Shun the global warming extremists

"We really snookered this time, buddy."“We really snookered this time, buddy.”It’s on the order of craziness, this scuttling of the XL Keystone pipeline, but that’s not where overreaching global-warming alarmism can do the most harm.

How about criminalizing free speech? How about saddling the nation with anti-warming policies whose primary effect will be economic hurt? How about an upcoming international conference on climate that could keep the undeveloped world undeveloped as the developed world regresses?

None of this is to say that global warming is an issue with no serious questions requiring rapt attention. The worry is that apocalypse-fearing absolutists are the ones dictating policies that not so coincidentally are despotic, hurtful and poorly justified. For years, scientists have been researching the proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, yet how much attention have screeching opponents paid to the findings? Virtually none.

That’s because the volumes of research indicated that the pipeline would be plenty safe and would add scarcely a blip to greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents of the pipeline noted that others would use the oil if we didn’t, also pointing out that the pipeline would create jobs and provide an energy safeguard if Middle East turmoil tightened up the oil market.

None of this stopped President Barack Obama from barring the door, just as respect for basic foundational principles did not stop New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from pursuing a criminal investigation of ExxonMobil.

The accusation against ExxonMobil is that it knew global warming was a danger while it advanced another message for the sake of enriching itself. The fact is that ExxonMobil and the thousands of scientists it employs have openly concurred with a great many other scientists who conclude that greenhouse gases are contributing to a warmer planet, although they do not believe in catastrophic consequences that can only be addressed by measures that might themselves beckon catastrophe.

The ExxonMobil investigation and various allegations against it are absurd, but “absurdity” is an inadequate term to describe thuggishly oppressive moves intent on squashing open discussion. There go our chances for balanced decision-making and something more: the heart of democracy. It’s an outrage some justify by some saying, yes, we should allow differing opinions, but not opinions that visit harm on us.

What they don’t get is what the 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill so aptly stressed, namely that the idea that an opinion will be harmful is itself a fallible opinion. And just as an alarmist can fear horror if we do not massively curtail fossil fuels lickety-split, others can fear horror if we do.

Now we get to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions dramatically over the next 15 years. One thing it will certainly accomplish is taking money out of pockets as electricity prices go up. This economic assessment comes not from right-wing groups but from an agency in the Energy Department, just as the Environmental Protection Agency agrees the plan will reduce warming by only a tiny fraction of a degree by century’s end.

The main excuse left standing is that Obama can use the plan to engender similar policies by the dozens of nations that will be attending the U.N. climate conference in Paris beginning Nov. 30. But too many new rules of the alarmist kind could mean economic choking for one and all — and, again, we have the prospect that nothing much will have been achieved environmentally. The Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg has argued that plans to help poor countries utilize renewable fuels won’t improve their conditions otherwise but rather just let them sit where they are.

There are answers, as in what the free market has been doing to supply us with more natural gas, in finding ways to adapt, in new technologies that could snatch carbon dioxide from the air or finally give us commercial nuclear fusion, further research giving us better understanding and shunning the absolutists.

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