Raising the Standard.

Q&A: Steven F. Hayward on Climate Change

Dr. Steven F. Hayward is a senior fellow at the California-based Pacific Research Institute, where he authors the Almanac of Environmental Trends. Dr. Hayward also teaches as the first-ever Chair of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He has held positions previously at Ashland University and the American Enterprise Institute, among others, and has authored a number of books, including biographies of Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill. THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE’s Blake Seitz called Dr. Hayward to discuss issues of the day. The first half of the interview, concerning climate change, is below. (Part II of the interview, concerning intellectual conservatism, can be found here.)

THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE: Dr. Hayward, what’s the latest on the global warming front?

HAYWARD: The latest big thing on global warming is that the new Summary for Policymakers from the IPCC was released last Friday; the main report it summarizes [AR5], which is thousands of pages long, didn’t come out until this Monday, which is revealing. I often say the Summary for Policymakers should be called by its honest name, the Summary for Headline Writers, because it’s really just a sensational document for the media.

Now, I downloaded the full AR5 yesterday and have looked over some of the key chapters. From what I see, the summary, which is written by governments, does not match up very well with some of the things said in AR5, which is written by scientists. So for example, Chapter 9, which is the chapter on evaluating climate models, includes all kinds of admissions about the weakness of the models, about scientists’ inability to match the models with the underlying data and about how they don’t actually have much confidence in models’ ability to predict the future, which is odd, because that is ostensibly the purpose of climate models. So even though the summary expresses great confidence that the scientific community know what’s going on and knows what’s going to happen in the future as regards global warming, the actual report undermines that claim.

TAC: To what extent do you think the summary is subject to political and government influence? And how did this come to be?

HAYWARD: I think it’s actually pretty simple. First of all, the people who participate in the IPCC process are very knowledgeable people, but they tend to be self-selected as believers in the catastrophic global warming hypothesis. I know from personal experience that a number of them are simply environmental crusaders. All around this group, like barnacles on a ship, are all the environmental interest groups — the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, groups like that — putting pressure on the whole process. What results is a community of like-minded believers, even though a lot of the underlying science they produce is more cautious than what you hear.

And then you have to consider the self-interest of the U.N., which is comprised of government bureaucracies and ministries all around the world that want to control the energy sectors and resource use of their countries, and the IPCC is the best vehicle they’ve got to advance that agenda.

TAC: It has been reported that government delegations were gunning to remove all mention of the 15 year lull in global warming from the SPM, which seems an obvious example of political influence. But a lot of scientists have also disregarded the lull as an aberration. Do they have a point?

HAYWARD: I wasn’t in the room for this, of course — most of it was done behind closed doors in Stockholm. But we know some governments were calling for the IPCC to explain the current pause in global warming; other governments, including ours apparently, called for scientists to leave the pause out entirely and not mention it at all.

In the end, what IPCC co-chair Tom Stocker said was, Well, 15 years is just too short a period to judge a trend — what you really need is a 30-year period. Maybe that’s a reasonable thing to say, but then again there’s something to be said for consistency in these matters, because global warming advocates made all kinds of noise about the increase in warming that occurred between 1980 and 1998. So if they’re really serious about this 30-year period to judge trends, they must be awfully embarrassed right now for having made so much fuss out of an 18-year trend that now looks like an anomaly.

No one predicted this warming pause, and so we’re getting to the point where, as one of the leading scientists from East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit admitted years ago, if this pause in warming goes on 18, 19, 20 years, the prevailing hypothesis will be in serious trouble. Well, now we’re getting close to that.

The leading hypothesis to explain the pause is that the warming is all going into the ocean. There’s some data to suggest this is true, but not nearly enough. In any case, nobody predicted such a thing 15 or 20 years ago, so even if that hypothesis turns out to be true, it just goes to show we don’t really have a good grasp on the subject.

TAC: Given the controversy and lack of transparency that has surrounded IPCC proceedings, how much do you think the final product is undermined? How much stock are people putting in this publication?

HAYWARD: There are two issues here. One is that press coverage of global warming reports like the AR5 has been steadily declining the last two or three years, to the extent that environmentalists are worried the media is growing tired of the subject. My perception is that the report last Friday didn’t get anywhere near the coverage AR4 got in 2007 — you know, when the Nobel Prize was awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore, whatever. Global warming never polled very strongly in the U.S. to begin with, and now the number who believe in the catastrophic account of climate change appears to be going down even more. The public is starting to suffer from apocalypse fatigue, and who can blame them? There’s really nothing new being said here.

And finally I’ll say this about the SPM: the IPCC is scaling back its predictions of doom and gloom quite a bit. They’re saying, worst case, that the Earth will not warm quite as much as they thought, and that whatever warming occurs will happen on a longer time-frame. So the issue has, appropriately, lost some of its political force.

TAC: Setting aside the thicket of politics and policy, what do we know about the science of global warming? Where can legitimate consensus be found?

HAYWARD: One of the things you often hear is that 97 percent of scientists agree that humans cause global warming, and while that figure is often abused, the truth is that the IPCC, in trying to prove humans cause global warming, is proving something that almost nobody disagrees with. Except for esoteric disputes about the temperature record, there’s no reason to believe the Earth hasn’t warmed, and no one really disagrees with the hypothesis that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are warming agents, all other things being equal. That’s an interesting story, however. As it turns out, most of the warming effects predicted for the future have less to do with greenhouse gas concentrations than with so-called feedback effects: how clouds react in different situations, what happens to ice caps, what happens in the oceans and so on. Those are questions we don’t really have a handle on. So the case for catastrophic warming — you know, four degrees Celsius of warming — is the weakest part of the whole story, as it relies entirely on massive feedback effects we don’t know exist.

On the other side of the coin, to the extent that global warming is a problem of moderate potential, what should we do about it? To make a long story short, the IPCC’s solution from the very beginning has been to suppress hydrocarbon use, and that’s just a stupid idea — no one’s doing it, it’s not going to work and it probably can’t work.

TAC: So none of this warrants the kind of massive energy transformation that many are calling for? To hedge our risk against whatever warming is possible?

HAYWARD: To the extent we decide carbon dioxide emissions are a potential problem, the answer is not to make carbon energy more expensive for a world that’s energy hungry, especially the developing world. The answer is also not to subsidize energy sources that cannot be scaled up like wind, solar and biofuels. You simply can’t get 30, 40 or 50 percent of your energy from such sources without bankrupting the country.

The right strategy is to make new forms of energy cheaper than hydrocarbon energy. That’s a research problem, and it’s a big one. But the dominant agenda from the beginning has been twofold: punitive measures against hydrocarbon energy, which don’t work very well, and subsidies for inefficient forms of energy, which primarily create new special interest groups. Neither solves the problem, to the extent one exists.

TAC: To what extent does the body of research we have now compel us to action?

HAYWARD: That’s a good question, and there’s an important individual component to it, because a lot is happening at the private level without government having to step in at all. The agricultural industry, for example, has for a long time been developing drought-resistant and pest-resistant crops, so humans are already making a lot of adaptations to a climate that is changing, for whatever reasons. To use another example, while I think the possibility of sea level rise is overstated, the Dutch have been living with rising sea levels for 500 years. These example show that humans are equipped to cope with change.

(Part II of the interview, concerning intellectual conservatism, can be found here.)

(Like what you see? Support THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE!)