Climate Change, Junk Science and Politics

Washington’s Capitol Hill neighborhood once hosted the Trover Shop, one of the best independent bookstores in the whole Northeast. A great place to relax and browse, it had everything from bestsellers, to all the great fiction and non-fiction classics – along with an ample Cliff Notes section for those who liked their shortcuts. Hill staffers could find study guides for standardized tests, and no hobby or interest area was too specialized for the Trover Shop not to carry most periodicals dedicated to cars, boats, computers, model trains, or needlepoint or the outdoors. European news dailies rounded out the inventory.

Of course, every bookstore needs celebrity stories. Big suburban outlets tend to feature movie and rock star confessionals about fighting pills and booze, and finding “recovery” – usually after some “fight” for “self-discovery.” The little Trover Shop wasn’t immune to point-of-sale narcissism, but its location compelled a different sort of self-celebration: politicians’ books, and lots of them.

Even as Amazon and the Internet were choking the little Trover Shop to death, one particular office holder managed to keep big shelf space for two autobiographies at once (written by the wise old age of 45): one dealt with the author’s “dreams” of his father; and the second dared readers with the author’s own “audacity.”

The modern political book had better roots, maybe beginning with the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, who, while dying of cancer in 1885, wrote his work to support his impoverished family. The thing is that US Grant, to put it mildly, had actually done things in his life, and he had things to say that were worthy of a book.

And that’s why most of his literary successors are just so puny. Most simply bloviate because they’ve never really done much – except talk. They publish cut-and-paste speeches and some details of meetings, while throwing in some hardscrabble shards of wisdom offered in constituent letters, or by attendees in town hall meetings.

But these “spontaneous” points of wisdom – offered by “the real people” – often provide the epiphanies for a political author’s “fight” for the “middle class” and his “discovery” of either some authentic America, or, less grandly, the “real views” of people in his state’s 97th Congressional District.

It’s all formulaic and silly, but it’s worked over the years. How else to explain Jimmy Carter’s hilariously effective, “Why Not The Best” (1975), or, more recently, former Senator and White House contender John Edwards, and the money-minting career he burnished in his “Four Trials” (2003)? This front-page advertiser for the National Enquirer (and leader of grocery-line sales everywhere) actually got voted into the US Senate in 1998, and became John Kerry’s vice presidential running mate against George W. Bush in 2004. He was even a serious candidate for president in early 2008.

No, the book didn’t do it for Edwards; it was simply background decoration for his unexamined claim to depth and empathy for those caught in the awful maw of insurance claims departments. But isn’t that the narrative? Little guy “fights” big guy, and little guy not only wins his case, but “discovers” his soul – and his claim to some grander connectedness.

That’s what these books are mostly about, variations of David v. Goliath, with lots of narcissistic Davids taking on lots of cardboard Goliaths. No matter how they’re sliced, political books are usually “Me Chronicles” – and they aren’t useful because they don’t take readers much beyond the writers’ little personal worlds. You won’t refer to them from your shelf for very long.


This isn’t to say that we’ve not seen encouraging breaks in the same ol’ literary rhythm of political books. There actually was one, before Senator Inhofe’s.

Former Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) was for many years Capitol Hill’s reigning expert on every facet of nuclear power. Domenici once chaired not only the Senate Energy Committee, but also the very important Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development – the people who instruct federal agencies – like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – on how to spend every last dollar to create, enforce, or change or cancel one regulation or another.

Senator Domenici & Co published “A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy (Roman & Littlefield, 2004). This is still the best single-volume reference work for anybody interested in nuclear technology, and what it can do beyond heating water to make steam for electricity. And, for the nuclear skeptic, the waste “issue” was put to bed for all time.

That America can even today contemplate a nuclear energy “option” is owed almost entirely to Senator Domenici and his staff. Four nuclear reactors are being built now in Georgia and South Carolina because Domenici & Co legislatively fixed a dysfunctional federal licensing system, and then they actually followed up, with the power of the purse, to force other vital regulatory reforms.

Their 2004 work was the last useful political book before Inhofe’s in 2012, so we’ve all waited a long time for an encore, something from Capitol Hill that can actually teach us something substantive, and give us knowledge that we keep.

US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has given us that, a real reference work that’s meaty and compact enough to keep on anybody’s shelf – because it navigates and organizes complex and controversial stuff in a single thin volume.

