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The "coward of the county?" A little light on political games and the legal background of EPA`s unavoidable "endangerment" finding

August 30th, 2009 No comments

In April, under a regulatory process that the Bush EPA was compelled to commence by a Supreme Court decision (pursuant to the April 2, 2007 decison in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), in which the Supreme Court determined that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered under Section 202
of the Clean Air Act, which applies to motor vehicles), the EPA issued
a proposed finding that (i) current and projected
atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and five other greenhouse gases (methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),
perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) threaten the public health and welfare of current and
future generations (due to their
contribution to climate change), and that (ii) emissions
of such gases from motor vehicles contribute to atmospheric concentrations of
key greenhouse gases and thus to the threat of climate change.

The EPA commenced a 60-day public comment period that ended on June 23, but which it has subsequently determined to keep open while it develops its final findings. If the findings are issued, they will compel the EPA to
develop regulatory standards for new motor vehicles under Section 202
of the CAA, and probably as well to develop regulatory standards for utilities, industry and other parts of the economy under other parts of the CAA, which have essentially identical endangerment finding triggers (but which were not the subject of the Supreme Court decision).

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has now stirred up a bit of a kerfluffle about the EPA`s looming final  “endangerment” decision, by requesting the EPA to adopt an unusual, time-consuming trial-like procedure in reaching its decision. What`s really going here?

While no doubt the Bush Administration would have been delighted to consider such a device of postponing any endangerment decision, the Obama Administration`s lack of interest in further delay (having already extended the hearing process by several months) has earned for them from some conservative corners (Chris Horner of the NRO`s “Planet Gore”) the judgment that it is the Obama administration that is being “cowardly“.  Surely there are excellent arguments to be made that the Clean Air Act should not be used to regulate U.S. industry on climate matters, but it is Congress that passes laws and the President who signs them  into law, not the administrative agencies. The Bush administration and Republican Congress could have forestalled the present situation by amending the CAA to exclude CO2; their lack of interest in doing so has forced this matter into the hands of the Obama EPA.

On the other hand, the Obama administration`s hands have been tied by the Bush administration`s inaction, though it is not doubt happy to use the dangling endangerment finding as a Damoclean sword to get Congress moving on climate change legislation (and perhaps as a backup in case Congress cannot be persuaded). However, as the EPA has considerable discretion in determining when to issue its final determination, it can withhold the endangerment finding until it decides: it is really serious about passing climate change legislation, is ready to put significant pressure on Congress to get it, thinks it can live with Congress comes up with, and is willing to live with the consequences of “failure”, in which case it will have to move forward on promulagating GHG emissions regulations for new motor vehicles.

It`s useful in looking at this situation to ponder just how much wriggle room the EPA actually has on substantive issue.  The answer?  Very little.  On this, allow me to quote from respected libertarian resource law professor Jonathan Adler (Case Western, and commenter at The Volokh Conspiracy legal blog and at NRO):

1.  In an April 22 post at the NRO`s Corner, Adler answers the question “D[oes] the EPA Have a Choice?” (emphasis added)

“Many folks on the right, including Jonah,
have criticized the EPA’s decision to issue an endangerment finding as
some sort of power grab.  Implicit in this argument is the idea that
the EPA had a meaningful choice whether to conclude that the emission
of greenhouse gases causes or contributes to air pollution that can be
reasonably anticipated to endanger the public health and welfare (the
relevant legal standard under Section 202).  I reject this premise, and
I don’t believe one has to accept apocalyptic climate change scenarios
to reach this conclusion.  For one thing, the standard is somewhat
precautionary — the language empowers the EPA to regulate despite the
existence of uncertainty.  For another, it would be very difficult for
the EPA to justify a contrary conclusion under current law.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Massachsuetts v. EPA held
that greenhouse gases were air pollutants under the Clean Air Act
subject to EPA regulation.
  This means that the only question for the
EPA is whether such GHG emissions meet the standard above.  Whether or
not one believes greenhouse gases pose a serious threat, the EPA does
not get to make this decision on clean slate. 
For years the EPA has
been stating that climate change is a serious problem.  Indeed, the
Bush Adminsitration, at the very same time it declined to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,
asserted the Agency’s belief that climate change is a serious problem. 

