Question: What happens when "settled science," isn't?

Answer: Panic. For decades now, self-anointed climate scientists and radical eco-activists have been insisting that the science of global warming is absolutely, unequivocally settled; that there is an overwhelming consensus among the scientific community; and that the whole thing is so far beyond contestation that you must be an ignorant, unfeeling, and/or right-wing knuckle-dragger to even question it.

The highly conspicuous failure of these enlightened scientists’ climate models, full of perilous predictions, to bear out — after fifteen years of fairly stable temperatures, or by other measures some slight warming at a wildly slackened pace — has the progressive scientist types pretty agitated. Many of them are desperately trying to save face, ranging somewhere between pretending that they never really said they had the exact answers all along and that we have to continue to wait and observe, and insisting that the situation is really much worse than it looks. A solid piece from The Economist yesterday details just how thoroughly the climate-related scientific community’s shorts are currently around their ankles:

Mr Cohn does his best to affirm that the urgent necessity of acting to retard warming has not abated, as does Brad Plumer of the Washington Post, as does this newspaper. But there’s no way around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, such as carbon taxes and emissions treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases. The reality is that the already meagre prospects of these policies, in America at least, will be devastated if temperatures do fall outside the lower bound of the projections that environmentalists have used to create a panicked sense of emergency. Whether or not dramatic climate-policy interventions remain advisable, they will become harder, if not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.

Dramatic warming may exact a terrible price in terms of human welfare, especially in poorer countries. But cutting emissions enough to put a real dent in warming may also put a real dent in economic growth. This could also exact a terrible humanitarian price, especially in poorer countries. Given the so-far unfathomed complexity of global climate and the tenuousness of our grasp on the full set of relevant physical mechanisms, I have favoured waiting a decade or two in order to test and improve the empirical reliability of our climate models, while also allowing the economies of the less-developed parts of the world to grow unhindered, improving their position to adapt to whatever heavy weather may come their way. I have been told repeatedly that “we cannot afford to wait”. More distressingly, my brand of sceptical empiricism has been often met with a bludgeoning dogmatism about the authority of scientific consensus.

In Europe the other day, President Obama proclaimed that climate change is the “global threat of our time” — which really sounds amazingly out-of-touch with all of the economies of the world struggling to prosper under the weight of so much big government. I must of course throw in my usual disclaimer that I am absolutely not saying the climate change isn’t a thing, and that there aren’t real challenges and concerns we need to address going forward. As regular readers know, I merely think that free enterprise, private property, and a robust economy that breeds innovation, competition, and efficiency are vastly more effective at solving environmental problems than any measure of central planning or top-down big government can ever hope to be — especially when the people sitting atop most of these said governments are taking their cues from liberals who call themselves “scientific,” but are somehow much more concerned with the politics of it all than they are with the actual science.