Climate science, even at its most uncontroversial, could never motivate the remaking of the entire global energy economy. Efforts to use climate science to threaten an apocalyptic future should we fail to embrace green proposals, and to characterize present-day natural disasters as terrifying previews of an impending day of reckoning, have only served to undermine the credibility of both climate science and progressive energy policy.
The essay also suggests that climate advocacy and research have become too intertwined, with environmentalists seeking to represent the science as “apocalyptic, imminent, and certain.” The science has been harmed as a result, they argue, stating:
Greens pushed climate scientists to become outspoken advocates of action to address global warming. Captivated by the notion that their voices and expertise were singularly necessary to save the world, some climate scientists attempted to oblige. The result is that the use, and misuse, of climate science by advocates began to wash back into the science itself.
They later conclude:
Climate science can still usefully inform us about the possible trajectories of the global climate and help us prepare for extreme weather and natural disasters, whether climate change ultimately results in their intensification or not. And understood in its proper role, as one of many reasons why we should decarbonize the global economy, climate science can even help contribute to the case for taking such action. But so long as environmentalists continue to demand that climate science drive the transformation of the global energy economy, neither the science, nor efforts to address climate change, will be well served.
Shellenberger and Nordhaus are a contrarian pair with a years-long penchant for telling the mainstream environmental movement that it’s screwing up the climate fight in one way or another. Several of their past essays have been controversial, notably 2004’s "The Death of Environmentalism."
The Yale Environment 360 website has a comments section below the articles. Look for a lively response to their new piece.