Brad Plumer has the story of an all too typical sequence of events. Cato seeks to put together a list of academics who challenge the scientific consensus on climate change. A bunch of respected climate scientists point out that the papers Cato cites actually support the scientific consensus. And someone from Cato responds to the challenge by, well, not responding to it.
This is a serious problem for libertarians. Climate science has followed a path very similar to many other sciences over the past few decades. An interesting hypothesis touched off a great deal of research which led to a growing consensus on the validity of the hypothesis — that in fact, it was consistent with the available data. But scientific progress in other fields didn’t, by and large, generate some rather significant policy implications (the minimalist one of which, for climate change, is that something should be done, even if that something is simply preparing for the effects of warming). And so libertarian think tanks haven’t devoted themselves to trying to undermine the science in those fields, while libertarians have gone to war against the field of climate science. They made this choice not because they dislike the process of scientific inquiry, but because they dislike the policy implications of a specific scientific conclusion.
That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science. Tellingly, they chose the latter. One might think that’s a rather drastic decision, given the role scientific endeavors have played in delivering the material prosperity so dear to the hearts of the libertarian world, and one would be right.
A belief system that cannot grapple with the fundamental reality of a situation is, quite simply, not a belief system worth having. If I were a part of a movement that demanded I not get out of the way of oncoming cars, and that challenged the conclusion of the fields of physics and biology that an impact between the car and my person would leave my person badly damaged, I would begin to suspect that this movement was maybe full of crazy people with very bad ideas. I suspect most people, and perhaps nearly all people would arrive at this conclusion. And if that movement couldn’t come up with a better way to approach the problem of the oncoming car, well, it would eventually find itself abandoned, destroyed by the insistent encroachment of reality.