Citizens without a physical science background naturally find it hard to know what to believe about the claims put forth by those who believe in a coming human-caused climate catastrophe.
The climate alarmists – for want of a better description - define "climate change" as increasingly serious and potentially catastrophic changes in global temperatures, sea levels, sea ice, glacier melt, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and species extinction, caused by the carbon dioxide released by humans who burn fossil fuels to power their economy and lifestyles.
With increasing urgency, they declare that "climate change is real!" "97 percent of scientists agree that the science is settled," and there's nothing left to discuss. They paint those who ask for credible scientific evidence not merely as "skeptics" – fair enough - but as contemptible, ignorant, right-wing anti-science "deniers" – as in "Holocaust deniers" – most likely on the take from the evil fossil fuel companies.
The deliberate intent of this vitriolic onslaught is not only to mock the skeptics, but to deny them any opportunity to make their case, and to destroy the reputation of anyone who isn't willing to subscribe to the frightening pronouncements of Al Gore, Bernie Sanders, Peter Shumlin, and VPIRG.
Last year a survey by the Oxford University Press's Climate Change and Society found that "by the end of 2010, 467 unique organizations had been identified as part of the national climate change movement. The Climate Action Network, with its 900 global member groups, formed the largest coalition." This public relations machine is amply funded by lots of government, liberal foundation, and special interest dollars.
Which special interests? Mainly the renewable energy industry, that thrives on subsidies for themselves and expensive burdens placed on their competitors. They are supported by a sizable number of politicians who understand that when governments take control of energy, they get control of the whole energy-dependent economy, which liberals find very agreeable.
The party's getting rough. Last September 20 government-supported academics, including Dr. Alan Betts of Pittsford, demanded that the Obama Justice Department launch an investigation of climate skeptics and their organizations, under the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organization (RICO) act.
Then on March 29 a group of Democratic state attorneys general, prominently including Vermont's William Sorrell, joined Al Gore to announce a coordinated effort to explore litigation against fossil fuel companies for the questionable offense of not telling the world whatever they knew about climate 30 years ago.
There are of course many sincere individuals and organizations with a justifiable concern about the climate effects of fossil fuel combustion, who won't stoop to vilifying skeptics and demanding their prosecution. They are however far less visible in the media than the heavily funded organizations denouncing "climate deniers."
What particularly annoys informed skeptics is that they are dedicated defenders, not deniers, of science. They all agree that the Earth's climate is always changing, and that the human-caused increase in carbon dioxide emissions makes some contribution to increased global temperatures. But as scientists, they ask that the proponents of catastrophic climate change produce observational evidence – not merely their own contrived (and increasingly failed) supercomputer programs - for the proposition that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been the dominant cause of a global temperature increase since 1950, and it will get worse over the next century unless curtailed.
The skeptics also ask that the alarmists explain why the global climate at the end of the Little Ice Age (around 1850) was better for humanity than today's one degree C warmer climate. They refuse to accept, without evidence, the "positive feedback" conjecture that the alarmists say transforms slow, naturally variable temperature changes into a climate catastrophe. And they observe that atmospheric carbon dioxide gives us the immeasurable benefit of the growth of plants that feed animals and humans. The skeptics are indignant that some prominent climate scientists have refused to make public their data – a serious scientific no-no. Some have been caught actually falsifying data, such as the "hockey stick graph" of the 1990s.
Big money is riding on the climate change debate. That's why big money is being spent so lavishly to bankroll the climate change propaganda campaign, and also by the fossil fuel industry defending itself against extinction. A win for the alarmists means more reliance on high-priced, subsidized, and non-dispatchable energy sources like Big Wind and Big Solar, plus billions more in taxpayer dollars that Obama's Paris Agreement requires the West to ship to struggling third world countries to compensate them for forswearing the cheaper energy they want for economic growth and well-being.
A rational person needs to focus on the actual science, not what the warring interests, the UN's IPCC, and headline-seeking politicians and media claim about the science. He or she should insist that all scientists submit their work to open debate and respond to the hard questions, instead of heaping abuse on the questioners.
That's a tall order for most readers. A fallback alternative is to discount the alarmist claims, oppose their tax, subsidy and mandate prescriptions, and hope that this highly politicized episode soon blows over before we're taxed-poor and energy-starved.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. The Institute has never sought or received any funding related to the climate change debate.