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Orwellian Global Warming Dreams

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In March a group of Democratic attorneys general formed “AG’s United for Clean Power.”

It sounds nice enough, doesn’t it? New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, standing beside a grinning Al Gore, announced that the gang was going after any energy providers and distributors who may have committed thought crimes such as questioning the human cause of the 0.8oC global warming since 1880.

MIT atmospheric scientist Richard Lindzen said the appropriate response to this tiny warming is to shrug and say, “So what?” It is a tiny fraction of the daily temperature change in most places, and a smaller fraction of the seasonal temperature change. But at the AGs’ meeting Al Gore called it a “climate crisis.”

The state AGs are in lockstep with federal Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who recently said she is considering legal actions against “climate change deniers” (a nonexistent species, since no one denies that climate changes).

You may wonder how this could be possible in the United States, where freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Constitution.

Imagine a society in which one is under near-ubiquitous surveillance. Such a vision is remarkably close to the reality of 21st century America, if the words of Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer are to be believed. In statements regarding a recent case he said, “If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.”

We’re already under a voluntary microscope with tools like Facebook. Small wonder that politicians desire a similar bonanza. With total data coverage, attorneys general will find it easy to harm those who are not in total support of correct political priorities. Justice Breyer thought such a possibility resembled, too closely for comfort, the dystopian society George Orwell wrote of in his novel 1984.

In more than this we resemble Orwell’s Oceania, which had its own form of twisted English called Newspeak. Newspeak was carefully devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. It made it difficult, nearly impossible, for the common prole to have incorrect ideas. Newspeak, as a mode of expression, acted to develop correct mental habits and make all other thoughts inconceivable.

“It was intended,” wrote Orwell, “that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought, that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc, should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.”

This brings me to global warming. The term occurs frequently in Al Gore’s 1992 book, Earth in the Balance (I stopped counting at 81 times). But when Mr. Gore stood beside the attorneys general there was not even a nostalgic reference to global warming. It has passed out of the memory tubes governed by Newspeak.

The problem with global warming is its precision. The words global and warming have precise and well-understood meanings. Global refers to an all-encompassing entity, in this case geographically specified—the planet Earth. Earth is a medium-sized planet located in space approximately 1.5×1011 m from its closest star. And Earth is warmer, on average, now than it was in the past—well, the late 14th through early 19th centuries, anyway. (It’s also cooler now, on average, than it was in the Holocene Climate Optimum, and probably also the Minoan Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period, and the Medieval Warm Period, but polite conversation doesn’t encompass such inconvenient truths.)

This is hardly groundbreaking. Our planet has had many periods of warming and cooling.

The AGs insist the direct cause of escalating temperatures is rising atmospheric concentration of CO2—the gas of life—driven by the European and American economic boom post World War II. They warn that warming will become catastrophic unless emissions are stopped.

But the modest warming has stopped while emissions have skyrocketed. This is opposite to the warming computer models predicted. There has been no warming trend from 1997 to the present. (The short-term warming of the first few months of 2016 is due to an unusually, but not unprecedentedly, strong El Niño in the south Pacific and does not constitute a trend.)

Today those who question the idea of a runaway global warming caused by human CO2 emissions are called deniers. What precisely the deniers deny is never quite specified. That is the point in Newspeak. It is sufficient to wrap words related to rationality and objectivity in the single word denier. Greater precision would be dangerous.

It is the flat line of no warming for almost 20 years that also makes “global warming” unacceptable. It is too precise.

Changing to terms such as Al Gore’s “climate crisis” has the conscious purpose of subtly changing the meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to the more precise term. 

Climate crisis and climate change are terms that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas global warming is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily. So linger a while before the attorneys general make it a thought crime to hold a different opinion.

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