From the Wonk Room.
Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of SuperFreakonomics, has embraced charges by the right wing that a handful of illegally obtained private emails means that the scientific consensus on climate change is actually a dangerous conspiracy. Dubner lent credence to the fevered "ClimateGate" ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and other global warming deniers in an interview with Fox Business Network host David Asman. Dubner purports that the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails reveal that the supposed "consensus" on global warming is because "everybody's scared to be an outlier, everybody's scared to be a skeptic." After Asman compared climate scientists to Stalin and Hitler -- I'm not kidding -- Dubner jumped in to accuse "potent" scientists of "colluding" to "tell Al Gore what to say," and "distorting evidence" to "make their findings be right for their position":
You can't read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC's or the major climate scientists' findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can't. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that. And of course, coming into Copenhagen these are going to have a big effect how the world looks at you. They're going to say, "Wait a minute. You say these climate scientists have been telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow?"
By asking whether "we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow," Dubner -- a top blogger for the New York Times -- gets to the heart of why this bizarre theory of a cabal of all-powerful climatologists is getting support from conservative media and politicians. The incontrovertible science -- based not on manipulated data but on decades of basic research -- is that the burning of fossil fuels is drastically reshaping our planet's climate, melting the glaciers, and acidifying the oceans. And the only known way to restore conditions to those safe for human civilization is to dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Doing so, however, would affect the incredible profits and power of the oil and coal industries, and of their ideological allies.
One of the scientists, for example, who is "telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow" is Ken Caldeira, who Dubner and Levitt falsely portray in their book as a supporter of their mindless contrarianism. Is Dubner now accusing Caldeira of being part of this conspiracy?
But the point is this: carbon mitigation as a plan to stop global warming -- even if you devoutly believe that global warming is the biggest problem we ever faced -- won't work.
This is an even more radical claim than what's in SuperFreakonomics, in which Dubner and co-author Steven Levitt merely argue -- based on flawed logic and falsehoods -- that carbon mitigation would be ruinously expensive and difficult.
In fact, if we stop treating our atmosphere like a sewer, the climate system will heal itself over time, potentially more rapidly than we expect. That our past inaction will continue to bear consequences into the future is a reason to act with greater swiftness, not to dither further. The longer we delay, the more difficult and expensive the challenge to reduce pollution while adapting to a hostile world becomes.