Therefore, for the EPA to not make an endangerment finding, not only
would it have to argue that the relevant evidence does not support the
conclusion that greenhouse gases could be “reasonably anticipated” to
threaten public health and welfare, but also that the EPA’s many prior
pronouncements about the threat of climate change over multiple
adminsitrations [sic] were wrong.
  Even though courts are quite deferential
to agency interpretations of scientific evidence, this would be a
difficult case to make. 
Courts are more demanding when an agency
reverses course, and the EPA would have an awful lot of contrary claims
to explain away.  Thus, even if the Obama EPA had been disinclined to
make an endangerment finding, I think such a finding could have been
compelled in court.

 

2.  Adler also commented earlier at The Volokh Conspiracy on the likelihood of the EPA prevailing in the case of any industry legal challenge to an endangerment finding, and the next regulatory steps after the endangerment finding (emphasis added):

The proposed findings will now go through a 60-day public comment
period. Shortly thereafter, the findings will be finalized. Industry
and anti-regulatory groups will almost certainly challenge the findings
in court, and their legal challenges will almost certainly fail.
Even
if one doubts the accumulated scientific evidence that anthropogenic
emissions of greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and that
climate change is a serious environmental concern, the standard of
review is such that the EPA will have no difficulty defending its rule.
Federal courts are extremely deferential to agency assessments of the
relevant scientific evidence when reviewing such determinations.
Moreover, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA Administrator need only
“reasonably . . . anticipate” in her own “judgment” that GHG emissions
threaten public health and welfare in order to make the findings, and
there is ample evidence upon which the EPA Administrator could conclude
that climate change is a serious threat.
This is a long way of saying
that even if climate skeptics are correct, the EPA has ample legal
authority to make the endangerment findings.

Once the findings are finalized, the EPA will then be required to
develop regulatory standards for new motor vehicles under Section 202
of the Act. As a practical matter, the EPA will also have to prepare to
regulate greenhouse gas emissions under other portions of the act, as
the relevant endangerment findings necessary to trigger such regulation
are effectively identical to that which triggers motor vehicle emission
regulation under Section 202. Even if the EPA sought to resist such
regulation, it would be relatively easy to force the EPA’s hand through
additional citizen suits, much like the suits that set the EPA on this
course in the first place.

Regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act will not be a
particularly cost-effective way to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas
emissions. The EPA and White House understand this, but they also
recognize that, under Massachusetts v. EPA, the agency does not
have much choice. Moreover, the threat of Clean Air Act regulations on
greenhouse gases will create significant pressure upon Congress to
replace such regulation with some alternative, such as the
cap-and-trade program.

 

 

Categories: adler, endangerment, EPA, Horner Tags:

Rent-seeking: CEI’s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same pod

January 14th, 2009 2 comments

In an earth-shaking 😉 essay in today’s Human Events, CEI‘s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same rent-seeking pod. 

We have encountered Horner,  former lawyer and now full-time scourge of envirofascists on behalf of the firms that fund the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and author of “Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed), a number of times here previously.  I consider Chris to be very knowledgeable and insightful, but it seems to me that his passion paints him into a corner as a spokesman for one side of the commercial interests seeking to influence policy, hinders a broader self-awareness, and leaves him with little ability to reach out to persuade others.

Says Horner:

Further, the premise behind most alarmist slurs, of the “tobacco scientist” variety and the ritual claims of “ties” to “big oil” or “industry,” is that a scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale. Yet it is illogical to assume that dissenters can be bought but alarmists cannot. Looking at the balance sheets on both sides, their logic would conclude that the greatest amount of corruption occurs on the alarmist side.

With federal expenditures on climate-related research soaring above $5 billion annually – more than we spend on AIDS or the National Cancer Institute – and hundreds of billions in “rents” to corporations pushing these schemes should the alarmist campaign succeed, the potentially corrupting factor of money cannot be ignored.

Someone saw a good investment in giving Al Gore $300 million for his “climate crisis” re-branding campaign. Gore’s advisor (and, officially, NASA astronomer) James Hansen and other activists receive enormous sums of money underwriting their alarmist activities, sums that no “skeptic” has ever been accused of receiving. Meanwhile Gore—the king of claiming that those who disagree are merely in it for the money—makes millions annually from all manner of enterprises premised upon the climate crisis, and his lucre will increase several fold upon passing the laws his alarmism demands.

The difficult truth is that the alarmists cannot logically fault the skeptics’ credibility without also faulting Gore’s credibility, and that of their heavily compensated alarmist mouthpieces. Yet no “skeptic” receives as much as Gore or even Hansen from shouting falsities about the issue.

