Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I have now moved beyond the initial wave of shock and anger, and am simply sitting at my desk, shaking my head ruefully, wondering if civilisation will ever claw its way out of the rabbit hole it slipped down some point in the not too distant past. I'm sure the impotent rage will return pretty soon.
In case you missed it, the US Chamber of Commerce, a group representing three million businesses, has filed a request with the EPA for a public hearing on the scientific evidence behind its decision to declare climate change a threat to human health.
The group is absolutely unequivocal about its intentions - it wants a Scopes Trial on the science of climate change, a full blown "trial of the century" complete with millions of miles of column inches, cross questioning of scientists, and a final decision on whether global warming is manmade. And there you were thinking the quality of scientific debate and rational thought might have moved on since the famous 1925 case that saw evolution pitted against the creationists.
As William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, puts it: "It would be evolution versus creationism. It would be the science of climate change on trial."
It must be tempting for environmentalists and climate scientists to respond with a resounding "bring it on"; to seize the opportunity to once and for all lay to rest all the myths surrounding climate change. After all the legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow - who if you listen carefully you can hear spinning in his grave this morning - won the Scopes Trial, defeating the creationists in open court.
But let's be clear here, this is an absolute no-win scenario for the EPA and the scientific establishment.
They have debunked the sceptics time and time again, dismissing virtually every objection using solid evidence and peer-reviewed reasoning, they have uncovered the links between many climate sceptics and industries with vested interests in the carbon intensive status quo, they have made it clear that there are enormous associated benefits to curbing carbon emissions besides tackling climate change, and it is still not enough. They would win, but there is nothing to be gained from repeating the exercise in a public hearing. After all, Darrow and co won the Scopes Trial and there are still plenty of people out there who believe in creationism.
And there is plenty to lose. Further delays to US legislative attempts to curb carbon emissions would inevitably result, climate sceptics would be given the perfect platform to spread their misinformation (they must be like pigs in muck this morning) and an awful lot would be resting on a judge's ability to comprehend complex scientific arguments.
Moreover, the Chamber of Commerce has already inadvertently revealed that it will not accept any decision that does not get it what it wants - namely the scrapping of plans to regulate carbon emissions.
Writing on the Chamber's blog, Bob Peck offered an "aw shuck's, we just want some transparency" defence of the group's position, in which he offered up one of the most fist-chewingly moronic sentences I have ever read. Insisting that the call for a hearing was entirely reasonable, he argued that "to enact effective policy we need transparency and scientific data which is beyond question, not data deemed beyond questioning".
Well while we're wishing for stuff that can never exist why stop at "scientific data which is beyond question", let's have world peace and a perpetual motion machine as well.
By definition, there is no such thing as "scientific data which is beyond question". It does not exist, that is the nature of science, you question everything, test everything and then draw conclusions based on the best available evidence. Those conclusions can then change if the evidence changes. It's messy and complicated, but it is what gives us scientific progress.
Of course, the real Machiavellian genius at the heart of this call for a public hearing is the fact that the EPA has been backed into a corner: engage in this farce and you waste time establishing what reams and reams of the best available evidence already tells us, but tell the Chamber where to go (as seems likely) and you will be accused of running scared by the climate sceptics, further fuelling their sense of a giant global conspiracy.
So what can be done?
Well it is businesses, through the US Chamber of Commerce, that have caused this problem and it should be them that try to solve it.
As we have argued here before, the nuts and bolts of climate science are hugely important, but for businesses climate change is primarily a risk rather than a scientific issue.
Imagine that back in 2007 the vast majority of the world's economists had told you that there is a huge bust coming, it will start in mid- to late-2008, several of the world's largest banks will collapse, governments will intervene to prop up their economies running up massive deficits in the process, the US and Europe will be hit worst, and a deep global recession will result. They could not predict this with absolute certainty on the grounds that time travel is impossible, but if almost all the world's finest economic minds were telling this same story it would be a dereliction of corporate duty not to try and identify the areas of greatest risk, implement policies and legislation that attempt to avoid the crash, and generally prepare for the worse.
Now the vast majority of scientists are telling us something very similar about the climate, except that theirs is not an "inexact science", they are dealing with physical laws and are far more certain that their models are accurate than economists could ever be. There is a vanishingly slim chance that they could be wrong, but it would again be a dereliction of corporate duty not to try and avert potential disaster. Any vaguely intelligent business executive, shareholder, investor, politician or legislator knows this, just as they know that the fringe benefits of carbon legislation in terms of energy security, more stable energy prices, cleaner air and new clean tech industries will be massive regardless of climate change.
As such any business that is a member of the US Chamber of Commerce and recognises climate change as a long term threat to their operations should immediately tear up their membership in protest at one of the most misguided and potentially harmful lobbying campaigns in the long undignified history of misguided and potentially harmful lobbying campaigns.
Meanwhile, it is now time for those businesses that understand the critical importance of addressing climate change risks to deliver one almighty slap down to the Chamber of Commerce. They must start giving the emerging green business groups the funding and public backing they need to fight back, and offer on-the-record condemnation of the way in which the Chamber of Commerce and its dream of a Scopes Trial on climate change is wilfully damaging America's long term economic prospects.
Just as politicians are now being asked to match their rhetoric on climate change with real action it is time for our businesses leaders to do the same. They might not like getting their hands dirty on controversial issues like this, but this time the row is too important not to get involved. So, Chrysler, Ford, GE, GM, Google, HP, IBM, JPMorgan, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, et al, where are you? We need you.
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