Saturday, August 18, 2007

Global Warming as Moral Crusade

In a recent post, I criticized Newsweek's sensational global warming article, "The Truth About Denial." Here's what I said:

I'm skeptical... of all the sky-is-falling extremism over global warming - although I've never thought of myself as a "denier of climate change." There are real issues of immense importance at debate. Yet, my own background in international relations suggests that the consensus on global warming is not as strong as environmental activists claim.
Given my thoughts on this, I was pleased to see Robert Samuelson's critical rebuttal in Newsweek of his own magazine's moralistic journalism. Here's a snippet:

If you missed NEWSWEEK's story, here's the gist. A "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change." This "denial machine" has obstructed action against global warming and is still "running at full throttle." The story's thrust: discredit the "denial machine," and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading.
Read the whole thing. Samuelson's skeptical that the world's industrialized societies - even with the present state of technology - will find the political will to reduce emissions enough to relieve warming effects:

One way or another, our assaults against global warming are likely to be symbolic, ineffective or both.
But here's where he really gets to the nub of what's wrong with the moral crusade on the environment:

Against these real-world pressures, NEWSWEEK's "denial machine" is a peripheral and highly contrived story. NEWSWEEK implied, for example, that ExxonMobil used a think tank to pay academics to criticize global-warming science. Actually, this accusation was long ago discredited, and NEWSWEEK shouldn't have lent it respectability. (The company says it knew nothing of the global-warming grant, which involved issues of climate modeling. And its 2006 contribution to the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, was small: $240,000 out of a $28 million budget.)

The alleged cabal's influence does not seem impressive. The mainstream media have generally been unsympathetic; they've treated global warming ominously. The first NEWSWEEK cover story in 1988 warned THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT. DANGER: MORE HOT SUMMERS AHEAD. A Time cover in 2006 was more alarmist: BE WORRIED, BE VERY WORRIED. Nor does public opinion seem much swayed. Although polls can be found to illustrate almost anything, the longest-running survey questions show a remarkable consistency. In 1989, Gallup found 63 percent of Americans worried "a great deal" or a "fair amount" about global warming; in 2007, 65 percent did.

What to do about global warming is a quandary. Certainly, more research and development. Advances in underground storage of carbon dioxide, battery technology (for plug-in hybrid cars), biomass or nuclear power could alter energy economics. To cut oil imports, I support a higher gasoline tax—$1 to $2 a gallon, introduced gradually—and higher fuel-economy standards for vehicles. These steps would also temper greenhouse-gas emissions. Drilling for more domestic natural gas (a low-emission fuel) would make sense. One test of greenhouse proposals: are they worth doing on other grounds?

But the overriding reality seems almost un-American: we simply don't have a solution for this problem. As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale—as NEWSWEEK did—in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge. Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.
I'm still learning about all of this, but I think Samuelson hits the nail on the head: Calling doubters a denial cult forms part of a broader campaign to shut down dissent.

In the comments to my earlier post, Dan Nexon, who blogs over at
Duck of Minerva, noted that the science of warming is complicated, and left a link to the Real Climate page, and a post on the "global cooling myth."

But check this entry over at American Thinker as well: "
Twisting Science to Fit the Global Warming Template."

How's that for fair and balanced!

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