Most op-ed writers seem to have a fingerprint argument or rhetorical device. Whether it is David Brook’s penchant for dichotomous sociological classifications or George Will’s beloved Bartlett’s Quotations after a while the style gives away the author. A couple of weeks ago I analyzed one of John Tierney’s columns (Source) and uncovered his fingerprint argument. We can see precisely the same argument form in his most recent column, “The Good News Bears” (Source: NYT 8/6/5).
The characteristic pattern of Tierney’s opinion pieces is anecdotal evidence for substantive conclusions. In this column he suggests that global warming–if it is occurring–may in fact be a good thing:
>But I can see why Mr. Kalluk doesn’t mind the idea of a little climate change. “The ice is always going to freeze in the winter,” he said, “but it would be better for us if we had a longer summer. We’d have more time to use our boats. There would be more jobs and a longer tourist season.” The bears would be still around, and their charisma would be making more money for the locals, not just for the WWF fund-raisers down south.
Mr. Kalluk, an inuit who lives in Resolute Bay Nunavut, has visions of eco-tourism dollars in his eyes and so seems content with the prospect of climate change. More importantly, for Tierney’s argument, the climate change *may* not have any harmful effects for polar bears. Commenting on the 20% increase in polar bear populations, Tierney says.
> The chief reason for the rise is probably restrictions on hunting (for which conservationists deserve credit). In this village of fewer than 200 residents, Mr. Kalluk and the other hunters are limited each year to three dozen bears, which they allocate by drawing names out of a hat.
>But the increase might also be related to the recent warming, which could be helping bears in some places.
No evidence is offered for this last hypothesis other than that polar bears have survived in warmer climates before.
But even if we were inclined to accept this speculation from a non-expert, Tierney’s argument misses the point entirely. Even if environmental groups use “charismatic mega-fauna” like the polar bear to drum up support to fight global warming, this does not mean that that is the only or even the primary reason for trying to avoid climate change in the arctic. So even if it is true that the polar bears benefit from warmer climate, this would not suggest that warmer climate in the arctic is a good thing. Tierney has entirely missed the point.
Of course, that brings us back to his underlying argument–some guy in the arctic could make money from climate change, so maybe its not such a bad thing afterall.