I always used to feel uncomfortable writing about climate change because I don't really know much about it.
But it turns out, I had it all wrong. When discussing climate change, ignorance is apparently the default position.
And that's where I discovered I had the advantage: At least I know that I know nothing. And that little piece of knowledge puts me far ahead of the non-scientists who pretend that they know more.
Yes, I mean you, Marco Rubio. And not just you, but you're the latest, so we'll start with you.
If anyone missed it, Rubio went on one of the Sunday morning shows to hint that he's running for president. He got the climate-change question, of course. It has been a hot topic since the White House released the National Climate Assessment, which judged that climate change is already here — and that we've got about 15 years to do something about it. (That was before the latest news — that a large chunk of the Antarctic ice sheet is melting and that there's nothing we can do about it.)
And here's what Rubio told Jonathan Karl on ABC's "This Week": "I don't agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what's happening in our climate.
"Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that's directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activity, I do not agree with that."
OK. He doesn't "agree" with the scientists because ... uh, well, because a handful of decades.
Not because he's studied the issue. As Jonathan Chait points out in New York magazine, when Rubio was asked two years ago how old the Earth was, he said, "I'm not a scientist, man." But now, apparently, he knows more than the scientists, man.
Does Rubio really think he knows more than the experts? Or does he think that pandering to the anti-science, pro-hoax wing of the Republican Party is the best way to get nominated? He already has crossed the streams on immigration. Is this how he wins back the tea partiers?
These are the really tough questions. If you look at the polls, the science of climate is all about belief, which is, if you think about it, the opposite of science. You "believe" in climate change according to your politics — as if science were something you put to a vote. I wonder how Einstein would have fared in an election. I know that Darwin is losing even today.
What Rubio could have said is that although he's no scientist, he's smart enough to know that when 97 percent of the people who study this stuff say there's a real problem, there might just be a real problem. That was the John McCain position, circa 2008: that even if the science is wrong, the worst we could do by attacking the problem is to help clean up the environment.
And Rubio probably saw The New York Times story about how Miami Beach is already knee-deep into climate change — and figured that as a senator from Florida, he really ought to look into this. But that's not how you run for president these days in the Republican Party. You dodge, feint and deny. Ask Cory Gardner. It's exactly how he's running for the U.S. Senate.
And it's not how you discuss climate change if you're, say, George Will. As a columnist, I know just enough to know there seems to be a major problem. I read the articles. I watch the documentaries. I wonder if Al Gore's carbon footprint is natural or man-made. But the more I read and the more I watch, the more I accept that I topped out in geology in college and majored in English.
I know Shakespeare on climate. "Honesty now endur'd all weathers." I don't know how to judge all the claims in the National Climate Assessment, except to honestly say they're hard to ignore.
That's not how Will sees it. Will is not a scientist, either. He is proud to be called a climate-change denier. But he has read up on the matter and has crunched the numbers and has developed his own theories on whether the planet is warming and whether human activity is involved. Because he doesn't have to be a scientist to know more than the scientists.
And besides, he said, climate scientists can't be trusted because there's money in climate change — as if, you know, there weren't money in climate-change denial. It takes a strange turn of thought to determine that scientists around the world are involved in a conspiracy. But if it's not a conspiracy, what else could it be?
As Will said on Fox News recently, "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."
It's not an easy matter, of course. There's no obvious solution. It's a worldwide problem, and the world, you may have noticed, doesn't agree on much. We've actually been cutting carbon emissions in the United States, and the EPA is about to propose stricter rules on coal-powered power plants. But here's where the scientists also agree: That's not nearly enough.
But these scientists are probably in league with those in the renewable-energy crowd, who are, after all, a bunch of Obama cronies. You have to believe that. Otherwise, you're stuck believing that the National Climate Assessment scientists might just have a point when they look at Colorado and see more wildfires, more droughts, more floods and so little being done about it.