The Climate Trap

People are suckers for a horror story.

The Wall Street Journal 5 June 2018 included a short article on climate change, and how interest in that subject has faded. This fluctuating attitude toward climate change is a classic illustration of the 'Issue Attention Cycle' written by political scientist Anthony Downs in 1972, which characterizes the rise and fall of hysteria about things of this sort.

In this author's college days, we referred derisively to the people who seemed to thrive on the latest political hot-button as 'Cause Freaks'. The travails of Richard Nixon, the gas rationing, the Arab oil embargo, the Patty Hearst/Symbionese Liberation Army fiasco, the invention of the personal computer, Jimmy Carter somehow becoming president, and on and on - there was always a Cause, and always a different Cause tomorrow. This all left us with a general feeling of impending malaise and an air of incipient doom that lasted until the Reagan administration brought about "Morning in America."

Climate change followed the exact same trajectory as those other made-up or grossly exaggerated tragedies. People said in deadly earnest that the earth would be a frozen snowball before the turn of the 21st-century.  And then, abruptly, we were all going to fry instead as the CO2 - or was it water vapor? No, no, it was the lack of argon in the atmosphere - that spelled doom for all inhabitants of our incredibly fragile planet.

It isn't that we don't care.  It isn't that climate won't change - it most certainly will, that's what climates do.  It is that the usual suspects screaming the usual incitements to panic were doing their usual damage to our national psyche by raising alarm for an issue over which we had no control, as they've been doing for decades over any issues ready to hand no matter how trivial or far-fetched.

And at the same time, the usual malefactors were beating a path to the bank with the money they had grabbed from all those whose care went as deep as their pocketbooks. That is what this hysteria has become, as all the previous ones also did: a gigantic money grab.

It's a principle tried-and-true. Some obscure Greek philosopher probably wrote about it, and if we were to unearth his writings, they would probably say "Watch out for that man among you who yells loudest about [insert clich├ęd concern] for he is full of garbanzo bean curd.  And grab your wallet."

Al Gore is a high priest of that temple; Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Roosevelt are historic members still held in high esteem. The reputations that these people had, themselves, overshadow the more pedestrian efforts of many of their acolytes. John Muir was instrumental in getting the land which was designated Yosemite National Park, but Barack Obama abused the powers of his office to designate millions of acres of Utah and Nevada as national forests, a ploy to keep petroleum exploration off the land.

From Wikipedia:

Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth's surface and atmosphere culminating in a period of extensive glaciation...

As this writer remembers it, during the 1970s there was vast concern about the trend since the 1940s of temperatures on earth dropping precipitously. The big concern was that we all would freeze to death and starve along the way as global vegetation died out from the eternal winners forecast. Add to that the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and 1978 and there was mounting hysteria across the US.

These articles appeared in publications of the day:

"U.S. Scientist Sees New Ice Age Coming"  Washington Post, July 9, 1971

"Another Ice Age?"  Time magazine,  June 24, 1974

"Scientists Ask Why World Climate Is Changing:  Major Cooling May Be Ahead."  New York Times, May 21, 1975

"Climate experts believe the next ice age is on its way."

 - Leonard Nimoy, 1978

Well, Mr. Spock said so: we can take that to the bank and get our future in Federation Credits.

And there was a movie on a totally unrelated subject with a similar result.  As the New York Times gushed:

"The Day After," ABC's much-discussed vision of nuclear Armageddon, is no longer only a television film, of course; it has become an event, a rally and a controversy, much of it orchestrated.

. Much of it orchestrated! In the heart of the furor, at the time of the absolute maximum level of hype, the New York Times of all entities saw through all of the blather and called into question the origins of the national fascination with a 'nuclear winter.'

The Grey Lady was a different paper then. The ownership was the Sulzberger family, represented by "Punch" Sulzberger who was a solid news man and ran a tight ship.

Things have changed. Arthur Sulzberger has now taken the helm, and the Times is now a mere opinion rag whose editorial policy runs to the far left, automatically giving short shrift to anything Republican or conservative.

So, the Times was a harbinger of all the hoopla about climate change, and along with its editorial change came a sea-change in the national mood. In approximately eight years all of the dread surrounding global cooling dissipated. The mind boggles to consider how easily the misconceptions that had been held since World War II were replaced by new misconceptions of a totally opposite nature.  Perhaps there was simply more opportunity for bilking the public when they think of a steamy sweaty future then of one where a heavier coat is all you need?