The delicious irony found in the global warming alarmists’ claims is that it is they who closely resemble the “tobacco scientists” they accuse those who oppose them of being, and are quite plainly the ones stuck on “denial”.

Several thoughts occur to me:

First, most of Horner’s points are perfectly fair, but it’s interesting that he can make them while ignoring what they imply about himself and others who are denialists (since Horner calls those concerned about the effects of releasing all of the fossil carbons “alarmists”, for the sake of balance, let’s call him and others “denialists”, as opposed to “dissenters” or “skeptics”).

Second, Horner fails to distinguish between amounts spent by governments and amounts spent by rent-seekers directly.  While large government expenditures are “potentially corrupting”, such expenditures clearly do NOT directly corrupt the results of scientific investigations, nor do they directly influence decision-making by government, politicians or others.  As a result, such expenditures are certainly in a different class than direct and indirect rent-seeking (via paid mouthpieces, contributions to think tanks, campaign contributions, junkets and the like) by special interests.

Third, while Horner is right to note that there are large amounts flowing to support rent-seeking via alarmist mouthpieces like Gore, there is nothing really new here – this is just plain old garden-variety rent-seeking of the same type that we have seen from the denialists (fossil fuel interests and others who have different preferences regarding rights to the atmosphere and science/defense-budget priorities).  In one sense this is a relief – as it clarifies that the chief financiers of the alarmism are not out to destroy capitalism – but  one is left wondering WHO, precisely, is doing the funding and what precisely are their objectives.  While some may be looking for favors from government, others may be sincerely concerned about the potential consequences of releasing all of the fossil carbon stored up since the Age of Dinosaurs and the lack of any market mechanisms to express their preferences.

Fourth, while more information on rent-seekers is needed, it’s clear that most of them are commercial interests, whom our laws say are legal persons and our courts have declared to have the same Constitutional rights to spend freely to influence government via “free speech” as do you or I.  While a discussion of the merits of legal personhood is beyond the scope of of this post, I wish to draw attention to the role of limited liability, in fuelling the growth of (i) the corporate form, (ii) rent-seeking (at all branches of government) by corporations, and (iii) public pressure by citizens’ groups (and faux-citizens’ groups) to fight over the wheel of government.

Finally, Horner oversteps when he argues that the alarmists’ views must be based on a premise that “scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale”. I think a little more nuance is called for.  We are cognitively wired as tribal animals.  That means we are inclined to see “our side” as right, and the other side as lying and scheming. While very clever rent-seekers know this and try to use it to jerk us around, this does not mean that any particular group – or its spokesmen – has consciously sold itself out.  Rather, as William Butler Yeats famously noted, “the worst are full passionate intensity” – and each of us is good at the self-deception needed to provide the requisite conviction and self-righteousness.  Perhaps not only Al Gore, Jim Hansen and Horner’s frequent sparring partner Joe Romm share this quintessential human trait, but also Chris Horner himself?

Chris Horner and neocons on climate change "alarmists": the pot calls the kettle black

November 28th, 2008 No comments

Chris Horner of CEI has long been a near one-man band in attacking the excesses of the left with respect to concerns about climate change (while appearing to forget concerns by some on the right, corporate heads, scientists and defense/intelligence analysts as well).  I think Horner from time to time has some astute observations, but think that his passion comes at a cost of balance and self-awareness. 

His screed yesterday on NRO’s Planet Gore about climate “alarmists” on the left caught my eye because it precisely because it mirrored my own perception of what I saw in the neocon right with respect to the invasion of Iraq, the “War on Terror” and fear of Islamofacists:

“What does it tell you that some people rush to lash out with (typically personal) nastiness at the public expression of ideas of which they do not approve?

“After all, while we’re used to the Left’s mindset — that every one of their ideas needs to be a law and tolerance only extends so far as it suits their ideology or biases — as I have demonstrated, there is a remarkable Gang Green that seizes upon all heretical thought or speech and seeks to teach its purveyor a painful lesson.

 

“This is indeed a movement premised on fear — fear of debate, democracy, and science.”

 

I am not sure of Chris’s politics with regard to the War on Terror – he seems to have kept his lip securely buttoned on that issue even as words continued to fly on climate change – but I have twice blogged about one neocon – Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, who is very good at spotting what he thinks is unjustified fear-mongering by others even while ignoring his own.  Just as Chris Horner is quick to point to the nastiness of his opponents on climate change issues, while either ignoring his own or considering it perfectly justified.

