As temperatures climbed into the upper 90s recently in my area of Westminster and Broomfield, and over 100 around Denver, I was very glad to have my evaporative cooler up and running. That little box with its two electric motors and water intake line can beat the outside temperature by more than 25 degrees. Outdoors during peak heat was miserable, though. And it wasn’t even Summer yet!
Of course the heat led to public discussion of human-caused global warming. Patrick Michaels, a well-known skeptic of catastrophic global warming, joined local radio host Ross Kaminsky to argue that Colorado also had serious heat waves back in the 1930s. Here’s the thing, though: Even Michaels concedes (elsewhere) that human-produced greenhouse gasses contribute to average warming.
It’s highly plausible that increased average temperatures are going to contribute to additional heat waves. But pinning down the causes of a particular heat wave is not so easy. The basic rule among Progressives is that conservatives are idiots to express any skepticism of catastrophic global warming when the weather is unusually cool, but it is obviously appropriate to invoke climate change to explain any weather that is unusually hot or otherwise troublesome.
Still, the trendlines matter a lot, so we shouldn’t get too hung up on particular weather events. It doesn’t really matter whether the recent heat wave was due (mainly or largely) to climate change; what matters is whether, heading into the future, we’ll see more heat waves (and more drought and more-difficult fire management) because of climate change.
Chase Woodruff, the environmental reporter for (the ultra-Progressive) Colorado Newsline, makes a solid case that “rising temperatures across the Southwest broadly make extreme heat waves in the Southwest more likely.” And those rising temperatures are due mainly to human release of greenhouse gasses.
Yet some Republicans continue to have a hard time accepting the reality of human-caused global warming. Woodruff has Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert down as referring to “so-called climate change” and saying, “I do not believe that it is man-made.”
I had to check this, because previously Woodruff falsely called conservative columnist Jimmy Sengenberger a “climate change denier” (see the links). So please pardon the detour. Woodruff’s colleague on the opinion side, Trish Zornio, accused Sengenberger of “flagrant disregard for the truth” because he referred to climate change as a “‘smokescreen’ regarding wildfires.”
In fact, Sengenberger has called climate change “an issue that conservatives and Republicans cannot and should not just ignore” and said, “We should protect the environment.” In the column in question, Sengenberger, quoting Michaels, explicitly acknowledges that the Earth has warmed over the past century. Sengenberger’s main point is that effective forest management is key to mitigating the damage of fires. (See also my previous column on this topic.)
Ironically, Woodruff agrees with Sengenberger’s main point. In a recent piece, Woodruff reports, “State and federal officials have also emphasized the role of effective ‘forest management’ in mitigating wildfire risk.” But Woodruff makes the (strong) case that Sengenberger’s approach of allowing more timber harvesting is simplistic, countering that “rough terrain and low-value wood products make timber harvesting in most of Colorado’s forests impractical.” So governments that control the forests probably will have to finance fire mitigation.
Anyway, I figured I needed to check with Holbert to confirm his views. Sure enough, Holbert said (via email), “I believe that the climate is changing and that such forces of nature are beyond the ability of humankind to stop.”
But even Alex Epstein, who champions fossil fuels, agrees that humans have increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and contributed to warming. (In May, Lauren Boebert and Epstein discussed fossil fuels extensively during and following a Congressional hearing.) Epstein’s point is not that humans do not affect climate change but that the effects won’t be catastrophic (he argues), that “renewable” energy is too unreliable to replace fossil fuels, and that the benefits of fossil fuels far outweigh the costs. He might be wrong about one or more of those points, but his case is nuanced and sensitive to the underlying science.
I’m sympathetic with some of Holbert’s concerns. He mentioned during a follow-up phone call, “I think people who embrace man-made climate change use that as a means to infringe on personal freedom and liberty.” No doubt that is true. But we have to separate out the natural science from the public policy. One error is to say, “Such-and-such environmental problem automatically justifies Progressive policies”; another is to say, “I don’t like the proposed policies; therefore the environmental problem cannot exist.” (If anyone’s interested, I have a pretty unique take on appropriate climate policy.)
So long as Republicans act as though science somehow is at odds with liberty, they will lose (at least in Colorado) and they will deserve to lose. Republicans want voters to trust them with power. Great! Earn that trust by talking sense and taking facts seriously.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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