the argument Gregg Easterbrook based on it.
Which is fine. Tse-tse flies and filarial worms have their trade, and George Will has his. What bothers me is not that he's a professional liar in a job that calls for one; it's that his lies -- like Will himself -- lack a certain verve and panache. If Martin Durkin is Lemmy, Will is Ed Ames.
In the end, though, they're both relics. Inactivism is where it's at, naoadays. For instance, a new column by the geoscientist Thomas Crowley explains that "tales of our environmental demise are greatly exaggerated" because "coal reserves are dwindling, and lower emissions will follow."
It'll be interesting to see how this argument flies with right-leaning inactivists. Normally, the theory that it's possible to exhaust a natural resource is almost as controversial in conservatarian circles as AGW itself. But we've reached a point where virtually any theory is preferable to AGW; if we found out tomorrow that the earth is warming from the effects of a Ganymedean death ray, Iain Murray would present the news as a rebuke to the "alarmists" who claimed that human industry was to blame, and there'd be cigars, cognac and bwahahas all around.
Anyway, Crowley gets his figures from a paper by Prof. David Rutledge at CalTech (who is not an inactivist by any means).
He concluded that reserves (resources that can be economically produced) – widely assumed to be sufficient for energy use for centuries – are far smaller than usually assumed....Crowley acknowledges that Rutledge's findings have not yet been confirmed. But that doesn't stop him from hinting that they're being suppressed:
Since coal is almost entirely responsible for the projected rise in CO2 beyond mid-century, the implication is that neither CO2 nor the climate consequences from its use may be nearly as severe as usually assumed by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.
Have the implications of Rutledge's work just not sunk in, or are some scientists having difficulty disengaging from a fundamental assumption that has been in the community mindset for a quarter of a century?The latter, most likely. After all, Rutledge's theory changes everything:
Even if his calculations are further substantiated and widely accepted, the planet will continue to warm in the interim and concerns about, for example, drought and rising sea level will still be legitimate. And the need for alternate energy sources would become even more urgent in the near-term than it would be if coal were available in the vast amounts previously assumed.I feel better already!
Obviously, Crowley is correct that Rutledge's work is pertinent to the debate over AGW. But he ignores three points: First, the economic shock of peak coal, coupled with a temperature rise that will result in "drought and rising sea level," is a fairly troubling scenario; if Rutledge is correct, then "urgent" is a very polite way of describing our need for alternative energy. (That this scenario actually does constitute grounds for "optimism," of a sort, says all one needs to say about modern planetary management. Still, calling it "mild" is a bit much.)
Second, Rutledge estimates that the coal shortage will cause CO2 to peak at 460ppm in 2070, which is roughly what the IPCC has been shooting for, in terms of a stabilization target, for better or worse. If there's more coal than he projects (or even if there isn't), the assumption that we can safely burn what we have could turn out to be a very bad one. (And again, that is not Rutledge's assumption; he'd prefer to phase out fossil-fuel production on federal lands, among other things.)
Third, Rutledge's calculations don't seem to include emissions relating to tar sands and oil shale, which I'd assume will magically seem more "economical" as coal and oil get scarcer.
As a geoscientist, Crowley presumably knows all of this and much more besides. But for some reason, his column is rather short on arguments for caution and against complacency (though I guess it's possible they were edited out due to lack of space). In any event, he's performed a welcome service for the more flexible denialists, who can now argue that climate change has been canceled due to lack of coal, and that there's more than enough coal for the next thousand years, and that we'll need to burn every grain of it in order to stave off a Super Ice Age.
Bjorn Lomberg has a new column. The gist of it is that "swift growth" in China and India is lifting people out of poverty, which will enable them to buy more goods and services, which will lead to even swifter growth, which will continue until everyone everywhere is happy and healthy, world without end, amen. Also, global warming will make China's weather nicer: "Warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production and improve health." (How could they not?)
Lest you think Lomborg's out of ideas, he does recommend "developing low-carbon energy." Wish I'd thought of that!
Frank Tipler -- esteemed author of the silliest book I've ever read in my life -- asks "What counter-intuitive predictions have the Global Warmers ever made?" Depends what you mean by "counter-intuitive," I guess. Most denialists still seem to think AGW is disproved whenever there's a snowstorm (see illustration, above).
Tipler's message, as far as I can tell, is that we must look at what people in the sciences have actually accomplished, instead of being dazzled by their fancy schools and their degrees, and their woefully noncounterintuitive papers that simply rehash what everyone else has already said about CO2 and heat and ice and stuff. Once we do this, we'll understand that the IPCC consensus is meaningless, because one of these days, it's going to be blown out of the water by some barefoot amateur who will check fashionable theories about "warming" against the stark physical fact of the snow that's falling on his driveway.
On that note, you'll have to excuse me...my dentist told me I need a root canal, so I'm going to walk over to the gas station and get a second opinion from the guy who repairs tires.
UPDATE: The Washington Post argues that there's no need for Will to issue a retraction, because there are sources that agree with his claim, even if the specific source to which the claim was attributed denies it vehemently. As Tim Lambert says:
[U]nder this policy Will, can attribute any statement at all to any organization he wants and no correction would be necessary, no matter how much the organization denies the statement. For example, next week Will could write that the Smithsonian had concluded that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and he would not have to correct this no matter how fiercely the Smithsonian denied it, as long as he could find a Creationist web site that said that was the Smithsonian's conclusion.Behold the abject capitulation of the MSM to the irrational dogma of the Warming Cult.
(Illustration: zOMG we can haz snow!!1 ttly sux 2 b algore lol)