 

Of course Joe Romm and others on the Left who fall into ad homs and demonization strategies with Chris are just as guilty; such we know is the predilection of those engaged in politicized struggles over resources that are either unowned, imperfectly owned or are “publicly” owned.  Behind each adversary lies someone seeking to obtain or protect a rent from the public. 

 

Does Austrian economics teach us to ignore the preferences of one rent-seeker in favor of another, or to strive to enable greater catallaxy by clarifying property rights or improving common-property institutions?  Are there any adults in the room, or simply squabblers?

Chris Horner/CEI: Confused or alarmist on Kuznets, China and climate?

August 9th, 2008 No comments

The right-wing Business & Media Institute has published a rather confused piece by Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in which Horner, while noting China’s progress along the environmental Kuznets curve (as I discuss here), prefers to wring his hands that the West, in order to deal with climate change, may feel compelled to adopt the same strong-arm approach that China has taken to trying to partially clear its filthy skies over Beijing during the Olympics. 

But Horner has his paradigms all mixed up. Environmental Kuznets curves are discussed with respect to particular countries – and for good reason, as a society’s response to externalities is largely dependent upon the particular mix of property rights and other institutions which such society may rely on to protect its people and their property from harms generated by economic activity.  But despite Horner’s worst nightmares, there is no “world government” (even as growing trade and wealth is gradually bringing different countries together and establishing a very interconnected world, a world that encourages China by allowing it to host the Olympics), much less a red-handed governing elite that can impose its will on the rest of a powerless world.

Indeed, while one might very well conceive of a global Kuznets curve, it’s quite obvious that information and transaction costs, political disunity and differences in wealth and perspective across the nations of the world make it very difficult indeed for self interested countries to reach meaningful and enforceable agreements with respect to shared resources like the atmosphere.  Even so, we are more likely to see such a political agreement or resource-management much earlier than we are to see the establishment of a unified global government that is capable of exercising a monopoly on force the way the Chinese government does.

It’s the very difficulty in reaching such agreements that underlies some of the pessimism among many that man is capable of addressing in a coordinated and meaningful way various global and regional problems, from those relating to unowned or open access resources to those relating to development and poor/kleptocratic governance (from Zimbabwe to the USA).

Further, on climate change discussions, the effort has stumbled not because of strong-arming of the kind that alarms Horner, but because Western nations have tried to craft overly sophisticated and bureaucratized trading mechanisms (based in large part on US insistence and experience) that were intended to reduce costs overall.

 

Accordingly, Horner’s “alarmism” is rather surprising.  One would think that the difficulties that the enviros have encountered in trying to coordinate global climate change policy would hearten Horner, who is a strong climate change skeptic, both on the science and on policy grounds.  Is Horner secretly concerned that maybe the enviros are right, and that delay on the policy front is buying us unavoidable future costs – in which case governments might decide to act with greater alacrity that they have shown to date?  If not, what is he worried about?

We’ve encountered “beam me up” Chris Horner before; as previously, I find his views to be puzzling – unless Horner, like “skeptical” scientists Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger, is becoming a warmer.  As Michaels and Knappenberger wrote in January:

“First off, it will take nothing short of a miracle for the 50% reduction to take place, and secondly, it probably wouldn’t stop the temperature from rising 2ºC above “natural” levels. …

“But the targets won’t come close to being met as a bits-and-pieces solution will not achieve the goal of halving current global CO2 emissions by the year 2100—much less any year before then. In fact, more than likely, these legislative efforts will not, to any noticeable degree, even begin to separate the blue and the red curves for a long time to come—far too long to avoid elevating global temperature 2 degrees above “natural” levels. 

That’s what the future holds in store. Get used to it.”

 

 

 

[Update] Mind Games: Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal panders to "skeptics" by abjuring science and declaring himself an expert on "mass neurosis"

July 6th, 2008 1 comment

[Update:  For an ongoing case study of the startling irrationality and “sick souls” of some of the “skeptics”, see my related discussions with the physicist Lubos Motl:

[Update] Mind Games/Luboš Motl: how an absence of functioning markets means that I’m right, but you’re a delusional, neurotic “zealot”

Luboš Motl 2: The cool-headed overheat; to this “rational” scientist, I’m a freedom-hating hypercommunist Nazi who should be “jailed or executed”

Luboš Motl 3: This lover of freedom and hater of irrationality can`t stand discourse and fantasizes about elimination

Luboš Motl 4: His considered plan to eliminate enviros: they should be treated like N*zis, so it may be necessary to kill millions (less if we get started soon!)

