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A Skeptic's Guide to Copenhagen

As the global summit on climate change gets under way in Copenhagen, Tunku Varadarajan offers an eyebrow-raising A-Z guide to the proceedings.

12.06.09 10:56 PM ET

Very nearly a hundred years ago, Ambrose Bierce compiled A Devil's Dictionary, in which he sought to puncture the cultural cant of his time. Here is an attempt—at much shorter length—to prick a very contemporary kind of cant, that which has swollen the debate on climate change to ungovernable proportions.

A is for anthropogenic: (as in anthropogenic global warming, or “AGW”), a $10 word for "man-made" which global-warmists wield as proof of expertise—no one more so than Al Gore, who, after having invented the Internet, turned his prodigious mind to the conundrum of AGW.

B is for Björn Lomborg, the Danish professor whose book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, should have put Al Gore out of business forever; for the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) that aren’t ready to abandon the good, carbon-burning life just yet; and for boondoggle (see "ethanol," infra).

C is for the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, the now-discredited source of much of the data used to fuel climate hysteria. In November, in an episode that was oh-so-predictably dubbed Climategate, a cache of leaked emails showed that researchers systematically hid or manipulated data that was inconsistent with the accepted narrative of man-made climate change. (Read John Tierney's clear-headed critique here.) Don't forget carbon dioxide, a colorless, odorless gas once considered essential to life on earth, not to mention bubbles in Champagne. (Although it's now regarded as a poisonous pollutant, you can, however, trade it.) Think also of consensus—the idea that science is settled by an asserted poll of experts after all objections from dissenting scientists have been suppressed.

D is for deniers. A mere notch above Holocaust deniers, these are the people who refuse to accept that climate change is largely man-induced. Heretics, they'd be burned at the stake if that were not such a bad thing for the ozone layer.

E is for environmentalism, which the philosopher Harvey Mansfield has defined as “school prayer for liberals,” ecoterrorists (who believe that all life, except yours, is sacred, and who tend to have names like "Swampy"), and ethanol (see "boondoggle," supra).

F is for fossil fuels, the consumption of which, over the last century, has powered prosperity and growth the world over, and for dear old Freeman Dyson, a distinguished scientist who copped some fearful flak for dissenting from the warmist consensus. ("I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated.")

G is for green, a mantra, a shibboleth, a way of life; the Guardian (house journal of the global-warming platoons); and Gwyneth Paltrow, who has said that she can "just feel" it getting globally warmer in her bones…Maybe her husband's band, Coldplay, should be re-named. Foreplay?

H is " hide the decline", (referring to a temperature graph that appeared on the cover of a 1999 report from the World Meteorological Organization). The phrase has been embraced by deniers as proof that the warmists are charlatans, as, previously, was the "hockey stick"—a graph that shows warming in the Northern Hemisphere, and which was featured in the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment Report. Since its publication, the scientific methodology used to create it has been a source of intense dispute.

I is for internal combustion and the body that has demonized it—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a subsidiary of the U.N. which, with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. The letter is also for incandescent light bulbs, the cheery glow we’ll have to learn to live without; the Inuit, who have 27 words for snow but only one for ozone; indulgences, the medieval scam run by the Catholic Church that Carbon Offsets closely resemble; and for inconvenient truth, such as the data buried at the CRU at East Anglia.

J is for Phil Jones, Cassandra in chief of global warming at East Anglia, long a foreteller of imminent catastrophe (superstorms, famines, polar bear extinction). Jones was little-known in America, where NASA's James Hansen is the Gandalf of the Hobbits marching to defeat the Greenhouse Mordor and return the Middle-earth to trembling Springtime. ( Hansen, it should be noted, has compared coal trains to death-camp trains.)

K is for Kyoto, a Japanese city where the only thing of significance to have happened in the last 50 years was a 1997 Protocol which proposed mandatory emission reductions for developed countries. Those who pillory George W. Bush for not submitting the treaty to the Senate for ratification forget that Clinton administration didn't do so either. (Quiz: Who was Clinton's vice president?). Keep an eye, too, on Khosla Ventures (see "money," below).

L is for Nigel Lawson (father of the very warming Nigella), whose book—" An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming"—is a beacon of clarity in a sea of murk.

