Debating Whether Science is Real, on Meet the Press

There has been much made of David Gregory’s allowing a professed climate science denier to “debate” Bill Nye on the validity of climate science, on Meet the Press, the nation’s premier Sunday morning news program. David Gregory cited Sec. of State John Kerry’s climate speech in Jakarta where he warned that climate change is “threatening [Indonesia’s] entire way of life”. Gregory’s introduction noted the rising costs of addressing ever more extreme weather, then revived the tired and untrue idea that climate science has not shown whether human activity is part of the problem. Al Roker was shown alleging that we are not clear about whether human activity is causing climate change, but affirming climate change is happening. This tell-all-sides intro ended with footage of the President of the United States forcefully declaring, “The science is settled.”

Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) very constructively noted that we have to face a cost-benefit analysis of the increasing volumes of information we have regarding the crisis and our options for addressing it. She then made the case that the expansion of atmospheric CO2 levels from 320 ppm to 400 ppm (a change of 25%) is “very slight”. She is saying we have plenty of time and the situation is not yet an emergency. There was no analysis of cost or benefit, though this is being done extensively by the federal government, the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, major investors, business leaders, and others.

When Rep. Blackburn won the Century Council’s Congressional Award, she said she looked forward to “continuing to work with parents and educators in my district as we lead this important fight to eliminate underage drinking and drunk driving”. A blood-alcohol level increase of 25% from 0.07% to 0.0875% is not only significant enough to break the legally allowed limit, it is considered scientifically toxic enough to cause serious sensory impairment and pose a danger to human safety, should the intoxicated person get behind the wheel of a car.

In fact, the disruption of our planet’s climate-energy balance from carbon dioxide intoxication is even worse than that: from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric CO2 levels have risen from 280 ppm to 400 ppm—a change of 42%. A 42% increase in blood alcohol level from 0.07% would be 0.994%, fully 25% over and above the legal limit. As intoxication increases, impairment accelerates, because the chemical process is compounded. The system has to exert more energy to cope with the mounting intoxication, leading to greater impairment. The same is true of the climate system. Added disruption leads to mounting impairment of reliable natural systems.

In 2006, ABC News reported:

In his heralded new book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” Ron Suskind writes that Vice President Dick Cheney forcefully stated that the war on terror empowered the Bush administration to act without the need for evidence or extensive analysis.

Suskind describes the Cheney doctrine as follows: “Even if there’s just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It’s not about ‘our analysis,’ as Cheney said. It’s about ‘our response.’ … Justified or not, fact-based or not, ‘our response’ is what matters. As to ‘evidence,’ the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn’t apply.”

Rep. Blackburn supported intervention in Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein, warrantless FISA orders, warrantless wiretapping and extension of the PATRIOT Act, on the grounds that Cheney’s approach was prudent, responsible and in the interests of national security. That, of course, is the view of the Pentagon, regarding global climate change. The science clearly shows a greater than 99% certainty that human activity is causing a dangerous, costly and unmanageable destabilization of climate patterns on which human civilization itself depends.


In the period from November 2012 through December 2013, there were 2,258 peer-reviewed articles published regarding the science of climate. 9,136 authors contributed to those articles. Of those authors, only 1 rejected the human role in ongoing, observable climate change. 1 in 9,136 equates to 0.0109%. That may be enough to intoxicate the debate and impair the process of public policy inquiry, but it must be noted, the science shows human-caused climate change is real; the rejection of those findings is a matter of personal opinion for one individual. Science and opinion are not the same.

There is no scientific uncertainty about the question of whether human activity is causing the destabilization of global climate patterns.

To her credit, Rep. Blackburn nodded in agreement, when David Gregory quoted PG&E calling for transformative solutions that would ensure a low-carbon future. David Gregory, to his credit, did say, “The reality is: something is happening.” When Gregory noted that state and local governments are dealing with “very real-time impacts” and that doing so is expensive, she said “You’re right.” Rep. Blackburn worries that the “ambiguity around [the social cost of carbon]” needs to be clarified. More precise calculations are needed.

David Gregory suggested to Rep. Blackburn that there might be a way for Congress to respond to climate change and the need to change our energy infrastructure, if members such as herself disagree with Pres. Obama’s executive actions to regulate emissions. Bill Nye called on Blackburn to join with other members of Congress and to lead on this issue, so the United States can take the lead on the world’s response to climate change and the transition to clean energy.

What Rep. Blackburn and other climate skeptics seem to need is a cost-effective response, one that they can feel will not burden taxpayers and will not put undue strain on our economy, so we can focus on a responsible national response that responds to a logical necessity that falls somewhere between Cheney’s 1% risk doctrine and the 99.9891% consensus among climate scientists.

That solution does exist.

Conservative thought leaders, like former Sec. of State George Shultz, are calling on Congress to put aside partisanship and to lead by instituting a market-based tax-reform solution that would not inflate taxpayer spending or the size of government. By implementing a fee on carbon-emitting fuels and rebating 100% of the revenues to taxpayers—either through a tax swap (corresponding reductions in income or corporate taxes) or by way of a direct rebate to households—the Congress can actually create a future in which the carbon fuel price correction doesn’t come at us willy-nilly through climate chaos and natural system feedbacks, but through a coordinated, responsible climate-economy security strategy.

Such a revenue-neutral market solution will reduce the regulatory burden on businesses and allow for growth—not contraction—in our consumer-driven economy.

Rep. Blackburn has voted for tax relief and simplification, and a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend program would be just the kind of conservative, cost-effective, market-driven solution to our mounting climate costs. She should join with other conservatives, and with friends across the aisle, to adopt a simple but transformative tax reform policy that will motivate job creation, fix our failed carbon pricing market, and eliminate the threat of unmanageable climate change before it sets in to stay.

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