One doesn’t need any science background to find The Greatest Hoax useful, and a really fun and easy read. Yes, it’s all about climate change, and the reader will live in Inhofe’s head as he uses his position to navigate through any number of competing claims and dire warnings about the planet’s future.

But here’s the thing: Inhofe actually took the time to use his title and position to develop himself and his crack staff into chapter-and-verse experts on the literature and science of climate change. After the 2002 election had made him chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe could invite every author of every study to make his or her case before the world. And he did, in hearing after hearing, and year after year.

And it turned out to be bunk, almost every last bit of it. Nobody who ever appeared before Inhofe could justify any carbon restrictions on the US economy, no matter how they were sold. Restrictions might have been packaged in the name of the unratified Kyoto Protocol, or in legislation as recent as 2009’s failed Markey-Waxman bill or Kerry-Boxer bill. The packaging didn’t count because Inhofe was on to the “feel good” game: none of the high-profile measures, even if meticulously enforced, would have made even a dent in projected average global temperatures – as even the Greenest witnesses before Inhofe had to admit for the most part. (Many of them simply wanted the US to set an “example” for “the world” – presumably so our generosity could be toasted in bars and boardrooms in Beijing or New Delhi).

It was all meaningless feel-good nonsense for Green organizations, and Senator Inhofe called them out for sacrificing (on everybody else’s behalf) American economic growth and opportunity, in the name of ideology, and on behalf of their wanting to move carbon and “climate” regulation into more massively centralized agency and bureaucratic control of economic life in general.

But for Inhofe’s tenacious probing, the challenge to the Green agenda and the climate “consensus” might have ended after the 2006 election. That’s when Senator Inhofe lost his gavel, and became simply the “Ranking Republican” on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – a position without much official authority.

Other political authors might have walked away, and ended their normal political book with a gracious ceding of title and power-on-paper (after a noble “fight” for the truth) to his successor of the other party. In fact, Inhofe’s book would have been useful even if it had ended with the changing of the guard in 2007. Readers would still have learned a great deal about the prevailing state of climate science, complete with introductions to all the highly credentialed experts, who have debunked all the big “consensus” theories. At the very least, readers would have learned that there is nothing close to a commanding “consensus” on human-caused – “anthropogenic” – global warming (AGW). But fading away wasn’t in Inhofe’s blood, especially when his detractors, just two years later, would offer themselves up for a complete vivisection.

There’s a personal tenacity to Inhofe that’s only barely discernable in his book. We know that he’s not the Washington “normal.” We also know that he’s really not a talker, in the sense of sharing childhood stories and lessons from gramps about growing up with Sooner State “values.” We are spared all of this.

Inhofe doesn’t do celebrity sharing, so The Greatest Hoax might actually give readers less of what they might want in terms of insights into the man himself. We know that he’s been married to the same woman for more than 50 years, and has a family of 20 children and grandchildren.

Beyond that, all we really know is that Jim Inhofe started as an oil worker and property developer back in his native Tulsa. One of his real estate renovation projects was a derelict mansion once owned by an Oklahoma oil pioneer. And, with workers already on his payroll, Jim Inhofe sought permission from the local City Engineer to move the old mansion’s unsightly fire escape from its street-visible side of the building to another side.

Nothing doing, he was told. Inhofe would have to go through a multi-month approval process for permission to move the fire escape. And, when Inhofe told the City Engineer about the huge expense of the delay, the official apparently replied, “That’s your problem, not mine.”

Well, that turned out to be not quite the truth, either for the City Engineer, or for the country’s growing Green Left in general. In fact, Inhofe’s treatment at the hands of local government started him on a road that eventually created a really big “problem” for America’s anti-growth movement.

It spurred Inhofe’s becoming Tulsa’s Mayor Inhofe in 1978. Mayor Inhofe fired the City Engineer (a campaign promise), and even denied himself a tax-supported bully pulpit by cancelling what TV channel-surfers everywhere know to be the annoying wasteland of local access cable.

Then, over time, Mayor Inhofe became Congressman Inhofe (1986 election), and then, with the Republican wave election of 1994, he became Senator Inhofe – a private pilot who found himself, because of his sheer cheerful tenacity, the victor over a favored “reasonable” and “centrist” Democrat, who was supposed to inherit the seat of the reasonable and centrist David Boren (a respected senator who retired to become president of the University Oklahoma).

