It’s Not Easy Being Green

The Climategate revelations and the snowstorm that swept through Europe gave the Copenhagen global warming meetings an air of unreality. The spectacle of politicians gathering in Denmark with the goal of impoverishing their own societies provided that others do the same sets a new historical standard for idiocy. It isn’t just Climategate and snowstorms. Icecap reviews the evidence (HT: PowerLine):

• The most effective greenhouse gas is water vapor, comprising approximately 95 percent of the total greenhouse effect.

• Carbon dioxide concentration has been continually rising for nearly 100 years. It continues to rise, but carbon dioxide concentrations at present are near the lowest in geologic history.

• Temperature change correlation with carbon dioxide levels is not statistically significant.

• There are no data that definitively relate carbon dioxide levels to temperature changes.

• The greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide logarithmically declines with increasing concentration. At present levels, any additional carbon dioxide can have very little effect.

We also know a lot about Earth temperature changes:

• Global temperature changes naturally all of the time, in both directions and at many scales of intensity.

• The warmest year in the U.S. in the last century was 1934, not 1998. The U.S. has the best and most extensive temperature records in the world.

• Global temperature peaked in 1998 on the current 60-80 year cycle, and has been episodically declining ever since. This cooling absolutely falsifies claims that human carbon dioxide emissions are a controlling factor in Earth temperature.

• Voluminous historic records demonstrate the Medieval Climate Optimum (MCO) was real and that the “hockey stick” graphic that attempted to deny that fact was at best bad science. The MCO was considerably warmer than the end of the 20th century.

• During the last 100 years, temperature has both risen and fallen, including the present cooling. All the changes in temperature of the last 100 years are in normal historic ranges, both in absolute value and, most importantly, rate of change.

In short, there is no global warming crisis. There is no health crisis, either. These things are manufactured by politicians, for politicians, with utter disregard for the common good.

Reports of what happened in Copenhagen further increase the sense of unreality. Did the talks succeed? Fail? And what was Obama’s role? Some startling reports have emerged that help to answer the last question, even if they raise further questions. Richard Fernandez reprints the translation of a German article that portrays Obama in an extremely unflattering light (smart diplomacy, indeed!), and reflects:

The fundamental article of faith among the lowlife is that it doesn’t matter if the world runs out of money as long as you don’t run out of it. A grifter’s optimization algorithm is to be the last man to die; the last guy to run out. Economists might argue that it is “more rational” to create an orderly society where the tide lifts all boats. But they forget that it isn’t called the Prisoner’s Dilemma for nothing.

If politicians are fundamentally controlled by the societies to which they are accountable, then they will act as rational agents of that society. Once control is lost, they’ll act like grifters. Copenhagen is a preview of what happens when a lump of money is up for grabs. Every bluebottle on the planet — dictators from Africa, professional mourners, court jesters and fast-buck artists — converged on the Copenhagen because it was, to a large extent, unaccountable. But this also limited its ill-effects. The players were too busy knifing each other to turn against the publics of the world.

The fascination of Copenhagen lies in the juxtaposition of its purported high-mindedness with the brutality in the streets, the lunacy of the public theater and the tawdriness of the proceedings. And at the conclusion everyone leaves by private jet in the middle of the night.

I think this explains a lot of what we’re seeing around us. As Glenn Reynolds repeatedly observes, we have the worst political class in our history. (Maybe the guys in Congress in the years immediately preceding the Civil War beat them out. Maybe. But I doubt it. I think they actually believed in something other than themselves, however wrong it might have been.) Why are our politicians so terrible? They’re acting as grifters. They no longer represent us. We’ve lost control of them. I think Rousseau foresaw this possibility when he worried that mass communication could split the will of the people as expressed in elections from the general will. (As Homer Simpson put it, “The problem is communication.  Too much communication.”) If the people can be massively misled, then politicians can avoid accountability, and the people have no vehicle for expressing their true preferences. This lies behind much of the frustration that has found expression in tea parties. Hence, as well, health care reform, cap-and-trade, Copenhagen, and a seemingly pro-Islamist, pro-Communist foreign policy. Our politicians seek out graft instead of the common good.

