I decided to take a look at Senator Inhofe’s newly published book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, thinking I might get a better understanding of what impels a politician like him into aggressive denial of climate science and opposition to any moves to tackle the climate crisis. It wasn’t difficult to find out.
He is a virulent opponent of what he regards as government over-regulation. He describes earlier in life working “long hard hours” as a developer, and finding the chief obstacle to “living out my American dream” was the government. Bureaucrats, “pseudo-intellectuals in Washington who think they know best”, are holding back the enterprising spirit on which the American economy depends.
It’s not my purpose in this post to discuss Inhofe’s politics per se. It’s how they impinge on the challenge of climate change that concerns me. So far as I could see in reading his book climate change is denied in the name of free enterprise, the lifeblood of the American economy.
Not that he puts it that way round of course. He claims to have engaged in a ”lengthy, rigorous oversight process”, indeed the most thorough investigation of the science by any senator, before concluding that the science to justify the “catastrophic theory” simply wasn’t there. He early realised the hockey stick graph of rising temperatures was based on flawed science, and his concerns were later validated by McIntyre and McKitrick who “tore apart its statistical foundation”.
His confidence is breathtaking. He’s the one-man truth squad who was not afraid in 2003 to declare climate science a hoax. He’s the brave challenger of elite orthodoxy. He sees the reality that the IPCC is a political institution set up to confirm pre-conceived notions about global warming and as such incapable of conducting proper scientific assessment. It imploded with Climategate. Errors were revealed in its reports. Its process was revealed as “all politics; science was secondary, even non-essential, to the ultimate goal of confirming catastrophic global warming and achieving global dominance”. Global dominance, incidentally, refers to Inhofe’s belief that many who work at the United Nations (those bureaucrats again) want not just an influential but a controlling influence in the international arena.
“I am not a scientist. But I do understand politics.” Inhofe writes these words to indicate that he is well-equipped to detect the political agenda driving the purported science of climate change. It obviously doesn’t occur to him that it is he, not the scientists, who is subordinating science to politics. His conspiracy accusations are clearly absurd. The notion of the IPCC as a collusion to deceive could only be entertained by someone whose view of human society is so warped by their political preconceptions as to rule out objectivity.
Action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is unnecessary in Inhofe’s view of the science. It is also dangerous to the American economy. A cap-and-trade scheme, he claims, would have meant “the largest tax increase in American history, higher energy costs, hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, a depressed economy, and a much less free country”. He rejoices in the defeat of the cap-and-trade proposals, and is now heavily engaged in fighting the EPA endangerment finding on greenhouse gases which he claims threatens the same damage to the economy as cap-and-trade.
Lest we think him heedless of the environment Inhofe describes himself as a conservationist who strives to be a good steward of the environment, albeit one who prefers personal responsibility to regulation. He sounds a theme which we have heard often enough from our own government in New Zealand that the environment is best served when the economy is strong and the economy is strong when we develop all our resources, including fossil fuels. The balance mantra which is so often recited in New Zealand is also part of his armoury, and as vapid in his setting as it is in ours: “Good energy and environment policy is about achieving a healthy balance between environmental progress and economic growth.”
Let us grant that Inhofe believes what he writes. But sincerity doesn’t let him off the hook. It’s a serious matter when a politician dismisses the patient work of a large body of scientists as a hoax. It is an attack on the intellectual integrity not just of the scientists concerned but of the whole culture on which civilised society depends. Inhofe claims to have science on his side, quoting the handful of contrarian scientists whose work, such as it is, has not carried weight in the rigorous processes of the scientific community. But his claim is bombast. He is profoundly dismissive of science. His rejection of it is an attack on the intellectual foundations of our society. And in the case of climate change it is also an attack on the protections which prudence demands that we begin to build. Inhofe is welcome to his political preferences. But he is both foolish and dangerous when he allows them to dictate an offensive on reputable science.