This commentary originally appeared in Real Clear Energy on April 20, 2016.

Noted MIT atmospheric physicist, Richard Lindzen, in order to minimize what he calls the “ever more shrill” voices of climate alarmists, has clearly described the parameters of the debate.

In an excellent online video produced by Prager University, Lindzen defines three groups in the climate debate – two of which are scientists and the third group made up of politicians, environmentalists and the media. The first group of scientists agree with the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who mostly believe that recent releases of C02 (carbon dioxide) due to man’s burning of fossil fuels, might dangerously heat the planet. The second group of scientists, he says, doesn’t see this as an “especially serious problem” and that the climate is a complex natural system impacted by many forces. He would note that these scientists do not see evidence that CO2 emissions are a dominant or controlling factor.

It might be surprising to many people but Dr. Lindzen notes that there are many things these two groups of scientists agree on.

  • The climate is always changing.
  • CO2 is a greenhouse gas without which life on earth is not possible, but adding it to the atmosphere should lead to some warming.
  • Atmospheric levels of CO2 have been increasing since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 19th century.
  • Over the past two centuries, the global mean temperature has increased slightly and erratically by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit or one degree Celsius.
  • Given the complexity of climate, no confident prediction about future global mean temperature or its impact can be made.

This last point might also be a surprise to many people but the IPCC itself, in spite of the much lauded climate model predictions, acknowledged in its own 2007 report that “The long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

Lindzen wonders why so many people are “worried, indeed, panic stricken” about rising CO2 levels leading to catastrophic changes in the climate since neither group of scientists suggest that the burning of fossil fuels will do so.

This leads us to Lindzen’s third group —the politicians, environmentalists, and media who each have their own reasons – money, power, and religious devotion – to promote a catastrophic scenario.

There is actually a fourth group that Lindzen describes as scientists outside of climate physics who have jumped on the bandwagon, publishing papers blaming global warming for everything from acne to the Syrian civil war. And crony capitalists who have eagerly grabbed for the subsidies mostly for “green” energy technologies, that governments continue to lavishly provide.

The latest skirmish in the war against crony capitalists was waged this past week when a group of renewable-energy advocates attempted to have “green” tax breaks attached to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill (H.R. 636) working its way through the Senate. Claiming the provisions were inadvertently left off last year’s Omnibus spending bill, the tax subsidies were for geothermal heat pumps, clean-energy manufacturing facilities and fuel cells.* These were a perfect illustration of what Lindzen was talking about.

Some thirty groups, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) asking that expiring renewable energy subsidies not be attached to a must-pass reauthorization of the FAA. Our letter argued that "green pork” provisions were not germane to the authorization bill, and favorable tax treatment had already been extended to renewable energy producers in the past. In the end, the provisions were dropped from the bill.

Energy production in America should be based on the free market, not artificially propped up in ways that mask the real cost to the consumer and the taxpayer. With the country’s national debt topping $19.2 trillion, it is unconscionable that the President will soon sign the UN Framework on Climate Change negotiated in Paris last December. A key provision of this agreement is providing $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to increase funding in the future. Spending money we have to borrow is another form of international cronyism. In this case, it is money down the drain.

The Honorable Doug Domenech is the Director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.