03/28/2013 11:59 am ET Updated May 28, 2013

Is Global Warming Hot Air?

On the left they say carbonation will kill all of us. Some say it's carbon dioxide, others -- methane, yet others both, but all insist the C must be made cold. On the right they use another c-word: cyclical -- that climate change is just how nature waxes and wanes. Or they trash it as the left's baloney. If it was as dangerous as claimed, should we not have all melted by now?

The back-and-forth goes on. Storms swirl, hurricanes rage, landscapes erode, ice caps contract. The left labels us, Homo sapiens, as destroyers of the universe. It would also add earthquakes and tsunamis to its damaging list, but that would be stretching things. But liberals have been pretty good at that. The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was viewed by many as erroneous and needlessly alarmist, forcing its parent body, the United Nations, to call for a review. The right was over the top, the left downcast.

Liberals are said to have two strikes against them: a tendency toward apoplexy when faced with contradiction, and suffering from the not-in-my-backyard syndrome. Energy must be conserved, but climate conferences are held in exotic places like Cancun and Copenhagen, where planeloads descend to discuss carbon mitigation over champagne and caviar. Emissions from such get-togethers must surely add up.

Conservatives, on the defensive when confronted with overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, rebounded, somewhat, because of ethical mistakes committed by the climate lobby. The left tried to defend the indefensible, but belatedly realized that some of the errors had to be addressed. The right seized on their weakness, and would not let go.

Obama's strong support of climate alleviation made conservatives see red. The country was struggling with bread-and-butter issues, but here was a president preoccupied with saving polar bears. But having been pulverized in 2008, the right had difficulty mobilizing itself. It settled for crumbs, asserting either that climate change was nature's way, or alleging that scientists climb on the climate bandwagon for research grants.

While the aims of the administration could be considered noble, its means were clumsy or ignoble or both. Instead of coming up with the right green policies, it decided to play venture capitalist. Billions were disbursed to people promoting pies in the sky. When these pies splattered to the ground, causing Solyndra-like tremors, they embarrassed the president as many beneficiaries were Obama backers. Clean energy in the U.S. had become a political hot potato.

Conservatives began investigating green loans made by the administration. They killed all climate legislation in Congress, including sensible pieces. Forget about their acceptance of climate change as a natural phenomenon. Now it was fake, a Frankenstein that would devour the country.

The game had changed, conservatives going on the attack, liberals playing defense. The administration had expected that millions of green jobs would bloom. Nothing of the sort happened. Instead, a self-reliant, conventional form of energy, shale gas (a type of natural gas) created the most jobs perhaps of any sector in a bleak time. Even the president was forced to endorse shale gas.

His green base felt abandoned, miserable. They tagged fracking as a horrid f-word. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed that shale gas emitted half the carbon dioxide as coal. For liberals suddenly it wasn't just about the carbon dioxide, it was shale's methane. Studies came out asserting that overall carbon emissions from shale gas could be as high as, if not more than, those from coal and gasoline.

In spite of the liberal FUD, conservatives were cock-a-hoop. They had pushed renewable energy off the agenda. Shale gas and oil companies were sprouting every day. Big Oil was gobbling them up, increasing its footprint, while washing itself green, even if faintly. It also could lay claim to creating many jobs, a provider of succor to a nation in time of need.

Sandy hit, and for a brief moment, the right and the left in the affected area coalesced around how abnormally frequent intense storms had become. But all it took was for the storm to abate, and the show of unity fell apart. In any case, those unaffected by the storm shed crocodile tears and kept squabbling.

Climate change polarizes America almost as much as health reform or gun control. Conservatives refuse to accept that human activities are hurting the planet; liberals will not rest until purist solutions are administered to heal it. Some liberals admit that being too extreme might have hurt their cause. But any arm they extend to conservatives is rebuffed. Bashed twice, the right must recover lost electoral ground.

The endless tug of war confuses the common man, who has worries more immediate than climate change. He would like to know, once and for all, if global warming is deadly. To wit, are we are done for, or are some people just blowing hot air?