Energy Secretary Rick Perry did a remarkable thing recently: he expressed skepticism about the causes of climate change in a TV interview and, even after widespread condemnation from environmentalists and the press, he did it again a few days later before a major Senate committee.
After telling a CNBC host on June 19 that he did not believe that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary “control knob” for climate, Perry said: “this idea that science [of climate change] is just absolutely settled and if you don’t believe it’s settled then you’re somehow another Neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective. I think if you’re going to be a wise, intellectually-engaged person, being a skeptic about some of these issues is quite alright.”
Climate activists and many media were outraged. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Perry’s comments drew attacks from environmental groups, which called the former Texas governor a ‘climate denier.’” The Chronicle’s energy correspondent, James Osborne, condemned Perry for questioning “one of the fundamental tenets of climate change.”
“Rick Perry’s outrageous comments are the latest indication that this administration will do everything in its power to put polluter profits ahead of science and public health,” said Sierra Club Climate Policy Director Liz Perera.
Labeling Perry’s comments “anti-science,” Mashable, a prominent on line media company, headlined their coverage, “Rick Perry just said CO2 isn’t the leading driver of climate change, even though it is.”
On and on went the attacks from Associated Press, Salon magazine, Toronto Star, Market Watch, etc. Media outlets that reported uncritically on Perry’s comments were few and far between.
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) even sent an open letter to the Secretary, warning him, “it is critically important that you understand that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the primary cause [of recent global warming]… Skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.”
Most politicians would have responded to the onslaught by quickly issuing a mea culpa press release, pledging allegiance to political correctness. But not Perry. Only three days later, in response to intense questioning by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) at the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing about President Trump’s 2018 energy department budget request, Perry asked, “Don’t you think it’s OK to have this conversation about the science of climate change…What’s wrong with being a skeptic about something that we’re talking about that’s going to have a massive impact on the American economy?”
Perry’s points about climate change, in both the TV interview and his Senate testimony, are justified. And being a skeptic about such a complex and uncertain field, especially one with expensive policy ramifications, is indeed “quite alright.” Besides being necessary for science to advance, skepticism is the duty of our elected officials when activists demand the allocation of vast sums of public money to contentious causes.
In fact, dozens of open letters and other public lists show that many experts do not support the hypothesis that we face a man-made climate crisis. The Climate Scientists’ Register assembled by the International Climate Science Coalition is perhaps the simplest document of its kind. In only a few days in 2010, over 100 experts from 22 countries agreed to the following statement:
“We, the undersigned, having assessed the relevant scientific evidence, do not find convincing support for the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing, or will in the foreseeable future cause, dangerous global warming.”
And referring to the hypothesis that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are accelerating global warming as “one of the fundamental tenets of climate change,” makes no sense. The U.N.’s point of view on climate change is not an irrefutable truth, like the tenets of a religion, or at least it shouldn’t be. Scientific hypotheses, even scientific theories, are merely the educated opinions of experts based on their interpretations of observations and so can be, and often are, wrong. Philosophers since ancient times have understood that observations cannot prove truth. This is especially the case in climate science, a field that University of Western Ontario applied mathematician Dr. Chris Essex calls “one of the most challenging open problems in modern science.”
Perry should not be concerned by AMS claims either. Dr. Tim Ball, an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, responded to the AMS letter: “These are completely false statements. The only evidence in support of CO2 as the primary cause of global warming are the outputs of the computer models used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which have been wrong in every forecast or scenario they produced since 1990. If your forecast is wrong then your science is wrong.”
When it comes to climate change, tolerance of alternative perspectives, a much-vaunted hallmark of liberalism, vanishes. They should welcome, not condemn, questioning the status quo. Effective science and public policy-making needs skeptical enquiry, not mere acquiescence to fashionable thinking. Perry’s approach is a breath of fresh air. Bravo, Mr. Secretary!