Breathing Room, Maybe; Victory, No.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

It has become apparent, as "Manhattan Contrarian" Francis Menton lays out, that the global warming gravy train for government loot may soon be derailed. Among other things, Menton notes:

And finally, there is the question of funding. Under Obama, attaching the words "global warming" or "climate change" to any proposal has been the sure-fire way to get the proposal whatever federal funding it might want. The Department of Energy has been the big factor here. Of its annual budget of about $28 billion, roughly half goes to running the facilities that provide nuclear material for the Defense Department, and the other half, broadly speaking, goes to the global warming cause: crony capitalist [sic] handouts for wind and solar energy providers, and billions per year for research at some seventeen (seventeen!) different energy research laboratories. During the eight Obama years, the energy sector of the U.S. economy has been substantially transformed by a technological revolution that has dramatically lowered the cost of energy and hugely benefited the American consumer. I'm referring, of course, to the fracking revolution. How much of the tens of billions of U.S. energy subsidies and research funding in that time went toward this revolution that actually produced cheaper energy that works? Answer: Not one single dollar! All of the money was completely wasted on things that are uneconomic and will disappear as soon as the government cuts off the funding spigot. All of this funding can and should be zeroed out in the next budget. Believe me, nobody will notice other than the parasites who have been wasting the money.
This may be optimistic, but let's run with it, particularly the bit about scientific funding. It is worth noting, in the reverse order of how I encountered it, how having a single, large source of funding for science that is anything but "disinterested" results in a self-reinforcing orthodoxy that chokes off work outside that orthodoxy.

In a piece at RealClear Investigations, James Varney quotes a dissident climate scientist, regarding the winds of change some of Trump's nominees could bring to global-warming related government funds and rules:
While it could take months for such expanded fields of research to emerge, a wider look at the possibilities excites some scientists. [Princeton Professor Emeritus William] Happer, for one, feels emboldened in ways he rarely has throughout his career because, for many years, he knew his iconoclastic climate conclusions would hurt his professional prospects.

When asked if he would voice dissent on climate change if he were a younger, less established physicist, he said: "Oh, no, definitely not. I held my tongue for a long time because friends told me I would not be elected to the National Academy of Sciences if I didn't toe the alarmists' company line." [bold added]
The effectively single-payer government system of financing science, creates a weakness in the peer review system: The experts who review a paper are the ones whose research has made them able to fund their laboratories through grants. When the source of those grants has an agenda, it should be obvious what problem that brings, but let's hear it from the trenches, anyway:
"In reality, it's the government, not the scientists, that asks the questions," said David Wojick, a longtime government consultant who has closely tracked climate research spending since 1992. If a federal agency wants models that focus on potential sea-level rise, for example, it can order them up. But it can also shift the focus to how warming might boost crop yields or improve drought resistance. [bold added]
There is nothing wrong with a patron of science being interested in discovering the answer to a question. Indeed, that is how science funding ought to work. But when a "patron" is really looking for objective-sounding arguments to back up a coercive agenda, and controls basically all the funding, it's isn't just "asking the questions." Questioning the alarmist view of global warming in particular and, on principle, opposing central planning (which is a feature of every proposal based on such views, not to mention government funding of science), I welcome the news that this agenda is being thwarted.

But the problem remains, so long as the state funds practically all science, that the search for truth will still suffer. Under such a scheme, the old orthodoxies of those who lost power will merely be replaced by new ones, if the newly-empowered remain so for long, and do not renounce state funding of science.

Trump will not begin the necessary process of decoupling the state from scientific funding (or anything else), and I am even skeptical that he will do that much to curtail existing global warming cronyism. Don't cheer too much about this "train" being derailed: It's only a few cars off another that continues merrily on, and might even add a few more.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected a typo. 


Jennifer Snow said...

I've been seeing way too many people making the assumption that a few scattershot improvements here and there to one's pet causes mean that Trump is going to (somehow) fix EVERYTHING.

I look at Trump and all I see is random noise. Some things might improve. Others will undoubtedly get worse.

Gus Van Horn said...

Agreed that he's random noise. The "improvement" (which is really just breathing room) is that the leftward lurch has stopped momentarily. The price for this spell is as impossible to gauge as what Trump's mood at any given moment in the future will be.