In November, 151 world leaders convened in Paris at the U.N. conference on climate change. Their mission: to reach an international accord that would purportedly save the world from the catastrophic consequences of man-made global warming. However, since this movement that began as a crusade against global warming has been rebranded as a crusade against climate change, it makes one wonder about what strategic adjustment was thought to be needed. Apparently, it’s not just warming that we should be concerned about, but any meteorological event with which we are displeased and isn’t exactly in accordance with our adjustable-thermostat society.
Forgive my hesitation in scrambling to follow the lemmings off this latest fashionable cliff, but I still can distinctly remember the Chicken Little headlines from the 1970s, in which we were all assured that the next ice age was only just around the corner. I didn’t rush out and buy Eskimo wardrobe or invest in prefab igloos then; and I don’t intend to leap to apocalyptic extremes in the tropical direction now.
However, our President and a sizable number of our elite class have already reviewed and ruled on the evidence as they see it, and they have declared an international emergency. Indeed, President Obama has declared climate change as the most important issue confronting us today; an ironic proclamation made in the city still reeling from its worst terrorist attack since World War II.
Such is the Orwellian world of 1984 in which we live, some thirty years later. We live in a time when economists and anthropologists can easily agree that nations and societies progress only where there are accessible and affordable sources of energy; when there is no argument that oil, natural gas and coal are, by far, the most accessible and affordable sources of energy in the history of the world; and the world is currently experiencing the greatest rate of production and the largest glut of oil and natural gas in its history. Ironically, this is also a time when our 151 world leaders are deciding that we should take the greatest risks in the name of economic victory, based on the altar of speculation supported only by computer models, resulting from incomplete and, occasionally, inaccurate data.
Climate-change discussion left the environs of civil discourse long ago, so that it now is heresy to suggest otherwise. But no question should be forever closed, and true subscribers to the scientific method should have no patience for those who have locked up the final answers to climate change and thrown away the key.
There are certain threshold questions that these world leaders should have to confront — and not just once, but continuously, as long as there are reasons to raise legitimate questions. First, are we concerned about global warming specifically or climate change in general? If the latter, how is it defined, so that it can have any semblance of meaning, apart from the rhetorical reality that the climate is always changing? Second, how can we be sure that any man-made activity (as opposed to solar flares or some other force outside our control) is making any meaningful contribution to the change? Third, if the climate is changing in some unnatural way and man is making a substantive contribution, what is inherently right or wrong about any change that occurs? Fourth, to what extent can denying third-world countries a chance to make progress by having access to affordable energy and choking the economies of developed nations by cutting off their access to that same abundant energy be justification for the hope of possibly making a potentially insignificant contribution to the rate at which the climate will inevitably change?
If we’re not careful, we might end up surrendering our fossil fuels to facile fools.
About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.