Unsettling science

Steve Koonin has an obfuscatory piece in the Wall Street Journal today claiming that the science of climate change isn’t settled. But it’s not the usual radically ignorant posturing. As with much of the evolution of the conservative “debate” over climate, it represents another move in the shifting ground of conservative chicanery intended to paralyze action to solve the problem.

Koonin doesn’t dispute that the climate is changing and that the world is getting hotter. He doesn’t dispute that humans are causing the change through greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn’t even dispute that these changes are dangerous. His position is that because we don’t fully understand all of the complex reverberating effects of climate change, we can’t make good climate policy yet.

The argument sounds reasonable at first, but it’s absurd on its face. It would be like a doctor refusing to treat a strange new disease because we don’t fully understand all of the effects it might have on the body. It might cause kidney failure and heart failure, or maybe just one, or neither! We just don’t have enough information to treat, so let’s do nothing! Of course, by the time kidney failure occurs it will be too late to save the patient, but oh well.

Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change, Koonin’s ranks among the most disturbing because it’s so obviously calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, 2014 is poised to become the hottest year on record. But why do anything about that unless we know for sure, right?

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.