OPINION: Scott Pruitt Correctly Calls for Climate Debate

Democratic members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee boycotted the February 1 vote on President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency largely because of the nominee’s position on climate change. For example, Committee member Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) explained that he opposed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s candidacy because he “denies the sum of empirical science and the urgency to act on climate change.”

Considering the vast uncertainty in this field, arguably the most complex science ever tackled, Pruitt’s position is actually very ‘progressive.’ Rather that trying to restrict discussion about the underlying reasons for expensive climate change mitigation policies, now costing $1 billion a day worldwide, Pruitt has called for open debate about the issue.

It is the Democrats and their activist allies who, reminiscent of the 13th century Spanish Inquisition, are intent upon censoring what they regard as scientific heresy. They have apparently forgotten that real science is all about skepticism and constant re-examination of old theories.

Writing in the National Review in May 2016, Pruitt explained his position:

“Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress… Dissent is not a crime.”

The reason such a rational, balanced approach has come to be regarded by Democrats as extreme, and therefore unacceptable for an EPA administrator to hold, is that they assume that the science of climate change is ‘settled’ in favour of the position they hold dear. But they are mistaken. As demonstrated by thousands of peer-reviewed papers in leading science journals highlighted by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, there is a broad range of scientific opinion on this issue. Indeed, much of what we thought we knew about climate is now regarded as wrong or highly debatable.

Widespread misunderstandings about the actual state of climate change science is largely the fault of the United Nations, which often labels its science conclusions “unequivocal,” in other words, statements that cannot be wrong. For example, the first sentence in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report Synthesis Report starts, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations.”

As evidence for this position, they present empirical data. But scientists have always understood that observations are particular, contingent, and probable, so cannot be used to prove truth.

Although he supports the dangerous human-caused global warming hypothesis, Lehigh University philosophy professor Steven Goldman explained in a personal communication that the IPCC statement is flawed. It is “an attempt to persuade extra-logically,” said Goldman. “Strictly logically, no observations can lead to an ‘unequivocal’ interpretation.”

David Wojick, a Virginia-based Ph.D. in the logic and philosophy of science, disagrees with Goldman about the climatic impact of human activity but agrees that the IPCC has made a serious mistake. “Reasoning from evidence is inductive logic,” said Wojick. “As for unequivocal, that is never the case in inductive logic.”

The greatest misinformation in the global warming debate is that we currently know, or even can know, the future of a natural phenomenon as complicated as climate change. University of Western Ontario professor Dr. Chris Essex, an expert in climate models, lays it out clearly: “Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science. Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved.”

Yet Democrats often label scientists like Essex as ‘deniers’, implying that they are as misguided as those who deny the Holocaust. When it comes to climate change, tolerance of alternative perspectives, a much-vaunted hallmark of liberalism, vanishes. They should welcome, not condemn, questioning of the status quo. Science advances through fearless investigation, not frightened acquiescence to fashionable thinking.

At stake in the climate controversy are literally trillions of dollars, countless jobs, and, if politicians like Senator Cardin are right, the fate of the global environment. We need leaders in science, engineering, economics, and public policy to contribute to the debate without fear.

Yet, because the issue is riddled with censorship, illogic, defamation, and even death threats, many experts are afraid to comment publicly. Pruitt is right to try to change this. The stakes are too high to do anything less.

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Tom Harris

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (www.ClimateScienceInternational.org)