While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.Question: If "the consensus" truly is an established fact, why is it referred to as "a consensus"? Why not just state the facts about which there is a "consensus"? (After all, no one refers to the "consensus" that gravity is the reason an apple falls down after separation from a tree. Folks just call it "gravity.")
The Democratic takeover of Congress makes it more likely that the federal government will attempt to regulate emissions. The companies have been hiring new lobbyists who they hope can help fashion a national approach that would avert a patchwork of state plans now in the works. They are also working to change some company practices in anticipation of the regulation.
"We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"
Answer: Because even among those who believe there is a consensus on global warming, there is no agreement about the consensus itself. To some believers it is a consensus that the planet has been warming (but with internal disagreement on since when and how much); to others it is a consensus that human-caused CO2 emissions are causing measurable warming (but how much it may cause and how quickly is disputed); to others it is a consensus that the expected warming will be catastrophic for the entire planet (while others believe it will benefit some areas while harming others, or believe warming would be negative but not necessarily catastrophic); to some it is a consensus that hurricanes, droughts, snowstorms, etc. have been altered by human behavior (while others say the jury is still out); to some it is a consensus in favor of one or more of the scientific theories combined with the advocacy of some specified political action, such as ratifying the Kyoto treaty (while others see the consensus as wholly scientific, with no political components). Etc.
Bottom line: The supposed consensus itself is a mass of contradictory opinions, a fact which says clearly to anyone with open ears that the science isn't settled on global warming.
So, even though the Washington Post apparently has decided to deny the existence of doubters to the global warming theory "consensus" (making Post reporters and editors "deniers" in the truest sense), the Post still can't do what it ought to have done in the lede: Define the consensus. Cross-posted at the National Center Blog.