This is no time for John McCain to be John McCain. The Republican nominee-to-be, who flirted with the idea of joining John Kerry on the Democratic ticket four years ago, now wants to be Al Gore.
Campaigning in Oregon, he told an audience in Portland which rivals San Francisco as the most self-consciously politically correct city in America that he's a true believer in Al's "cap-and-trade" solution to global warming. (Thousands cheered when Barack Obama suggested that if they don't listen to him they might not get enough to eat.) The global-warming fanatics no longer call it global warming. Now it's "climate change," which will enable the doomcriers to sing their song uninterrupted the next time the globe leaves the warming cycle to enter the cooling cycle. Prince Charles, always on the scout for something clever to say, has been pestering world leaders to listen to his global-climate jeremiads, but so far only four minor government functionaries from Brazil have granted him an audience. Man is the vainest animal, after all, eager to embrace the conceit that he can make the sun stand still.
Congress, John McCain says, should require companies to reduce their contributions of greenhouse gasses to the earthly atmosphere, and enable them to sell pollution rights to other companies with emission troubles and a greater need to pollute. The shrewdest polluters will quickly figure out how to make a mint with their industrial flatulence.
John McCain is our most fearless pol, having earned his reputation for valor and courage the hard way, but the weather frightens him. He warned Oregonians of what's coming if we don't heed Al, George W., the prince and Chicken Little: "Reduced water supplies, more forest fires than in previous decades, changes in crop production, more heat waves afflicting our cities and a greater intensity in storms." He stopped just short of invoking fear of teenage acne, erectile dysfunction and the curse of cellulite.
This drumbeat of doom follows the lead of President Bush, who is a new convert to global-warming hysteria. The president has the excuse that he's trying to leave a legacy to impress historians. Mr. McCain has to worry about getting elected before he's entitled to worry about a presidential legacy.
The irony is that Messrs. Bush and McCain are joining the hysterics just as more and more scientists are venturing out of the closet to question the notion that fumes from the interstate, smoke from backyard barbecue grill and the aroma of rude noises by cows are the source of whatever Earth-warming there may be in our little corner of the cosmos. Being challenged makes the hysterics ever more hysterical. James Hansen, the chief climatologist of NASA, warned not long ago that "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 parts per million to at most 350 parts per million."
He cites several irreversible "tipping points" great sea level rise and changes in rainfall patterns, for example that will occur if the CO2 levels aren't reduced soon to 350 parts per million. Prince Charles gives us just 18 months. After that, it might be too late. Or it might not. Or by then, we may have to do something bold about the return of global cooling, which was the fear of the month only a decade or so ago.
The myth of scientific consensus is nevertheless imploding. Lawrence Solomon, a science writer for Toronto's National Post and once a true believer in man-made warming, set out several months ago to profile scientific dissenters to the Chicken Little Manifesto. He called his series "The Deniers," expecting to hold up dissenters to ridicule.
"Somewhere along the way," he wrote, "I stopped believing that a scientific consensus exists on climate change. Certainly there is no consensus at the very top echelon of scientists, and certainly there is no consensus among astrophysicists and other solar scientists. If anything, the majority view among these subsets of the scientific community may run in the opposite direction."
Republicans always blow hot and cold when Democrats make scary faces and cry boo in the dark. They can't resist running on their familiar campaign slogan, "Vote Republican, we're not as bad as you think." They never learn that, like global warming, this slogan is not as hot as they think it is.