That’s all the book teaches us about the man. He’s simply a bundle of curiosity, and gracious and smart tenacity, who cherishes his family, and remembers each and every one of his commitments – including the one he made to Tulsa’s City Engineer many years ago.

Tenacity is what gives The Greatest Hoax its greatest voice and power, even with Inhofe and his army exiled to the Senate minority. They didn’t gripe about how the Democrats ran the show; they simply sought a new platform for exposing AGW, and they exploited and leveraged the gift given them by Green Left in late 2009.

That’s when somebody leaked hundreds of confidential e-mails from the Climate Research Unit of the UK’s University of East Anglia. Most of the authors were affiliated with panels attached to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC has so far produced four climate Assessment Reports, and a fifth is due soon. IPCC reports (or their summaries) inform and justify most of the US EPA’s actions against coal, and against all other employers that generally emit “greenhouse gases” (GHGs).

Lots of people might vaguely remember fleeting news reports of some kind of “scandal,” maybe associated with some kind of “global warming” e-mails, but the mainstream media didn’t probe it very deeply, and let it fade fast. It was the Inhofe army – sitting in the Senate minority – that burrowed in and reduced, sentence-by-sentence, and footnote-by-footnote all of the ugly and dissent-suppressing challenges to the supposed “consensus” on AGW.

That’s the ultimate reference value of The Greatest Hoax. It provides the context and referenced sources for all the stuff that none of us was ever supposed to see. And, thanks to Inhofe, we do see a whole lot – on a bunch of levels.

We learn early about the primacy of the Summar[ies] for Policy Makers of the four IPCC reports – the only parts that are usually read by the press or most politicians. Political policy makers and NGOs have a strong hand in developing the summaries, and the last one, in 2007, flatly declared that humans were “very likely” the cause of “unequivocal” warming.

It turns out that the IPCC summaries needn’t have faithfully represented the dense underlying sections of the reports themselves. In fact, it’s the actual report chapters that had to conform to the summaries: “Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.” So, in literary terms, the actual words of Tolstoy would have to have been “consistent” with a politicized Cliff Notes version of War and Peace.

Basically, all claims that the earth is dangerously warming – to say nothing of whether people play a driving role – rely on developing points of comparison with the distant past, say, 1000 or more years ago. Since the first reliable thermometers didn’t come along (and only in a few Western countries) until the late 18th century, and satellites, covering the globe, obviously came much later, scientists must try to reconstruct the conditions of ancient times with “proxy data” that rely largely on tree rings, ice cores, and the like.

Naturally, proxy data can be expected to show inconsistencies and gaps that widen with the distance of time. It’s how those inconsistencies and gaps are handled that colors the value of long-term climate change research.

Are gaps, inconsistencies, and data sampling selections presented openly, so they can be identified and debated? Or, are they papered over, with some researchers going so far as to urge their colleagues to “hide the [temperature] decline?”

By the way, that oft-repeated and parodied phrase, mined by Inhofe, refers to a problem of “data divergence.” In this case, CRU/IPCC researchers discovered that tree ring temperature reconstructions showed sharp temperature declines after 1960, while land-based instruments showed increases.

This was not welcome by IPCC authors and editors, one of whom, Dr. Chris Folland, feared that the divergence “dilutes the message rather significantly” that warming in the late 20th century, relative to the last 1000 years, was “unprecedented.” After all, it was all about “the message,” guarding and projecting “the message.”

Then, there was the struggling Prof. Keith Briffa, a CRU director, who, in looking at everything, told his colleagues:

“I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data, [but] in reality, the situation is not quite so simple. We don’t have a lot of proxies that come right up to date . . . I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about a 1000 years ago.”

The point isn’t only that the world has probably seen its current temperatures before – long before anybody thought of burning coal, or using any fossil fuels to generate electricity, or to move cars, trucks, or airplanes. The point is that when there was “data divergence,” leading IPCC scientists – in the words of CRU-head, Dr. Phil Jones, decided to mix and match data to “hide the decline.” Defending the consensus was everything.