We try to illustrate our articles if possible, but in searching for meaningful photographs of global warming, we obtained precisely 0. The content that we did find from CBS News was laughably inappropriate to a world supposedly getting warmer, where the seas would rise and plant life would grow lush. It seems that in the midst of this humid tropical nightmare, there would be pathetic looking children starving, trees bursting into flames - all that rain must make them prone to fire, and the receding shorelines of lakes and the oceans leaving expensive houses high and dry.  Weren't the oceans supposed to rise? It makes us long for the days of Mr. "Fake but Accurate" Dan Rather.

With a new fear came a new set of demons: Evil Oil, Nuclear Armageddon, Choking Coal. Burning fuels was at the root of the problem. Fuel= Heat. Simple equation, simple solution - get rid of the fuel, get rid of the heat.

The left has been on the warpath about fossil fuels for decades. Coal is nasty and smelly, heating oil is too. Nuclear plants produce nuclear waste which can only be stored away in that mountain that Harry Reid won't let us use in Nevada. Nuclear plants do something to the environment, don't they? Or they're just dangerous. Look at 3 Mile Island!

Yes, let's look at 3 Mile Island. From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's report entitled "Backgrounder on the 3 Mile Island Accident":

The Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, although its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public. Its aftermath brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations. It also caused the NRC to tighten and heighten its regulatory oversight. All of these changes significantly enhanced U.S. reactor safety. [emphasis added]

In other words, nothing happened. There was an accident, and in theory it could have been serious, but safeguards put into place at the Three Mile Island Plant worked in spite of all the worst efforts of the incompetent management of the plant. The result was simply the deactivation of the plant and the removal of its nuclear fuel.

The NRC report took over a decade to produce. It was a fiasco of major proportion, leading to hysterical fright of nuclear power that is still in existence today.

Japan, where there really have been nuclear disasters - Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and more recently, Fukushima - routinely handles the potential problems of nuclear plants with detached aplomb. They have learned to live with it and not be obsessed.

The left has a penchant for seizing upon some characteristic of an offending but otherwise beneficent technology and making that into the greatest evil since Beelzebub rose from hell. The mischaracterization of Three Mile Island as a study in everything that is wrong with nuclear power has been successfully marketed and maintained as the definitive study of nuclear evils.

In the world of reality, where we need energy sources aplenty, there have been, recently, people wondering out loud the verboten topic, "What's wrong with nuclear power?" What, exactly, is wrong with nuclear power? Japan, France and many other European countries produce their share, but the largest nuclear producer is the US.

We only hear about nuclear energy when there's a problem, and there usually are not problems. Nuclear plants do not fit into the narrative of the left that makes fossil fueled energy the demon. So, they make up other things about it and use an 'almost accident' nearly 40 years ago to spark opposition to a technology that others around the world are using successfully.


Is the globe warming? Maybe. Is it dangerous to our future? Maybe. Is it warming because we burn fossil fuels? Maybe. Will switching to solar energy completely solve our problem? No. How about wind energy? No. How about solar and wind? No.

The amount of solar, wind, and hydroelectric (all-renewables) energy in use right now in the United States is about 18% as of early in 2018, this according to Forbes magazine. That 18% number is growing, quickly, but it has a long way to go before it supplants our traditional sources. And the percentage of energy available from those two sources on a cloudy, still day is7% - the hydroelectric component - and always will be unless more dams are built.  Because of this, the productivity numbers used for aged solar and wind facilities are at best optimistic and at worst utter lies.

As we contend with Global Wa - oops - Climate Change, we must remain cognizant of the fact: that if the oceans rise to a point where only the tip of Liberty's torch remains dry as Al Gore tried to warn us, we will experience the horrors of vast fertile plains populated with the proverbial fruit in quantities that would make a Florida grove owner blanche with envy.  Of course the Democrats would figure out a new way to tax our emerging excesses.

