All-Star Panel: Criticism of Obama's global warming agenda

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 6, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JOHN HOLDREN, WHITE HOUSE SCIENCE ADVISER: The single most important bottom line that shines through all these hundreds of pages is that climate change is not a distant threat. It is something that is happening now. It is affecting the American people now in important ways.

MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The president also knows that much of the pain of imposing such regulations would be borne by our own middle class. That's why this discussion has become so cynical, and it's part of the reasons the president's own party couldn't even pass a national energy tax when it had complete control of Washington's Congress back in 2009 and 2010. The American people weren't willing to go along with considerable domestic pain for negligible global gain back then. It's foolish to think they'd assent to a bad idea now.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: An 800-page report released by the White House today. The president talking to local and national weather forecasters to stress the urgency of dealing with climate change. And there you see the pushback from the Senate Minority Leader on the floor.

Let's bring in our panel, syndicated columnist George Will, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: What they tell you is that you should be scared about what's happening today. Of course, if it's very cold in the winter, they blame it, here in the northeast, they blame it on global warming, and the report says that global warming makes summers hotter and winters are generally shorter and warmer. Any scientific theory that explains everything explains nothing, and no matters what happens in climate is unpleasant, the word for that is weather, it's attributed to global warming. If we continue global warming up here in the northeast we're going to freeze to death.

But the most important element is what McConnell was talking about, the negligible gains. Assume they are right about global warming, assume that it is all caused by man. The United States has reduced carbon emissions since 2006 more than any other country on earth. We are right now at 1992 levels according to the International Energy Agency, and yet carbon emissions have gone up globally. Why? We don't control the emissions of the other 96 percent of humanity, especially China and India.  As we dismantle the coal plants in our country, China and India together are adding one coal fired plant every week. The net effect is to shift the U.S. coal energy generating industry from here to India and China. It will have zero effect.

If we could have a pact with other countries in which everybody would reduce their emissions, I would sign on. In the absence of it, all that we're doing is committing economic suicide in the name of do-goodism that will not do an iota of good.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, first of all, it's not clear, as Mitch McConnell suggested, that President Obama wants to put on a national energy tax. I don't think he's proposing that. But he is going to propose a new set of regulations. The EPA is going to come out with that.

BAIER: Is the first part of the statement accurate, though? Obviously, he controlled both --

LIASSON: Yes. He certainly couldn't do it back then, and he's not suggesting it now, though. But yes, he couldn't do it back then, and cap and trade went nowhere even though some Republicans were for it, including John McCain at one point.

But I think the Republicans have to decide whether they want to say this isn't a problem or it is a problem but we shouldn't do anything unless China and developing countries are also on board. Eventually, this problem has to be dealt with. I think the science is pretty overwhelming now. It is real. It's climate change. It's not just global warming. It's extreme weather all over the place. And it is costing a lot of money and making a lot of changes. And we have to decide whether we're going to mitigate it or try to just adapt to it and live with it.

BAIER: George?

BAIER: There is, however, no evidence for the increase in extreme weather. I own a home on an island in South Carolina looking south in the direction of hurricanes, and after Katrina I was really interested when they said this is a harbinger of increased hurricane activity, which since then has plummeted. Now, Mr. Holdren, who introduced this report, has his own record of very interesting failed forecasts, not to mention Al Gore, who in 2008 said by 2013, for those of you keeping score at home that's last year, the ice cap in the North Pole would be gone. It's not.

Now, there is, as Charles says, the policy question is how much wealth do we want to spend directly or in lost production in order to have no discernible measurable effect on the climate? People say well, what about this report? There is a sociology of science. Scientists are not saints in white laboratory smocks. They have got interests like everybody else. If you want a tenure track position in academia, don't question the reigning orthodoxy on climate change. If you want money from the biggest source of direct research in this country, the federal government, don't question it's orthodoxy. If you want to get along with your peers, conform to peer pressure. This is what's happening.

BAIER: So you don't buy that 97 percent of scientists who studied the issue --

WILL: Who measured it? Where did that figure come from? They pluck these things from the ether. I do not. The New Yorker magazine, which is impeccably upset about climate change, recently spoke about the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as "the last word on climate change." Now, try that phrase, "the last word on microbiology, quantum mechanics, physics, chemistry." Since when does science come to the end?  The New Yorker has discovered the end of this. Who else has?

BAIER: The climate assessment today said this, "Americans," as Charles referenced, "Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, winters are generally shorter and warmer." Now, this White House put out a statement just a week and a half ago, last week, saying about the GDP, the first quarter of 2014 was marked by unusually severe winter weather including record cold temperatures and snowstorms which explains part of the difference in the GDP growth relative to previous quarters." Jay Carney was asked about all of this. Here's what he said.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The impacts of climate change on weather are severe in both directions. The fact that the severe winter that much of the country endured had an impact on GDP it wasn't an assessment that we here alone made, but economists independent on the outside made and that nobody disagrees with.

The fact is that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change. There is an inclination upon some to doubt the science despite the overwhelming evidence and the overwhelming percentage in the 97 percent range of scientists who study this issue who agree that climate change is real and that it is the result of human activity.


BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: 99 percent of physicists convinced that space and time were fixed until Einstein working in a patent office wrote a paper in which he showed that they are not. I'm not impressed by numbers. I'm not impressed by consensus. When I was a psychiatrist I participated in consensus conferences on how to define depression and mania. These are things that people negotiate in the way you would negotiate a bill, because the science is unstable, because in the case of climate the models are changeable and because climate is so complicated.

The idea that we who have trouble forecasting what's going to happen on Saturday in the climate could pretend to be predicting what's going to happen in 30, 40 years, is absurd. And you always see that no matter what happens, whether it's a flood or it's a drought, whether it's one -- it's warming or cooling, it's always a result of what is ultimately what we're talking about here, human sin with the pollution of carbon. It's the oldest superstition around. It was in the Old Testament. It's in the rain dance of the Native Americans. If you sin, the skies will not cooperate.  This is quite superstitious, and I'm waiting for science which doesn't declare itself definitive but is otherwise convincing.

BAIER: OK, Mara, let's talk about the politics of this. Clearly, it fits into the White House push, but what about 2014, 2016?

LIASSON: I think that what would be the best politics perhaps would be to go ahead and push this. He's been doing this for years, and approve the Keystone pipeline. You know, in the past, the White House has believed that the Keystone pipeline was a side show. It doesn't affect global warming. There are a lot of Democrats, a good handful of red state incumbents would like the Keystone pipeline to be approved, and then he can focus on what he thinks is really important, which is this bigger climate change.

BAIER: There are a few things they think are side shows. George?

WILL: A moment ago we had a report here on our crumbling infrastructure, gave it a D, emergency. Who wrote it? As we said on there it was written by civil engineers, who said, by golly, we need more of what civil engineers do and are paid to do. Again, there is a sociology of science, there is a sociology in all of this, and engaging the politics of this, we have to understand the enormous interests now invested in climate change.

LIASSON: On both sides.

WILL: Sure.

LIASSON: The fossil fuel industry has a big interest and you say environmentalists have an interest.

WILL: It pales in comparison to the money flowing from the federal government.

BAIER: Next up, violence heats up again in Eastern Ukraine as the policy debate heats up on Capitol Hill.

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