If there were only one reason to read The Greatest Hoax, it would have to be for the book’s multi-pronged demolition of the “hockey stick” theory of climate advanced by Penn State’s Dr. Michael Mann, formerly of the University of Virginia. Mann produced a famous graph that alleged to prove that global temperatures were horizontally flat and stable for almost 1000 years, until zooming up with industrialization in the 20th century.

Inhofe pulled together only the most credentialed scientists and statisticians to take apart the Mann model. Among them were two Canadian researchers, who made the case that Mann’s model – misusing something called “Principal Component Analysis” – would always produce a hockey stick, no matter what the model’s inputs.

There’s a lot more where that comes from in The Greatest Hoax. And even once the reader absorbs the extent to which researchers were willing to cook the books, by selecting and shaping data to fit the consensus, it’s still weird to see the near-threatening disdain for scientists who managed to get published without first towing the AGW line. Again, courtesy of CRU- head Phil Jones:

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer review literature is!”

Now, there’s no evidence that anybody ever actually acted on the impulse to blackball dissenters by denying legitimacy to their publishing outlets, the thing on which researchers’ careers depend. But it’s the thought that counts, and it was very narrow thinking that created the filters that either accommodated or marginalized views, depending on their correctness or incorrectness.

If The Greatest Hoax suffers from anything, it’s that of a legislator’s natural focus on things legislative. In Senator Inhofe’s case, that means lots of narrative about all the justifiably failed bills on Capitol Hill to advance the whole scheme of “cap and trade” for carbon and other alleged GHGs.

Inhofe led the killing of all of them (at least on the Senate side of the complex), and there were at least five serious bills, all enjoying big mainstream media support: McCain-Lieberman (twice); then Lieberman-Warner; then Markey-Waxman; and then, at the dying end of cap-and-trade, the Kerry-Boxer bill. (The last three bills were on deck after Democrats had taken control of the Senate, and they should have prevailed by their numbers and because of their strong White House support).

And, while it’s natural for a legislator to show that real science would have suffered, and real hardship advanced, through a bunch of legislative bills, Senator Inhofe still left us hanging – because of EPA itself.

EPA had warned the world that failure to pass any form of cap-and-trade legislation would result in EPA’s using its purported Clean Air Act authority to act unilaterally. And, though Senator Inhofe warned of that, he never really told us what “unilateral” might look like, or how quickly and comprehensively it could all happen. His book just left us hanging.

And it has unfolded, in a deluge of agency rules that only a specialist could follow on any real-time basis.

EPA used a 2007 5-4 US Supreme Court decision to declare carbon an “air pollutant.” EPA then used IPCC reports to justify a 2009 “Endangerment Finding,” based on a section of the Clean Air Act that deals with car and truck engines. Then, in 2010, EPA finalized a triplet of regulations (the “Tailpipe,” “Timing,” and “Tailoring” rules) that impose general greenhouse gas controls on new “and modified” emitters of all sorts. EPA then zeroed-in more specifically on coal-fired power plants in early 2012, when it proposed carbon-specific restrictions on new “and modified” coal plants. It just never stops; EPA’s machine of economic and social transformation goes on month after month.

But The Greatest Hoax probably did have to stop, after rendering bare all the “consensus” science, and all the lengths taken by its practitioners to circle the wagons and protect it from examination and dissent. After all, Senator Inhofe wrote a book, and not a periodical or newsletter devoted to the workings of a federal agency.

So, while The Greatest Hoax had to wrap up someplace, that doesn’t mean that some other smart and tough politician can’t produce another really useful book that takes up where Inhofe ended, which was at the reams of lawless (though federal court-approved) and employment-depressing rulemakings by the EPA.

For once, we actually need a sequel to a politician’s book. A really useful Greatest Hoax II might make us all literate about the great regulatory challenges to our recovery posed by unelected people. Knowledge of agency power in general could change the focus of elections, and maybe even the country itself. Let’s hope that somebody is dictating his notes today.

Richard Bornemann is a specialist in most landmark Clean Air and Clean Water statutes. He also successfully directed the country’s last contested nuclear power licensing case, establishing vital points of precedent for the technology’s domestic revival. Bornemann began his Washington career as a Legislative Assistant to Rep. Denny Smith, managing the member’s Resources Committee interests in oversight and authorization of the Departments of Energy and Interior, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mr. Bornemann is an energy analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research (SFPPR) and author of American Energy Independence: A Policy Review 1973-2012.