News cycles and climate cycles both have a habit of coming and going, and coming again. Three years ago, after Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston and as fires burned on the West Coast, the climate change debate was elevated much as it is now.
This year, however, there is an election — the most consequential of our lifetimes, many have said. All stops are being pulled out.
“Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes,” Biden said in a Monday speech, continuing, “but if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly.”
Biden also said, “If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburbs will have flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?”
There is a lot here, but his insinuation is clear: Whereas if I, Joe Biden, am elected, my administration will put a stop to the fires and floods and storms and during my tenure, forests and suburbs will be saved.
The political climate change conversation has become a venture in solipsism. Biden and other politicians treat of this highly complex scientific issue in the most simplistic cause-and-effect terms, showing little regard for the textures or consideration for events that happened outside of our lifetimes.
As John Christy, Alabama’s state climatologist and professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville told me in 2017, climate science is murky science. When California Gov. Gavin Newsom stands on the foundations of a burned-out home surrounded by ashen trees and basically says “man caused climate change and climate change did this,” one isn’t left with any sense at all that climate science is murky. One is left with the impression that it’s all pretty cut and dry.
The images of Newsom reporting from fire-ravaged California become ingrained and distinctly associated with his theory. The psychological impact of it all cannot be overstated. It’s an extremely compelling message and very effective; much more compelling than dense and in many cases uninterpretable reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Speaking of the IPCC, drawing correlations between greenhouse gases and the frequency of hurricanes — as Biden did in his speech — is something that the panel has resisted for years. Certainly, the IPCC consensus has been that greenhouse gases have a warming effect, and even that warming has made storms like Harvey worse. Perhaps they are right, though Christy, a “skeptic,” had this to say: “You cannot prove extra greenhouse gases have done anything to the weather. We do not have an experiment that we can repeat and do.”
A lack of reliance upon the scientific method would seem a pretty significant weakness of anthropogenic climate change theorizing. Perhaps things have changed since 2017. If so, there should be some honest public discussion about it, the opposite of what is happening.
There is no doubt that Trump treats the climate question with irreverence. “It will start getting cooler — you just watch,” as he told Newsom on Monday, would make a perfect political cartoon. He demonstrates little, if any, seriousness on the matter. Yet his shrugging is less dangerous than Biden’s uncritical exaggeration. “Vote for me and I will fix the climate” is just hubris and manipulation.