This, however, is a future that we do not control, filtered by people whose imaginations are uncontrollable. Doomsayers will see a time of gloom, and the rest of us will go about our daily lives, coping as we must with the change as it comes. We do have time: after all, Al Gore's sea rise would take centuries or at least a century if they ever come to pass. Lady Liberty can be moved to safe ground if that is necessary, and the swelling oceans will render great increases in property values along certain coasts.

The Left decided with the help of the mainstream media that, since Global Warming had become a joke, its name had to be changed. After all, the way something is retained in the mind is by its name and, if a name becomes embarrassing, use the Soviet method and change it!

So they did. There was no reason to draw attention to the fact that weather is always changing; every TV and radio station tells us that hourly.  But it is still all about the money - even the Communists are in it for the money.

It doesn't matter what you call it.  Global Cooling, Nuclear Winter, Global Warming - all these buzzwords are merely the strident mantras of the left that call to mind all those things that they need us to give up - namely, the energy that drives modern society and provides the maximum individual freedom to the ordinary person ever seen in the history of the world.

Instead, the warmist left is running into the old theme that dates back to the days of Aesop's story, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." It isn't that people don't care, just that they've heard enough and are sick of it.

Chances are that, like Three Mile Island, it's all Shakespearean: Much Ado About Nothing.  Humanity can handle whatever changes come, as we've handled the Ice Age, the Black Plague, and Britney Spears: suffering for a time, but bigger, better, and stronger afterwards.  If we don't lose our nerve.

Thomas Anderson is a multi-state registered architect and an ex-Air Force electronic technician, who is a keen observer of the human condition.  Read other articles by Thomas Anderson or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments

I still remember Jimmy Carter on TV with his sweater, telling us to lower our thermostats. He was a jacka$$ then, and he still is.

June 21, 2018 11:17 AM

I remember that when President Reagan put the Soviet Union out of business, Mr. Gorbachev had to find a job. Since there isn't much call for failed Commie thugs, he did an extensive search. Finally he landed at some sort of European/Environment/Global Warming organization. He then became an advocate of regulations of everyday life in the name of saving the environment. Ironic given that he and his fellow incompetents gave the world a real nuke disaster....Chernobyl.
The message seems pretty clear...the global warming/climate change gambit is a way for leftists to control our lives. Once then have control, they would make us dependent and beholden to their " rules" or you get a first hand look at our penal system. That's why you'd hire an out-of-work Communist leader. Those folks knew how to coerce, control, and, if necessary, confine.

June 21, 2018 12:37 PM

The Chicken Little types have cried about many invented "crises" and will continue to do so right up until the real crisis finally does come along.

June 21, 2018 2:19 PM

One good thing about warming hysteria - it may bring back nuclear power.

Against all that, though, two things must be remembered. One is that well-regulated nuclear power is safe. With the terrible Soviet-era exception of Chernobyl, nuclear disasters come without large death tolls. It was the tsunami, not radiation, that claimed nearly all those lives in Fukushima. The other is that the climate is in crisis, and nuclear plants can supply some of the vast amounts of emissions-free electricity the world needs if it is to cope. Solar and wind power are now much cheaper, but they are intermittent. Providing a reliable grid is a lot easier if some of its generating capacity can be assumed to be available all the time. Nuclear provides such capacity with no ongoing emissions, and it is doing so safely and at scale around the world.

March 4, 2021 11:31 PM

Why is climate change such a controversial thing? There is nothing new about climate's changing. Climates have been changing since the world began.

But the strangely reasoned concept we hear from the hysterical left is that climate change is something to fear. And worse, it's entirely our fault because we use internal combustion engines to power our vehicles. Yet, the eruption of Mt Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883 in a series of massive explosions were among the most violent volcanic events in recorded history is never mentioned. Yet it produced more carbon in the atmosphere in a few days than all the internal combustion engines in all the world for all time. Indeed, it affected the world's climate in that the air temperatures dropped by as much as 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit but we never hear about this. Why is that?

Apart from this, which only affected the earth's atmosphere for a few years, can any of these climate mavens actually show us examples of climate change? No, of course they can't. The fact is that climate change comes about in such a slow and gradual manner, that it's not noticeable to anyone except a climatologist being one who studies such things. Even then the change has to be measured over great lengths of time.

The world would be better served by studies into preventing human conflict, wars, and threats that effect us everyday.

March 6, 2021 12:17 AM
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