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Even Smart Republicans Make Stupid Arguments Against Climate Change

02/03/2015 11:22 am ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015
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During the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama returned to his roots with impassioned talk about some core liberal policies.

To no one's surprise, conservatives were not moved. Sean Hannity said the Obama administration "has exhibited an astounding level of tone deafness... and this State of the Union falls into that category". Glenn Beck suggested the president's speech was nothing but a cash grab -- "all he's doing is just raising money for the campaign". And Rush Limbaugh didn't even need to watch the State of the Union to determine that he hated everything the president had to say.

These three hardly represent the intellectual wing of the conservative pundit class.

Unfortunately, even some of the more respected conservative media members still managed to dumb down the conversation. While discussing the president's statements regarding climate change on Real Time this weekend, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens used two seemingly logical but errant arguments in an attempt to reframe the debate.

A recent survey of peer reviewed articles on climate change showed that only 2 out of 10855 articles believe that humans aren't causing global warming. In response to this, Stephens said "consensus should not rule science" because "we think of great scientific discovery as proceeding from people who are willing to break with consensus and that's why we honor people like Galileo".

Obviously part of the reason Stephens uses Galileo as an example of a contrarian who revolutionized science is that technology of today makes it very easy to determine that the Earth is round and that the planets rotate around the sun. As such, modern history no longer includes these sorts of great discoveries.

Another problem for Stephens is that fact when there are scientific breakthroughs that gain scientific consensus, they are not subsequently disproven. The initial theories on excess CO2 included both global cooling and global warming. What followed was years of scientific research that determined the affects of CO2 on the Earth were indeed an increase in temperature over time and a consensus that humans were responsible for at least some of this increase. The reality is, we are getting closer to a consensus on climate change, not further away, despite increased spending on research by climate deniers.

Pretending that a few holdouts with no actual evidence -- only skepticism -- are on the precipice of a scientific breakthrough simply because it suits you agenda can have dangerous results. Just ask the parents who refused to have their kids vaccinated because one "scientist" and Jenny McCarthy claimed to find a link between vaccines and autism.

Scientific consensus has no political bias. It represents the research and results of scientists, which is why even studies like the one mainly funded by the Koch bothers have concluded that climate change is real and caused by humans.

Given that the science and the history of scientific discovery so obviously disputes his thesis, Stephens decided if he couldn't shoot holes in climate change using science he would use economics instead. He referenced an economic model put together by some of the world's brightest minds, known as the Copenhagen Consensus, which ranks the "bang for the buck" of a number of issues facing the international community. The point Stephens attempts to make is that climate change ranks very low on using this measure.

While it is true that this economic analysis does show reaching the 2 centigrade target is a poor investment, it also indicates that spending on Energy Technology R&D is a fairly good use of our money. The results suggest we should refocus our efforts to combat climate change on research and development, not that we should forgo combating climate change all together.

Having said that, if Stephens supports using return on investment as a basis for political policy he should be prepared to swallow a big helping of medicine that will taste very bad going down for he and many other conservatives.

Behind free trade, the number one item on Copenhagen Consensus list is "Women's Access to Reproductive Health". When discussing what this means the reports points out that the "empowerment to control their own fertility is an important pre-condition to achieve all the other targets in this paper". The idea of women being in control of their own fertility has certainly had many conservative detractors in recent years.

Second on the list is making beneficial ownership information public. While this should eliminate some money laundering schemes that conservative may like it would also reduce privacy for individuals and entities and add some government regulations both of which have drawn the ire of Republicans over the past few years.

Third on the list is increasing migration, reducing the barriers to migration "between low and middle-income countries and high-income countries". Clearly this is something few conservatives have supported since Obama took office.

Perhaps the current solutions to fight climate change aren't very efficient and this money could be allocated better. But it is difficult to take this sort of advice seriously from people whose denial of science is second only to that of the Flat Earth Society.