Tuesday, June 6, 2017

When You Have Nothing to Say

Like every MIT alumnus with an email address, I received an email from Rafael Reif, the president of the Institute, this past week.  It came right on the heels of President Trump's withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Accord, the abysmal global-warming agreement (not a congressionally-approved treaty, mind you) rammed down our throats by John Kerry and Barack Obama.

It was not a treaty, because the Constitution mandates how treaties are done, i.e.,  they have to be approved by Congress so a president doesn't unilaterally do foreign policy deals without approval.

But I digress.

The treaty was (and is) a piece of elk dung, at least from the perspective of the USA.  If all the countries that signed it abided by it, nothing measurable would happen in a hundred years, and nothing would "improve" because of it -- except for the wallets of third-world countries who would split up $100 billion from the USA taxpayer -- with no enforcement provision for its proper use, even if it were for a good idea.

Now, among the commentary blasting the president for dumping the treaty, most all of it, including Kerry's hyperbolic "more asthma in children" (does he know what causes asthma?), has been to accuse President Trump of opposing fighting global warming.  That is, of course, a crock.  Opposing a lousy accord that wouldn't achieve an ideal is not the same as opposing the ideal, except in politics-land.

Dr. L. Rafael Reif knows all that.  And as an actual scientist, especially one leading one of the most prestigious universities in the world, he can't say stupid or overly political things.  But he can certainly needle the politics a bit.

For example -- let's look at the message itself, excerpted:

"To solve this global problem, we must transform the global energy status quo. The Paris agreement is an important beginning: a mechanism that drives progress on emissions right away and speeds up progress over time ... With this running start, humanity has time to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. But the longer we hesitate, the lower the odds of success; the carbon dioxide our cars and power plants emit today will linger in the atmosphere for a thousand years."

Sure -- but the agreement doesn't do any of that.  If it stayed as it is, we in the USA would be out $100 billion, and whatever temperature we would reach by 2100 will get reached regardless of anything the accord would accomplish.  It is a true nothingburger.  

And I'll go even further.  The USA has led the world in cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, pollutants and the like.  We did so because our citizens' elected representatives determined that it was a good idea. We're doing quite well at it.  I have no interest in having the rest of the world decide what our actions should be and particularly where we spend our own taxpayers' money -- certainly not shipping $100 billion to African dictators.

So I'll give Dr. Reif this -- although he never touched on how global warming could be a good thing, not once, nothing about how more arable land in Canada and Russia might help feed us, he it least said a few things that were not hyperbole.

But then there was this:

"[1] Climate change arguably represents the greatest threat of this generation. Fortunately, it also represents a tremendous opportunity. Already, hundreds of thousands of Americans work in the clean energy sector, and growth in clean energy jobs is rising fast: In 2016 alone, solar industry employment grew by 25 percent, while wind jobs grew 32 percent. [2] As a nation, if we choose to invest in the relevant research, we have the opportunity to continue to lead, developing new energy technologies that will generate high-value exports and high-quality American jobs – the jobs of the future. That is in no way to minimize the disruption that the changing energy economy will cause to some workers and regions. [3] But the solution to that problem is not to deny scientific facts and give away economic opportunity. If we don’t seize this chance, other nations certainly will. [4] By withdrawing from the Paris accord, the US is surrendering leadership in a priceless global market."

And here it got goopy.  BTW, the bracketed numbers were put in by me to point out four things in that paragraph.

First, Dr. Reif, on [1], "climate change" is absolutely not the greatest threat of this generation.  There is one threat that overrides global temperature and everything else -- radical Islamist terrorism.  If we do not crush it now and wipe it off the face of the earth, our grandchildren, if we have them, will be so oppressed under global sharia law that they won't care if it's 150 degrees outside -- which it won't be, by the way.  But if it were, you wouldn't have air conditioning; they didn't have that in the lovely 7th Century the Islamists want to send us back to.

Number [2] is that "invest in the relevant research" remark.  And he's got a point of course, except that "invest in relevant research" gave us Solyndra and some colossal wastes of taxpayer money.  I simply do not trust the Federal government to pick winners and losers in all this.  And I pay too much in taxes to let that ever happen again.  If Dr. Reif wants to use some of MIT's huge endowment to fund such research and then profit in it -- if there is profit to be made -- I'm for it.

Then [3] was the obligatory bashing of those who "deny scientific facts."  Come on, sir, you are better than that.  Science is an organized effort to toss out hypotheses and prove or disprove them until they become theories -- or not.  It does not involve ad hominem attacks against those who don't see things according to your view.  Convince them otherwise, but respect disagreement.  It is a part of science.

Finally, I could not disagree more with [4].  The USA has reassumed leadership in that "priceless global market" precisely by rejecting the imposition of politics into the scientific community.  Rather than being stepped all over as was the case in the sad Obama days, we will shove aside attempts to extort money out of the USA taxpayer.  We will act unilaterally if need be to clean our air and water based on what is best for us.

We will look at a global agreement if it obliges the polluters to clean up their act first, as we have been doing here.  When India and China are paying through the nose to fix their problems as the USA has already been doing, then we can talk.  When the constraints on them are enforceable, then we can talk.  When the African dictators take proactive and measurable steps to fix their polluting and implement proactive steps, and show not only a willingness to do so but some actions on their own dime, then we can talk.

You know what?  The USA has been leading the way, cleaning our own house.  We didn't need a global agreement to do so, we did it ourselves.

Get the idea, sir?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

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