Given that climate change has been all the rage in Paris these days, I thought it might be a good idea to post a refresher on what all the hubbub is about. In a nutshell, French president Emmanuel Macron, like most good progressives, is very concerned about a warming planet. And, like most good progressives, he also believes that human activity is the primary driver of that warming. So he imposed a tax to make fossil fuels, which are widely derided for pumping so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, more expensive so as to discourage their use. In Macron’s view, it was a simple equation: Less fuel burned = less pollution = less global warming.
The only hitch was that the French public, already tired of being taxed up the schnoz, decided that if they couldn’t burn gas at a reasonable price they’d burn Paris to the ground instead. So much for reducing those carbon emissions, right?
Well, the good news is that Macron has decided to ax the tax—not just for the six months that his prime minister Edouard Phillipe wanted, but permanently. Whether that represents a victory for the common man or caving in to mob rule is in the eye of the beholder, I guess; but it does suggest that while Joe Sixpack is fine doing doing his bit for the environment by recycling aluminum cans and maybe driving a Prius, he draws the line firmly when it comes to taking a hit to his pocketbook.
Which brings us full circle back to the question about how this all happened in the first place. Why is it that blokes like Macron, along with so many elites from around the world, seem so convinced that we’re all doomed if we don’t immediately change our fossil fuel ways? And how is it that they‘ve gotten so many people, particularly in the younger generations, to believe that fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, famine, disease and lingering death await them in the near future unless DO SOMETHING about climate change RIGHT NOW?
Well, it’s because there’s a scientific consensus that says so.
Ask any scientist, they’ll tell you. Like, 99.9% of them agree that the planet is heating up like a disco inferno, and it’s mankind’s fault that we’re all gonna burn, baby, burn. On top of that, all the climate models—you know, those computer programs that can’t accurately predict where Hurricane Ohmygodwereallgonnadie is going to make landfall a week from now, but can totes predict down to the decimal point what mean surface temperatures will be decades hence—are in agreement. Hundreds of scientists all standing together, shoulder to shoulder, can’t be wrong, can they?
Maybe. But before you answer that question, you might want to refer to this lecture given at Cal Tech by the late, great author Michael Crichton. Here’s what he had to say about scientific “consensus”:
I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.
Mind you, this was from a lecture Crichton delived back in 2003*,* three years before Al Gore released his slide-show-cum-documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and long before the phrase “climate denier” entered the lexicon. Even then, he recognized the fallacy of larding up the rigorous discipline of actual science with the vagaries of consensus. And Crichton knew from whence he spoke—he was a medical doctor, well versed in the scientific method, before he segued into the world of entertainment.
The bottom line: Science is what you can demonstrate and prove, with results that other scientists can replicate again and again. Period. There are no such results when it comes to anthropogenic global warming, because the theory is impossible to test under controlled conditions.
And why is that? Well, if you happen to meet a climate scientist—even one who believes that human activity drives global warming—ask this very simple question: Have all of the variables that affect worldwide climate have been accounted for? If that scientist is honest, the answer will be, “Of course not.” Climate is a complex system, in which it is literally impossible to know what all the variables are, much less their values. And if you can’t even account for factors that could potentially have a significant effect on temperatures, how can the climate models—which are based on those variables—be considered accurate?
The really inconvenient truth is, they can’t. And no amount of consensus is going to change that.
In Crichton’s lecture, he goes on to cite many other times throughout history when the scientific consensus was dead wrong—often with deadly consequences. Sometimes it took decades for scientists to finally accept that what they firmly believed was, in fact, demonstrably false. That’s because, despite what some would have you believe, scientists are human beings, and as such they are susceptible to the same political and social pressures as anyone else. They can also be wedded to an idea or theory that is so entwined with their careers that to have it disproven would be devastating to them personally. In other words, while the notion of the dispassionate scientist—interested only in truth—is an ideal, real people can and often do fall short.
We forget that at our own peril. Just ask Macron.