Moral Preening As A Substitute For Science

John Linder Former Congressman
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The recent article by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, seeking to move the debate on climate change to a moral plane is only the most recent effort to change the nature of the argument in the pursuit of a large government effort to achieve a questionable result on the basis of an unproven hypothesis.

Theodore Dalrymple once wrote that one of the advantages of moral preening is that it assumes a superiority that “can never be decisively disproved.” Dalrymple was not writing about climate change, but it fits.

The hypothesis that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere as a result of human activity will cause a dangerous warming of the planet is just that – a hypothesis. The basic science is a fact; CO2 traps heat. What has not been established is whether this is good or bad. Beyond that everything is based on computer models.

While computer modeling has become invaluable in academic and business communities it is worth remembering that the output is only as good as the inputs.

The vast expansion in the financial markets that ultimately resulted in a financial collapse was made possible by a computer model.

The difficulty in evaluating a tranche of mortgages was solved by Dr. David X. Li, a mathematician who developed a computer model that valued the underlying assets by the price of the credit default swaps sold against them. The model was so captivating that it was used not only by banks and investors, but also by ratings agencies and regulators.

The program worked brilliantly for five years, but when financial markets began behaving in ways that Dr. Li had not contemplated it fell apart, along with the banks that made so much money off of it.

That is the question that hovers over the computer models of the promised climate crisis. Since many of the factors that affect climate are as yet unknown, how do you build a model that will predict future climate with any accuracy?

Even more important than the inputs, or lack thereof, is the fact that the models are inaccurate in reflecting facts that can be measured. We know the climatological values that have existed over the last 1,000 years. Subjecting those facts to the computer models yields results that are simply wrong.

Additionally, the assumptions and source documents upon which the model is based are not available to scrutiny. That information is, I was told by NASA’s Dr. James Hanson, not available because it is proprietary. Thus, it “can never be decisively disproved.”

The first rule of science is to make public all of the information upon which a theory is derived to see if it can stand scrutiny. Only after the scientific community fails to disprove a theory does it become a fact. If the source documents are kept private it is not science, it is superstition. Moral preening works in the church of superstition. Science is immune to it.

We took the moral high ground in responding to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The theory that birds were disappearing and children were dying of cancer as a result of the use of DDT was just that – a theory. It could not be decisively disproved so we outlawed DDT.

After the deaths of tens of millions of people from malaria, the World Health Organization now recommends that DDT be applied to the walls of homes in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We concluded that CFCs cause a thinning of the ozone layer in the stratosphere so we took the high moral ground and outlawed the chemical that made Freon. Refrigeration disappeared in much of the developing world and people starved or died from eating rancid meat.

After billions were spent retrofitting, that theory was decisively disproved. The thinning of the ozone layer is not a chemical reaction, but a result of atmospheric dynamics. In other words – wind. The computer models were worthless.

It is moral preening to embrace a climate solution that would not only diminish our quality of life, but would also consign 1.6 billion of the world’s poorest people to continued misery. And all for an unproven theory that makes people feel superior by sacrificing the comfort of others.

The industrial revolution, indeed the quality of life, in Europe and America advanced as the availability of energy improved. As our worlds were electrified our lives were gentrified. Fossil fuels, especially coal, did that.

CO2 was, indeed, produced in great measure, but so was agriculture that depends on CO2. We advanced from feeding ourselves to feeding much of the world.

China and India are improving the lives of their people in exact correspondence to the increase in the numbers of their power plants. They are now building about one new plant per week per nation.

The lifespan of the world’s poorest is brutal, hungry and short. The moral position would be to help them build coal fired power plants to give them access to energy and more CO2 so they could grow a plant to eat.

It is moral preening to tell them to suck it up because the world might be warmer in a hundred years.

John Linder represented Georgia in Congress for 18 years. He and his wife, Lynne, are retired on a farm in Northeast Mississippi. John can be reached at linderje@yahoo.com or on Twitter @linderje.