With consummate timing Hillary Clinton gave her major address on climate change to the students and faculty of Miami-Dade College this past Wednesday. Hurricane Matthew had just ended its onslaught of the southeast coast and gave her a ready-made backdrop.
Seeking to inspire youth with a great cause, she urged them to vote for her so they could be part of the grand crusade to confront the global climate challenge.
"If we don't do it, no one else will," she insisted.
Perhaps no one else will because no one else is willing to risk the enormous costs of implementing environmental plans like the Paris agreement for the less than certain reward of actually accomplishing something of global benefit. Full implementation of the international accord will cost over $1 trillion per year from 2030 to the end of the century and only reduce global average temperature by 0.3 degrees F [0.17 degrees C].
Omitted from her speech were the stubborn unanswered questions that continue to keep far more scientists than the alleged 3% skeptical that beneficial climate change policies are attainable with present uncertainties in our understanding of atmospheric and oceanic processes.
Given that similar global warming centuries ago seemed beneficial to civilization, not detrimental, do we really know the threat that recent warming poses to us now? Is human activity so much the dominating cause of the warming that trying to reduce its effect is worth the effort? Would investing in mitigation such as building sea walls and re-planning occupancy of areas vulnerable to storm surge, have better results than concentrating all our resources on reducing human additions to greenhouse gases?
Sadly, instead of dealing with these questions Clinton wasted much of her speech beating to death straw man versions of them. Using rhetoric like "climate deniers" and "unbelievers in science" may impress young students but doesn't facilitate adult discussion. Trying to engage in the science of "event attribution" by singling out Hurricane Matthew as evidence of climate change when hurricane frequency affecting our coasts has declined from previous decades also doesn't advance the climate change conversation.
While her calls for improving our infrastructure, such as modernizing our electric grid and retrofitting buildings make sense regardless of climate change, Clinton veered off into the thickets of solar and wind energy that have higher total costs and less reliability than traditional sources of energy like fossil fuel, hydroelectric, and nuclear. Both the United Kingdom and Germany have put much effort into converting from traditional energy to wind and solar. An unfortunate side effect has been the rise of "energy poverty," where families have had to choose between paying increased energy costs and buying food. Not an encouraging sign of this approach. Nor in our country has the promise of increased jobs — "green jobs" — done too well with the bankruptcy of several government-sponsored renewable energy companies.
The crowning achievement of Clinton's college speech, however, was the promise of Al Gore's second coming onto the stage of national leadership.
"I can't wait to have Al Gore advising me when I am President of the United States," said Hillary to great applause. She called him "one of the world's foremost leaders on Climate Change."
Talk about trying to inspire the idealistic young! Here's a man whose virtual worship of nature outlined in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance called for emergence of a new religious faith that would ensure the good fate of mankind to "re-sanctify the earth"!
Now we understand her speech. The slow, hard, costly work of gathering climate data; setting out, calibrating, and exposing instrumentation; intercomparing different measurement devices; reviewing measurement theory to quality-control the data; analyzing heterogeneous data distribution; and most crucially for understanding long-term climate changes, trying to match surrogate data sources such as historical records, ice cores and tree rings of pre-nineteenth century history with post-1850 thermometer data, post-1950 upper-air data, and post-1979 satellite data — all this labor fades unnoticed into the background as the religious-like emotions of being part of a great movement captures the hearts of the Millennials.
This is the second coming of Al Gore with his apparent misunderstanding of his claimed Harvard mentor Dr. Roger Revelle who, more deeply aware of the complexity of climate, was far more cautious than his then Millennial-age student who was seeking a grand purpose for his life. Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, endorsed in Clinton's speech, scared students around the world with its exaggerated claims and deceptive special effects.
Gore is about activism, not careful scientific reflection on truth. His coming again onto the national scene with Hillary could usher in the new nature religion in which nature replaces man as supreme sanctified object.