Teaching students about new developments – in science, in politics and in literature – is one of the essential tasks of higher education. A great many resources have been poured into new courses and new research about global terrorism after 911, and I doubt Mr. Huber would object to those initiatives. The World Trade Center attack was a tragedy, and we have suffered a few smaller terrorist attacks since then, but we are getting the problem under control; the possibility that Islamic terrorism will destroy the power or prosperity of the United States seems remote. Climate change, according to the overwhelming majority of scientists on our own university campuses and throughout the world, is a problem of potentially greater consequence. Their prediction is that it will generate killer heat waves, inundate coastal cities throughout the world and send millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of desperate people seeking refuge on our shrunken shores. It’s not as immediate a problem as terrorism, to be sure, but if we continue to sink our heads into the sands, those sands will be overheated or waterlogged by the end of the century.
Yes, “Conservatives/Republicans” are anti-science when it comes to climate change. All the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have declared it to be a hoax. James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has written a book declaring it a hoax, and the Republican majority in the Senate has allowed him to become Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. At the UN’s Conference on Climate Change in Paris, attended by representatives of from 185 nations, one of the main topics of discussion was how to develop strategies that would circumvent the US Congress. Because it is controlled by Conservatives/Republicans, our Congress is now the single greatest impediment to finding rational responses to the impending crisis.
It would be wonderful if conservatives would accept the reality of climate change and focus their concerns on potential solutions, as Mr. Huber asserts. Most people who want us to respond to climate change are desperate to get past the fruitless debate about whether the world’s entire scientific community has decided, for no conceivable reason, to participate in a hoax that violates all the professional standards to which it has previously adhered. They want to talk about the solutions that would be most effective at combatting the problem without impairing people’s lifestyles – after all, it is concern about people’s lifestyles that motivates the concern about climate change in the first place. Mr. Huber declares that “when free market solutions were proposed to address climate change instead of government regulatory measures,” the number of conservatives who are willing to confront the issue increases dramatically. But that’s not true. The response that most people think would be most effective is a carbon tax, which is a market based response. It corrects the obvious market failure that carbon producers, both companies and individuals, are externalizing the real cost of their activities, compels them to internalize that cost, and then allows them to devise their own solutions. Conservatives, including once again the US Congress, have been so adamantly opposed to this solution that there seems no hope of implementing it. Other types of solutions may involve government, but need not be regulatory in the sense Mr. Huber means. For example, every large city in the world should have a mass transit system. Most people who live in Manhattan take mass transit to work, rather than driving; the result is that Manhattanites uses about 90 gallons of gasoline a year, as opposed to the 390 used by other Americans. Of course, building all that mass transit would cost money, and the money would have to come from taxes. But we wouldn’t need to force anyone to use it; people would do it once it’s more convenient than driving, and in the long run it would save money, and contribute to saving the planet.
Mr. Huber’s counter-example of overpopulation is an interesting one. Actually, it is a problem, even if the dramatic situations depicted in some science fiction novels didn’t come to pass. No, New York doesn’t have 40 million people; Tokyo is close, but it’s not a problem, particularly since Japan’s population is stable. But a number of developing world cities, including Karachi, Delhi, Mumbai, Mexico City, Lagos and Jakarta have more than 20 million, and they are environmental and human disasters. To be sure, we may be getting the problem under control, but that’s because nations throughout the world were able to overcome conservative resistance to abortion, family planning and equality for women. We can get climate change under control as well, but only if we recognize the problem and start working toward solutions. That’s why it’s so important for universities to teach the coming generation of decision makers about the realities of the problem.
A former book reviewer on the East Coast replies with his response to Prof Rubin's letter:
''RUBIN is spouting Newspeak. Nobody denies that climate changes. It's what is known as a non-linear dynamic, i.e., a chaotic system. And they only started using "climate change" when "global warming" started to seem a little dubious. And the solution to warming is the same as the solution for global cooling was — more work and money for bureaucrats. Moreover, as Michael Crichton said once, "When you hear the phrase 'scientific consensus', reach for your wallet." Science isn't about consensus. It's about observation, experiment, falsification, and replication. The kind of science these people are doing is what the alchemists and astrologers used to do — predicting, which, as Niels Bohr said, "is difficult, especially the future.''