Fernandez nevertheless expresses a limited optimism:

We are coming to the end a phase and should be glad of it. The sooner the charade ends the sooner things can be fixed. And since there’s a lot of real wealth and talent in the world, and because technology is powerful, I have no doubt that we have the power not only to put things right but to build an incomparably better world….

If we have a crisis in 2010 it could lead to greater democracy, a world in which we develop real energy sources and build things. The year 2015 could be the finest year on the planet. But to get there a huge almost glacially immovable mass of bureaucracy and faux aristocracy has to be moved out of the way. And I think they will largely do it to themselves. The trick is to harness the discontent which I think is inevitably coming in positive and nonviolent ways. That’s not to say unfortunate things might happen unintentionally here and there. But that’s the friction of history. The important thing is to transition to a better world in democratic and political ways rather than in dysfunctional ones.

The generation of the 1920s and 1930s failed to find an orderly way into the new world and fell prey to demagogues. In any given crisis, new demagogues will rise and many will be tempted to follow them. Let’s hope we’ve learned enough, or read enough about the last 70 years to realize that demagogues often take one from bad to worse.

I think 2010 may be both a good and a bad year. Bad in that it will be full of bad news. Good in that it will give the world a chance to truly fix things. All they really need is faith in common sense and a little bit of common decency. This, plus an extraordinary slug of uncommon daring and extraordinary luck.

I sincerely hope he’s right. But I don’t see the mechanisms by which they’ll do it to themselves. The people may utterly lose faith in Obama and company, the mandarins of the EU, et al. But they have been constructing insulation between themselves and public opinion, and I expect the coming year to witness much more insulation in the form of immigration “reform,” allowing felons to vote, blatant voter fraud, legal challenges to elections (as in Minnesota), and the like. The central political question of our time may be whether and how we can wrest control back from our political class, returning them to accountability. It can be done; but can it be done without violence? Perhaps the tea party movement can formulate a plan for reform that brings our representatives back to the task of representing us. That may require significant Constitutional changes, however, and it is hard to see our current political class permitting it to happen.

2 thoughts on “It’s Not Easy Being Green

  1. I definitely agree with your citation of Glenn Reynold’s assessment of our current political class. I am in despair over our scandal of a Congress. Nancy Pelosi is like something a Saturday Night Live script writer would have dreamed up, with her pop-eyes darting around like a Borgia plotting her next poisoning. Harry Reid is, similarly, a comic figure, an extravagant, campy stereotype of fecklessness and deceit.

    But I’m interested in what you wrote, Philo, about the pre-Civil War Congress being possibly comparable. Who are some people from that time I should read about if I want to know more?

  2. Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan are widely regarded as among our worst Presidents. The legislators who helped them enact their disastrous policies are largely forgotten, but Preston Brooks and Laurence Keitt might be good examples of the kind of person I had in mind.

    Here’s the most famous episode: “Two days after Sumner’s fiery speech, Brooks approached Sumner while the latter was writing at his desk in the Senate chamber. The room was nearly empty, but there were enough people present that an accurate account of what happened could later be assembled. Brooks approached the sitting Senator and said “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” With that, he began beating Sumner on the head with his heavy cane, which was topped with a gold head. Sumner could not rise up as his desk was bolted to the floor. Brooks continued to beat him until Sumner tore the desk from the floor and staggered up the aisle away from his attacker, blinded by his own blood. He collapsed in the middle of the aisle, at which time Brooks continued his attack until his cane broke in two. Several senators tried to intercede on Sumner’s behalf, but Congressman Laurence Keitt of South Carolina, an ally of Brooks, stood by the men with a pistol drawn and shouted “Let them be!” Senator Sumner took three years to recover from his wounds.” (http://www.mevio.com/episode/62057/mtih-342-brooks-sumner-affair-1856)

    This was not an isolated episode. From Wikipedia: “Keitt started a massive brawl on the House floor during a tense late-night fillibuster. Keitt, objecting to an argument from Pennsylvania Congressman (and later Speaker of the House) Galusha A. Grow, dismissively demanded that Grow sit down, calling him a “black Republican puppy”. Grow responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow’s throat, shouting that he would “choke him for that”. A large brawl involving two dozen representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Illinois upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.”

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