Why an inconvenient skepticism of global warming survives in Alabama

Global warming skeptics are often met with baffled looks similar to Al Roker’s expression when he learned on the Today Show that a third of Americans believe it’s a hoax. “Wow,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Less jovial climate change activists try to silence the opposition altogether, as Al Gore does by telling journalists to stop quoting skeptics – implying they’re too crazy to warrant equal space.

Some assume global warming skeptics are uneducated, stupid or maybe even villainous. They coined the label “global warming denier” to associate skeptics with holocaust deniers.

It’s not a convenient opinion to hold, even in conservative Alabama.

In Montgomery, Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh’s opposition to global warming-inspired regulation is said to place her on the wrong side of history with George Wallace and the segregationists. Elsewhere in the state, respected climate experts John Christy and Roy Spencer, both of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, are derided as being members of a “Flat-Earth Society” because they question significant parts of the theory.

Despite the heated rhetoric, many global warming believers are probably more like Roker: surprised and genuinely curious why people remain skeptical in the face of near expert consensus. Well, here are my three reasons:

First, I don’t blindly trust the experts on such important issues. My critical-thinking Jesuit professors at Spring Hill College in Mobile taught me otherwise. “Ask questions,” they’d say. “And think for yourself.”

It’s about the degree of consequences. I don’t know much about engines, so when a mechanic wants to charge me an extra $9.35 to replace my car’s overdue thingamabob, I shrug and say fine. I don’t know much about climatology, either. But when scientists claim the earth is warming and politicians demand we uproot our economy and significantly change our way of life, I’m going to do my homework. I’m going to read dissenting views and form my own opinion.

Second, I don’t fully trust the supposed causes, the effects or the predictions. Recent measurements show that global warming has slowed and that the “consensus” models weren’t correct in the first place. As noted in the liberal New Republic magazine: “Since 1998, the warmest year of the twentieth century, temperatures have not kept up with computer models that seemed to project steady warming; they’re perilously close to falling beneath even the lowest projections.”

History is full of theories that were adjusted or abandoned after subsequent generations discovered new data or found flaws with past assumptions. If their models aren’t right, what else have they gotten wrong?

Third, it’s hard to trust the remedies because they’re strikingly similar to everything pursued by the left-wing for the past 150-years. It’s all too politically familiar: Income redistribution from businesses to the government and from rich nations to poor via carbon cap-and-trade schemes, increased government control of production and consumption, and decreased property rights, to name a few. Read any leftist group’s literature and you’ll see issues cleverly tied to global warming. Some even link reproductive healthcare (i.e. abortion) to causes related to population control and lessening mankind’s carbon footprint. This shields their ideological goals behind scientific consensus, which we’re told can’t be questioned.

Vaclav Claus, the former president of the Czech Republic, said it best in 2008 at the National Press Club: “The green movement is trying to dictate, control, regulate, mastermind our lives,” he said. “I speak as someone who lived in a communist era and who knows what it means to eliminate freedom, as someone who knows what it means to eliminate the market economy, someone who knows what it means to regulate, to command, to mastermind the economy from above.”

Skeptics like me aren’t anti-science. I’ve loved science ever since my sixth grade teacher took us camping in Clark County and we dug ancient shark’s teeth from the wet clay of a creek. I was amazed that part of Alabama had once been an ocean floor. I still embrace most of what science teaches and remain willing to change my mind if the theory becomes more credible and less political.

Meanwhile, if more predictions are proved inaccurate, shouldn’t global warming believers be willing to reconsider – maybe even become skeptical – of the theory too?

J. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. You can reach him at jpepperbryars@gmail.com, or engage him in conversation in the comments section below.

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