On July 1, The Wall Street Journal ran a jaw-droppingly astonishing, juvenile and profoundly self-deluded column by editorial writer Bret Stephens.  In the editorial, entitled “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis“, Stephens concludes that “Global warming is sick-souled religion.”  When I put the thing down, I couldn’t help thinking that this was either an impeccably well-done “Onion” spoof of a WSJ column or an April Fool’s post that was accidentally put up three months late, but then again the WSJ has consistently mocked the intelligence of its readers and of other “skeptics” on the issue of climate change.  (A Google search will show how eagerly Stephens’ audience ate up this nonsense, too.)

Bob Higgs has engaged with Stephens here on similar snide dismissals of libertarian views on foreign policy.  Apparently Stephens, a neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, boasts no scientific or psychotherapy expertise. 

In this editorial, Stephens completely:

  1. dismisses the concerns of scientists (including all major academies of science), economists, farmers, investors and businessmen across a wide range of energy and other industries, political leaders and defense and intelligence officials – at home and abroad – about growing evidence that massive and growing human economic activities are affecting the atmosphere, oceans and climate,
  2. ignores the fundamental and well-known dynamics of the exploitation of valuable but unowned and uncontrolled open-access commons and other resources, and
  3. ignores the basic public choice insight about rent-seeking and the political deadlock where interest groups seek to use the levers of government to influence the outcome of a struggle over resources. 

Instead, Stephens choses to insult the intelligence of his readers (and to pander to hard-core “skeptics”), first by by a sleight of hand that dismisses what scientists have learned over the past three decades and that pretends that only irrational and deluded people (apparently all of those noted in (1) above) are concerned about “global warming”, and then by pretending to help his readers, not to engage with the arguments of those who express concern with “global warming”, but instead to plumb and explicate the deeply twisted minds and the “motives for belief” by all of the irrational “believers”:

What we have here is a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that global warming isn’t happening. It does mean it isn’t science.

So let’s stop fussing about the interpretation of ice core samples from the South Pole and temperature readings in the troposphere. The real place where discussions of global warming belong is in the realm of belief, and particularly the motives for belief. I see three mutually compatible explanations.

Sorry, Bret, but if you crack the IPCC’s reports over two decades, or talk with Exxon, Florida Power, Dupont, Japanese auto manufacturers or any number of Nobel prize-winning and distinguished economists, you’ll find plenty of rational people with their feet on the ground ready to discuss science, technology infrastructure and economics.  It’s a neat trick that you can dismiss everything they have to say by pretending that they’re deluded and trying to guess the magical thinking that drives them.

Of course global warming is falsifiable.  It’s just complicated, involves the not surprising possibility that our economic behavior may have deleterious side-effects over a wink of a geological eye (a few decades and centuries), and policies to deal with it threaten the financial interests of dominant established interests.

Stephens offers the following explanations for the “beliefs” of the warmers:

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism.

Bret, nice canard.  No doubt THERE BE LEFTISTS who are worried about climate change, but what about everyone else?  Even a number of prominent and level-headed libertarians are convinced that there’s a problem.  And what about leftists who think that climate change is hyped, like Alexander Cockburn and Martin Durkin, the radical polemicist behind “The Great Global Warming Swindle”?

And of course concern about global warming is NOT per se a rebuke to capitalism, but merely a recognition of the pedestrian observation that “environmental” problems frequently arise when a lack of clear and enforceable property rights or high transaction costs mean that individuals and communities with differing preferences cannot express (or defend) such preferences through market transactions.  Are we to take it that it is your position that pollution and environmental damage never occur, but are simply ideological attacks by those who hate capitalism?

A second explanation is theological. Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” That’s Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.

And surely it is in keeping with this essentially religious outlook that the “solutions” chiefly offered to global warming involve radical changes to personal behavior, all of them with an ascetic, virtue-centric bent: drive less, buy less, walk lightly upon the earth and so on. A light carbon footprint has become the 21st-century equivalent of sexual abstinence.

First, why leave out the Japanese, who have been widely convinced for decades that global warming is a serious problem, and the Chinese, Indians, Indonesians and others who agree? 

Second, while it’s not surprising that those in the West make reference to shared frameworks of understanding, including Biblical ones, it’s also hardly surprising that those who wish to drive policy in ways that reflect their preferences do so by scare-mongering.  In fact, isn’t this something that the Bush administration specialized in, egged on by neocons?  You know, fear of Islamofascism, fear of gay marriage, fear of French fries, fear of Enviros, fear of practically anything but big and more invasive government?

