Palin's "Boycott Copenhagen" Op-Ed: Annotated

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Once again, the Washington Post has given Sarah Palin the chance to harness herself to the political story of the hour. The former Alaska governor has written an op-ed, published Wednesday, about the "Climate-gate" controversy at East Anglia University. Palin calls on President Obama to boycott the Copenhagen climate summit because the leaked e-mails allegedly cast significant doubt on the scientific consensus about global warming.

With the publication of damaging e-mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point.

By "radical," Palin means the overwhelming scientific consensus; virtually every major science academy in the country; "tipping point" is a curious construction. It implies that there is momentum behind their cause. I gather Palin means to suggest the opposite.

The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue.

Remember, the "revelation" was born from an potentially illegal e-mail hack. "So-called" -- untrue. These are experts. Their science has been validated, independently. Their "actions" here consist of insulting climate change skeptics, immature name-calling, and, at worst, devising a strategy to keep the climate change deniers out of debates and peer-reviewed journals. The "concerns" that Palin speaks of are the result of years of accumulated science denialism that now, conveniently, has been seemingly "validated" by the fog of a grand conspiracy, suddenly revealed.

"Climate-gate," as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle -- the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference.

True -- although the politicization came about as a response to an extremely well-funded political campaign by those whose bottom lines would be most harmed by carbon taxes, cap and trade schemes and the like.

The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won't change the weather, but they  would change our economy for the worse.

A classic conflation here of "weather" and climate; it's ridiculous to try and change the weather, of course -- weather is so variable and unpredictable. What the Copenhagen negotiators want to change is humanity's contribution to global climate change. Two different things.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate "experts" deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to "hide the decline" in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. What's more, the documents show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate. 
For a sensible take on what the e-mails actually show, see here. A few quick points: some of the e-mails discuss deleting data; there are investigations underway to determine whether data was deleted; there is no evidence that data was manipulated, aside from words deliberately taken out of context, like "trick" and "contain."

Now -- the scientists may be guilty of misconduct for manipulating the UK's freedom of information act procedures. There is no excuse for that; that is not how normal science works. Let's assume, for the moment, that their actions do cast doubt on their data, because, perhaps, their motivations are suspect. The global warming consensus minus the East Anglia contributions is still a strong consensus, one that has been regularly, repeatedly and independently verified.

This scandal obviously calls into question the proposals being pushed in Copenhagen. I've always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics. As governor of Alaska, I took a stand against politicized science when I sued the federal government over its decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species despite the fact that the polar bear population had more than doubled. I got clobbered for my actions by radical environmentalists nationwide, but I stood by my view that adding a healthy species to the endangered list under the guise of "climate change impacts" was an abuse of the Endangered Species Act. This would have irreversibly hurt both Alaska's economy and the nation's, while also reducing opportunities for responsible development.

Except that politics is motivating the critics as much as it is the "radical environmental" crowd. And the "science" against AGW -- anthropogenic global warning -- is based on fitting into a grand theory the bits of data noise and occasionally unconventional results that scientists do get. In other words, AGW is supported by the research -- it is a theory of probability (not certainty) that is large enough to account for discrepancies, too. The case against AGW is supported by a theory that seizes on the discrepancies, magnifies them, and disregards the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

Our representatives in Copenhagen should remember that good environmental policymaking is about weighing real-world costs and benefits -- not pursuing a political agenda. That's not to say I deny the reality of some changes in climate -- far from it. I saw the impact of changing weather patterns firsthand while serving as governor of our only Arctic state. I was one of the first governors to create a subcabinet to deal specifically with the issue and to recommend common-sense policies to respond to the coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and retreating sea ice that affect Alaska's communities and infrastructure.

Of course, that's what politics is -- figuring out who gets what and who pays for it. The language Palin is using  -- cost and benefits -- is generally associated with opponents of environmental legislation. But while it's fair enough to call for a more rigorous debate about what our response to global warming should be, it's difficult to get beyond Palin's general dismissal of the science. 

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes.

The "natural variation" canard; the fact is that the trends we're seeing now aren't natural and don't seem cyclical, and AGW, as noted above, is a theory of probability; based on the evidence, it is virtually certain that humans are causing a significant amount of climate (not weather!) change over time. As Grist's experts put it,

The mainstream climate science community has provided a well-developed, internally consistent theory that accounts for the effects we are now observing. It provides explanations and makes predictions. Where is the skeptic community's model or theory whereby CO2 does not affect the temperature? Where is the evidence of some other natural forcing, like the Milankovich cycles that controlled the ice ages (a fine historical example of a dramatic and regular climate cycle that can be read in the ice core records taken both in Greenland and in the Antarctic)?

We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs.

One can say that; the economic evidence is equivocal and politicized. It is by no means certain, however, that the economic costs will be far worse than the benefits, in part because the statement demands a definition of "economic costs." Some policies could be ineffective, inefficient and expensive. Others might not be.

And those costs are real. Unlike the proposals China and India offered prior to Copenhagen -- which actually allow them to increase their emissions -- President Obama has proposed serious cuts in our own long-term carbon emissions. Meeting such targets would require Congress to pass its cap-and-tax proposals, which will result in job losses and higher energy costs (as Obama admitted during the campaign). That's not exactly what most Americans are hoping for these days. And as public opposition continues to stall Congress's cap-and-tax plans, Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats plan to regulate carbon emissions themselves, doing an end run around the American people.

Thank the Supreme Court for that end run!

In fact, we're not the only nation whose people are questioning climate change schemes. In the European Union, energy prices skyrocketed after it began a cap-and-tax program. Meanwhile, Australia's Parliament recently defeated a cap-and-tax bill. Surely other nations will follow suit, particularly as the climate e-mail scandal continues to unfold.

The jury is out on the case of Europe. It seems to have reduced carbon emissions, but energy costs did rise. However, it is by no means clear whether the cap and trade system in Europe was optimally designed, and whether the energy cost increase wasn't the result of exogenous factors, like, say, war in the Middle East.  

In his inaugural address, President Obama declared his intention to "restore science to its rightful place." But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante. He plans to fly in at the climax of the conference in hopes of sealing a "deal." Whatever deal he gets, it will be no deal for the American people. What Obama really hopes to bring home from Copenhagen is more pressure to pass the Democrats' cap-and-tax proposal. This is a political move. The last thing America needs is misguided legislation that will raise taxes and cost jobs -- particularly when the push for such legislation rests on agenda-driven science.

This is boilerplate.  Accept or reject.

Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference. The president should boycott Copenhagen.
He won't.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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