Secretary of State John Kerry is reporting for duty in the war against climate change. In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, he declared climate change “another weapon of mass destruction.” Indeed, in what might be news to the 50-megaton hydrogen bomb, he declared it “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
If climate change does not consider itself duly warned, it has only itself to blame. John Kerry has proven himself fully capable of supporting hostilities against dangerous enemies of the United States (that he then regrets, and campaigns against — but that’s another story).
The Obama administration’s latest foray on climate change — clearly setting the predicate for a regulatory offensive on the issue — is notable for its cheap argumentation. The same people who congratulate themselves for taking climate science so seriously trample all over the facts as a matter of routine.
Nothing so annoys the alarmists about climate change nee global warming as when conservatives talk as if a cold snap or snowstorm falsifies the phenomenon. Weather, they explain, rolling their eyes, isn’t climate.
Or that used to be the mantra. Now, every bit of spectacular weather is presumed to be part of the grand mosaic of climate change.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science,” President Barack Obama intoned in his second inaugural, “but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
“This isn’t something around the corner,” Kerry said in his WMD speech. “This is happening now.” He cited California, “where millions of people are now experiencing the 13th month of the worst drought the state has seen in 500 years.”
This sounds dire, but scientists don’t necessarily blame climate change. “I’m pretty sure the severity of this thing is due to natural variability,” climate scientist Richard Seager told The New York Times.
California experienced a similar drought in the late 1970s. That event had the same proximate cause as this one, a ridge of high pressure that sat off the California coast and diverted storms to the north. The more the climate changes, evidently, the more it stays the same.
Climate change is endlessly flexible. The California drought is blamed on climate change, even though, as the New York Times report noted, “the most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms, California should get wetter, not drier, in the winter.”
The severe snowfall in the Northeast is vaguely blamed on global warming, even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that spring snow cover will decline in the Northern Hemisphere.
Whether it’s hot or cold, dry or wet, rainy or snowy — it’s climate change.
The Obama administration’s trick is to apply a rhetoric of certainty and immediacy to inherently uncertain, far-off projections. Contrary to Kerry, the latest IPCC report concludes mildly that “there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century.”
The IPCC report’s predictions about future effects of warming are over the next century. So, for instance, if you assume perfect clairvoyance on the part of the report’s authors, it is likely monsoon winds will weaken and monsoon precipitation strengthen ... by 2100.
Recent history counsels more caution rather than more certainty about the scientific consensus on climate change, since global warming has been underperforming during the past 15 years.
Even if Kerry were right in everything he says, he is powerless to do anything about it. Our carbon emissions are essentially flat, while those of China and India are growing at a rapid pace. Those countries aren’t going to hinder their economic development — which has done so much to alleviate human misery — in response to a far-off threat of dangerous weather.
John Kerry can man the battle stations, but he will be lonely there and, if this winter is any guide, very cold.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.