Google’s Climate Name-Calling
Terrified at being called a ‘denier,’ it flings the accusation at others.


Sept. 30, 2014 7:21 p.m. ET
Eric Schmidt always seemed a decent guy but we never had reason to ask if he was especially brave.

Then came his long interview on a Washington radio show late last month, the closing minutes of which featured a caller’s inquiry whether Google was still “supporting ALEC, which is that fund lobbyist in D.C. that are funding climate change deniers.”

Google’s chairman confessed his company had joined the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that promotes business-friendly policies at the state level, for “something unrelated” but had recently quit. Ranted Mr. Schmidt: “Everyone understands climate change is occurring. And the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people. They’re just literally lying.”

ALEC doesn’t take a position on climate change. The worst that anyone can find on its website is a claim that climate change would be a mixed bag for the U.S.—which is certainly true. Ask Canada or Russia, which hope to benefit from arctic development. Ask former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, an expert on cost-benefit analysis, who has written that the U.S. has relatively little to fear from climate change compared to other nations.

ALEC does oppose renewable-energy subsidies, but that doesn’t require having an opinion on climate change since, despite the considerable expense of taxpayer money, handouts to solar or wind have no discernible effect on climate change. And, yes, Google has been helping itself to these subsidies as a two-fer, to get taxpayers to pay for its considerable energy consumption and to clothe itself in appealing green.

But something else may explain Mr. Schmidt’s tirade. Google itself has been a target of castigation, as in a San Francisco Chronicle headline that blared: “Despite recent split from conservative group, Google’s connections to climate change denial runs deep.”

Mr. Schmidt has been personally pilloried by activists and bloggers for donating to “deniers,” i.e. Republicans, in Congress.

In the Salem witch trials, the best defense against being called a witch was to call someone else a witch. Hey, it was the coward’s way out but it was still a way out. Then again, when certain people in society are vested with wealth and authority and all the immunities these gifts bring, perhaps they could take the risk of setting a better example.

Even if you suppose the range of future temperature predicted by climate models is reliable, that range still is the difference between efforts to affect climate change being a plausible use of money and a terrible waste of it—which means a debate must be had.

Even those who spent the early 2000s defending Michael Mann’s hockey stick must notice how thoroughly the bottom has fallen out of such efforts directly to link human greenhouse-gas emissions and global average temperature. And no wonder given the absence of significant warming over the past 15 years, even as temperature measurement has become more rigorous and consistent, and even as China’s mountainous emissions have hit the global climate system. The action today is all toward complex climate models that, whatever their merits, are implicitly based on the recognition that any human effect doesn’t just jump out at us amid a welter of poorly understood natural variation.

All this still counts as scientific progress, even if some might wonder about an investment of billions that only produces deep uncertainty. Yet along the way has come the perverse growth of the term “denier” not for those (if any exist) who deny any possible human impact on climate, but for anyone who does not join in demanding the issue be treated with maximal urgency above every other consideration.

Who has not witnessed the crucifixion of an apostate by dinner companions claiming to be “passionate” about global warming. Not so passionate, of course, that they could say, within a factor of 100, what the carbon dioxide constituent of the atmosphere is. Not so passionate that they could name a climate “scientist” except Al Gore.

How is it possible to be passionate about a subject and not passionate to know something about it? This question is better left unmentioned.

A reasonable climate researcher like Georgia Tech’s Judith Curry will be vilified for suggesting that the “institutions of science are so mired in advocacy on the topic of dangerous anthropogenic climate change that the checks and balances in science, particularly with regard to minority perspectives, are broken.”

Yet a deranged and unhappy nothing-burger like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. accrues only admirers for saying that climate skeptics should be jailed.

Much about the human animal remains inspiring and worth preserving, but humanity’s redeeming qualities are easy to forget while watching the climate debate. Except for certain questions about the Prophet in Muslim lands, no subject more frequently brings out the worst in people, as it has Google’s Mr. Schmidt.