M is for Man, who, to quote Ambrose Bierce, is "an animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada." And then there's methane, a greenhouse gas parped into the air 24/7 by bovine polluters across the globe; the Medieval Climate Optimum, a warm period from about the 10th to the 14th century which warmists (i) ignore and/or (iii) cannot explain; ManBearPig, South Park's derisive nickname for global warming; and money (as in "Follow the…"; see Khosla Ventures, above).

N is for Noah, the Bible's original climate-change fanatic; nuclear energy, the cleanest solution to our "carbon" worries in the eyes of everyone but the warmists; and the Northwest Passage. Some scientists say that as more Arctic ice melts as a result of warming, the passage will open, conveniently, to ships.

O is for Obama, the man who may just end the Industrial Revolution; and ozone, the g-spot of the climate debate.

P is for peer-review, a scholarly process in which research that supports established IPCC conclusions is approved for publication, while contrary opinions are shredded; polar bears, the ursine mascots of the global-warming team—they're cute, cuddly (on film) and adrift on melted icebergs; and cap-and-trade permits, which give Congress hundreds of billions of dollars in new subsidies to distribute without putting the money on the federal balance sheet.

Q is for quixotic, a vivid feature of the drive for emissions reduction.

R is respiration, the process by which you, dear reader, commit global warming; and for Jairam Ramesh, the feisty, bouffant-haired Indian minister for the environment who has thumbed his elegant nose repeatedly at American demands that India slash its carbon emissions

S is for the sun, the likeliest global-warming culprit; and for Stern (Todd or Nicholas, take your pick). The former is the Obama administration's climate-change czar, who, it is rumored, could commit the U.S. to a nationwide emissions-reduction program at Copenhagen. The latter—Baron Stern of Brentford—is the author of a controversial British government report on climate change. He is not known to enjoy the company of those who disagree with him on the subject.

T is for "Mike's nature trick," a new method of manipulating data to support that idea that human beings are causing global warming. Phil Jones (see J, above) wrote that, in compiling new data, he had "just completed Mike's nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onward) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline." Add to all this those lovely, bucolic " tree rings," whose changing sizes are regarded as proof of global warming in past centuries, even if recent fluctuations don't seem to match world temperature changes at all.

U is for under-arm spray. Go sweaty. Stink a little and save the environment.

W is for Martin Weitzman, the liberal Harvard economist who is honest enough to admit that there's no genuine economic case for cap and trade except by rigging the discount rate; and for Woods: no, not the forests, but the golfer. His is the only story that has a chance this week of knocking climate change off what are still, quaintly, called the front pages.

X is for XOM, or ExxonMobil, the greatest environmental villain known to man (and polar bears).

Y is for our young, now hardwired to be eco-fanatics, for better or worse, and for Yvo de Boer. Never heard of him? He's the U.N.'s UNFCCC man who's been arranging conferences, with their megacarbon footprints, in places such as Rio, Bali, Trinidad, and now Copenhagen. You never voted for him, but he's hoping to control how much you fly, drive, heat your home, and exhale.

Z is for zeitgeist, without which the entire controversy over man-made climate change would never had achieved traction in public debate; for Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, and Zambia (we’re doing it all for them, right?); zero population growth, which is the true aim of global warmism; and that great big, stomping, bellowing climate-change zoo, coming to a Danish capital near you.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. (Follow him on Twitter here.) For this week's column, he'd like to offer a tip of the hat to: George Anders, Alyssa Ayres, Bruce Bartlett, John Batchelor, Jagdish Bhagwati, Jeff Bliss, Gordon Chang, Bill Coles, Thomas Cooley, Judith Dobrzynski, Denis Dutton, Erich Eichman, Richard Epstein, Jonathan Foreman, Charles Gasparino, Stephen Gillespie, Michael Judge, Melik Kaylan, Andy Kessler, Roger Kimball, Mary Kissel, Joel Kotkin, Charles Leerhsen, Quentin Letts, Michael Maiello,Henry Manne, Arvind Panagariya, Joseph Rago, Alan Reynolds, Claudia Rosett, Hugh H. Shull III, James Taranto, and John Tierney.