Third, of course the major solutions offered for global warming clearly involve major transitions in technology and markets, for which a state-led introduction of “carbon pricing” is seen as the chief driving mechanism.  Isn’t Jim Hansen pushing the need for carbon capture and storage and for the implementation of a fully-rebated carbon tax?  How is this different from what Exxon, Duke, FPL, AEI, and many others are saying?  Sure, some believe that changes in personal behavior are also a good way to be reflect those concerns and to use one’s worries and values to drive changes in markets – such voluntary changes are hardly objectionable, as frightening as they may seem to you.

Finally, there is a psychological explanation. Listen carefully to the global warming alarmists, and the main theme that emerges is that what the developed world needs is a large dose of penance. What’s remarkable is the extent to which penance sells among a mostly secular audience. What is there to be penitent about?

As it turns out, a lot, at least if you’re inclined to believe that our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect. In this view, global warming is nature’s great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.

I’m not sure what or whom you’re listening to, Bret, but what I hear are the themes of “tragedy of the commons”, “pollution”, “externalities”, “uncontrolled experiments on a planetary scale”, “transferring of costs to others”, “responsibility” and other non-psychological themes that don’t require penance, but hard work and widespread cooperation.  Could it be that you’re “projecting”, Bret, and feel more than a little guilty for your own worldly success?

Perhaps there are some who believe that “our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect”, but would you include within this group those who think that our successes are hard-won and well-deserved, but that prosperity does not mean that we should stop working hard, including working to resolving shared threats and problems?

In “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James distinguishes between healthy, life-affirming religion and the monastically inclined, “morbid-minded” religion of the sick-souled. Global warming is sick-souled religion.

So caring about the possible effects of mankind’s activities on our only home, on our children and grandchildren and the other unique forms of life that we share the planet with is “sick-souled”, and not “healthy” or “life-affirming”?  Bret, how can I put this fairly and sensitively?  You seem to understand the “sick-souled” very well.  Does it come from looking in the mirror?

In sum, Stephens doesn’t engage at all with any those who are concerned with climate change, but offers up a twisted editorial addressed solely to help “skeptics” to continue to remain skeptics through an argument addressed largely at a strawman that bolsters the egos and beliefs of the presumably more “rational” skeptics who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid offered by the supposed believers.  If indeed this editorial is not a spoof, it can only be seen as either willfully deceptive or as an artifact of profound self-deception and wishful thinking.  Such a cocoon-like work is, sadly, a profound retreat from reason, and has little place on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, other than perhaps as an object lesson in how not to engage in reasoned discourse and how easy it is for us to fool ourselves.

Bret, are you putting us on, trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or trying to deceive yourself?  Like Penn and Teller, are you going to tell us that actually you “don’t know”, and have smarter friends who are worried about climate change?  Inquiring minds (many here at LvMI) want more of your incisive psycho-babble!

Of course, Stephens is not alone in trying to explain away those who disagree with him by exploring their “beliefs”; certainly our cognitive apparatus plays tricks on us, so there is some fertile ground here.  Chris Horner, who frequently makes excellent points about the foibles of the left, has a recent post up that follows up on Stephens’ by noting the important work of Leon Festinger, who detailed how “the failure of a prophecy to come about can often yield the opposite effect of what the rational person would expect: the cult following gets stronger and its adherents ever more convinced of their truth.”  However, it seems that Horner carries this too far, by an implicit assumption that all of those concerned about climate change are a “cult” with views that are not rational, and that this is rather obvious in the face of a recent break in some of the warming.  Horner concludes that the Warmers are engaged in mental gymnastics of the types exhibited by cult followers:  “As a meteorologist colleague commented to me last night about a recent manifestation of precisely this, ‘these people are no different than the guys sitting around waiting for the spaceship.'”  Oh, really?  The National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, every other nation’s academy of science, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI – all waiting for the spaceship???  “Beam me up” indeed, Chris!

I’d suggest that Horner might be a little more cautious in his gleeful dismissal of warmers, and make sure he too is engaging on facts and not beliefs, wishful thinking, and a tribal self-vindication.

This display of nonsense by Stephens and Horner’s own reflexive and hyperbolic scorn [and now the rants by guys like Lubos Motl] might suggest that Horner – and a host of “skeptics” who seize rather too eagerly any argument that puny man has no impact on the world (at least one that can’t be solved with his great technology) – ought to take a careful look in the mirror.