The Greening of Godzilla
by Walter Russell Mead
The rise of the environmental movement reflected the increasing independence of thought and judgment of a public that was becoming less and less impressed with credentials and degrees. The public wanted to take power back from experts and appointed government agencies and put up new obstacles in the way of technocratic engineers with big projects in mind.
But when it comes to global warming, the shoe is on the other foot. Now it is suddenly the environmentalists — who’ve often spent lifetimes raging against experts and scientists who debunk organic food and insist that GMOs and nuclear power plants are safe — who are the pious advocates of science and experts. Suddenly, it’s a sin to question the wisdom of the Scientific Consensus. Scientists are, after all, experts; their work is peer-reviewed and we uneducated rubes must sit back and shut up when the experts tell us what’s right.
More, environmentalists have found a big and simple fix for all that ails us: a global carbon cap. One big problem, one big fix. It is not just wrong to doubt that a fix is needed, it is wrong to doubt that the Chosen Fix will work. Never mind that the leading green political strategy (to stop global warming by a treaty that gains unanimous consent among 190 plus countries and is then ratified by 67 votes in a Senate that rejected Kyoto 95-0) is and always has been so cluelessly unrealistic as to be clinically insane. The experts decree; we rubes are not to think but to honor and obey.
The environmental movement has turned into the Army Corps of Engineers, even as public skepticism of experts has reached new heights. The financial experts and economists told us the new financial markets were perfectly safe. Then the Obama administration’s expert economists told us the stimulus would work and that unemployment wouldn’t get above 8%. They told him and he told us the recovery was underway. “Recovery summer,” anyone?
Expert, prizewinning Democratic economists now tell us that without more Keynesian stimulus the economy is doomed. Expert, prizewinning Republican economists tell us that more Keynesian stimulus will ruin us all.
The mining experts said that deep water drilling was OK. Then the environmental experts said that the oil in the Gulf was an immeasurable disaster that would drag on for years. The clean up experts then used dispersant that, other experts now tell us, may have worse consequences than the original oil. Then experts warned us that huge plumes of underwater oil were drifting murderously through the Gulf. The last I looked the experts were now saying that a previously undiscovered microbe had been eating the oil. The only thing that the public is sure about at this point is that the experts are likely to be surprised and confounded several more times before this whole ghastly fiasco plays out.
The score so far: Complexity and unexpected consequences 1000, experts zip. Public skepticism in ‘experts’ is off the charts.
When it comes to climate change, the environmental movement has gotten itself on the wrong side of doubt. It has become the voice of the establishment, of the tenured, of the technocrats. It proposes big economic and social interventions and denies that unintended consequences and new information could vitiate the power of its recommendations. It knows what is good for us, and its knowledge is backed up by the awesome power and majesty of the peer-review process. The political, cultural, business and scientific establishments stand firmly behind global warming today — just as they once stood firmly behind Robert Moses, urban renewal, and big dams.
They tell us it’s a sin to question the consensus, the sign of bad moral character to doubt.
Bambi, look in the mirror. You will see Godzilla looking back.