Commentary

Watts Up? Who Killed Climate Change?

Fast backward to February 24, 2009, the date President of Obama’s first State of the Union Speech. The order of battle was “energy, health care, and education”.

That’s right, climate change came before health care. Specifically, he said we should “… invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education. It begins with energy… to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change… I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution.”

Seems easy. He won by a landslide, grabbed a big majority in the House, and with the expected help of some Northeast republicans in the Senate, passage looked like a sure thing. Further, reducing carbon dioxide emissions was bipartisan. Only six months before Obama’s election, Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi recorded a commercial agreeing on the need to stop global warming. Now.

What killed global warming as the President’s number one priority?”

Fast forward to January 24, 2012. Education comes before energy. Instead of limiting emissions, he leads off with a call for increased offshore drilling and gas drilling around the country, and finishes by saying “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.”

What killed global warming as the President’s number one priority? I suspect it was a combination of responsive politics and a blogger by the name of Anthony Watts.

The great crack-up started a mere 123 days after Obama’s first SOTU speech, at 7pm on Friday, June 26, 2009, when the House of Representatives gave the President what he wished for: passage of a cap-and-trade bill cutting U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide 83% in 41 years. By 2050, the average American would be allowed the same emissions produced by a citizen in 1867.

Enviro groups jubilated. Natural Resources Defense Council doubled down, pressing the Senate for even more. The great Green Age had finally arrived!

Three days later, reality hit. On June 29, Scott Rasmussen’s presidential approval index, which is a three day average, went negative, meaning more people he polled “strongly disapproved” of the President than “strongly approved”. Obama’s index has not been positive for one day since.

Rasmussen also runs a weekly “generic congressional ballot”, in which pollsters ask what party you would vote if the congressional election were held tomorrow. The same week, it switched from generic Democratic to generic Republican, and it hasn’t been positive democratic for one week since.

Senate staffers check the daily tracking index before they go to the bathroom in the morning, so it is not surprising that there was very much hot air and very little substantive movement to pass cap and trade in the upper chamber.

The political price of cap-and-trade was paid on election day, 2010. Almost every close House race went Republican, if an incumbent Democrat had voted for it. In the Senate, which never considered it, every close race went to the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the public, which never was all that big on it, grew increasingly disenchanted with global warming. When first polled by the Pew Organization in January, 2007, 38% of respondents rated it as a “top priority” for congressional action. This month that figure is 25%, dead last among the twenty possible issues presented by Pew.

The political price was paid, and the public simply tired of the incessant gloom and doom campaign by government scientists, environmental organizations, Al Gore, the Weather Channel, Center for American Progress, every Environmental Science Department in higher education, the public schools, private schools, and Hollywood science experts (of which there are plenty—just ask!).

Standing in the way of this gargantuan effort was a weather nerd in Chico, California, by the name of Anthony Watts, the proprietor of www.wattsupwiththat.com. “WUWT” is by far the most popular climate science site in the world, sporting over 100 million hits to date. Watts tirelessly documented seemingly arcane climate science findings, the climategate emails, and promoted the healthiest debate in the world on the interaction of science and politics.

Not everything on WUWT is right, that’s for sure. But the sense of free inquiry and thought Watts has fostered on his site has shamed the climate apocalypse machine into inconsequence. David whupped Goliath, one of the most amazing achievements in the history of science communication.

WUWT publicized the two batches of “Climategate” emails detailing some pretty awful behavior by people who are not my friends. WUWT covered the disastrous UN global warming confab in Copenhagen in December, 2009 (where President Obama learned America’s place in the climate policy world was a spot called nowhere), and Watts publicized the revelation of glaring science mistakes by the UN, as well as the raging debate on why surface temperatures haven’t warmed for fourteen years.

It’s probable that the reaction to a politically unwise cap and trade bill, and tireless work of an obscure weather forecaster from the northeast corner of the Sacramento Valley killed climate change.

Patrick J. Michaels is a Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute.