It's not the climate scientists we need to worry about in this time of global warming. It's the politicians we should worry about -- the chefs who take the scientists' analyses, fillet them, sizzle them a while in the skillet, then serve them up to our wonder and applause.
It is, ah, what politicians do with great issues: The tougher the issue to be dealt with, the showier the cooking techniques.
The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in summary form last week, is such a document as inspires political types with the wrong kind of energy.
Last session, when the Republicans ran Congress, "global warming" coaxed from the members thereof 106 proposals for meeting and overcoming it. We ought to get at least that many by the end of February 2007. Our time of extraordinary political division, what with the Democratic presidential candidates pledging to undo as much of the George W. Bush legacy as humanly possible, is dead certain to produce hasty, undercooked, underconsidered, overseasoned notions and proposals, and we'd better watch out.
We'll be invited to think of the world as potentially parboiled unless we start to lower something called "emissions" from human activity like power generation. The report sees as "unequivocal" the evidence that the planet is heating up, and that humans, and their varied needs, are the problem. In fact, projections in the report about rises in sea levels were less dire than previously. That isn't, of course, what the politicians will talk about.
"Global warming" as a political issue sends chills down the spine: the colder, the faster, on account of general ignorance, the present writer's included, as to what's wrong and how to fix it. A soft-focus image of melting ice caps and disappearing polar bears haunts our dreams, thanks to the ubiquity of the media and Al Gore.
We all know the world is a bit warmer than it used to be. Still, not even scientists agree on the extent of the problem. A United Nations committee, not one of whose members' names is known to the membership of First United Methodist Church, Podunk, or the Wednesday bowling league of the Elks Club, issues dire warnings, tells us to get high behind. Fine. What, though, about the Alfred P. Sloan professor of atmospheric science at MIT, Richard S. Lindzen, who, a few months ago in the Wall Street Journal, summarized the research as inconclusive as to cause? He's nuts? How can we know, all we non-climate scientists whose knowledge of the matter has been spoon-fed to us by the media?
Frankly, my dears, we don't have a clue. Though, with time and responsible study we might get an inkling. Except you can sooner expect a politician to enact term limits than to call for responsible study. A politician unable to market catastrophe, and thus win acclaim, isn't marked for vast success in the present political climate.
Witness the Iraq debacle. I don't mean the debacle in Baghdad and Anbar. I mean the one in Washington, D.C., where the senatorial royalty are trying to upstage the commander in chief by instructing him that they disapprove of his troop "surge." Disapprove: Wow! That'll put 'em on notice over there in the markets and backstreets of Sadr City. Just inform the local homicidal maniacs that Sens. Biden and Warner and Levin and Boxer and Hagel have decided it's time to back out!
If you can't make war by congressional vote, can you thus reverse climate change? Last year Sen. Tom Harkin proposed devoting our attention to hydrogen-powered cars. Sen. Barack Obama wanted a retail sales credit of 35 cents for each gallon of alternative fuel. (Thirty-five? Not 37-and-a-half?) Mr. Jeffords of Vermont knew that we must reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, but Sen. Kerry wanted it to be 35 percent of 2010 levels by 2050.
It's what happens when you cross science with politics. The art of the poll, the speech, the hearing, the vote trumps all else: the facts.