Tag Archives: Global Warming

Bicameral poxism

In the category of sloppy pseudo-balance-driven reporting today, we have the following comparison between George Will's making stuff up and Al Gore's exaggerating a consequence of a well-established phenomenon.  The New York Times' Andrew Revkin writes:

In the effort to shape the public’s views on global climate change, hyperbole is an ever-present temptation on all sides of the debate.

Earlier this month, former Vice President Al Gore and the Washington Post columnist George Will made strong public statements about global warning — from starkly divergent viewpoints.

Mr. Gore, addressing a hall filled with scientists in Chicago, showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”

Mr. Will, in a column attacking what he said were exaggerated claims about global warming’s risks, chided climate scientists for predicting an ice age three decades ago and asserted that a pause in warming in recent years and the recent expansion of polar sea ice undermined visions of calamity ahead.

Both men, experts said afterward, were guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.

In the first place, George Will is on record for denying that global warming is taking place–he's not just denying its risks.  

Gore, on the other hand, engaged in hyperbole about the risks of global warming, a phenomenon qualified scientists justifiably believe to be taking place.

The difference, seems to me, is fairly obvious.  Is what Gore says wrong?  Probably.  But obviously not in the same Will is wrong.

Here's some prescience by Revkin:

In a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight.

“There is little evidence to suggest that it is effective at building broad-based support for policy action,” Dr. Nisbet said. “Perhaps worse, his message is very easily countered by people such as Will as global-warming alarmism, shifting the focus back to their preferred emphasis on scientific uncertainty and dueling expert views.

But Dr. Nisbet said that for Mr. Will, there was little downside in stretching the bounds of science to sow doubt.

Criticism of Mr. Will’s columns, Dr. Nisbet said, “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”

Indeed, perhaps Nisbet could add that a primary cause of doubt in the public's mind is reporting of this variety.  Perhaps it is Revkin's job to help us see the difference between Al Gore's occasional and not wholly unsupported exaggeration and George Will's dishonest rejection of well-established science.  George Wil, in other words, is to blame for making stuff up.  This is not somehow Al Gore's fault.

End of stupid questions

After eight years of grunting and chanting instead of reasoning and discussing, this excerpt from a tape of Obama discussing a May 2007 debate performance is refreshing.

Obama continues: "When you have to be cheerful all the time and try to perform and act like [the tape is unclear; Obama appears to be poking fun at his opponents], I'm sure that some of it has to do with nerves or anxiety and not having done this before, I'm sure. And in my own head, you know, there's—I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. When you're going into something thinking, 'This is not my best …' I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' Instead of being appropriately [the tape is garbled]. So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f–––ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

While this may not be the end of stupid media questions–boxers or briefs Brian?  How much do you pay for your haircut?–it is at least an end one particularly awful instantiation of stupidity (see the video at the link as well):

However, perhaps one of the most astounding and previously unknown tidbits about Sarah Palin has to do with her already dubious grasp of geography. According to Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron, there was great concern within the McCain campaign that Palin lacked "a degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency," in part because she didn't know which countries were in NAFTA, and she "didn't understand that Africa was a continent, rather than a series, a country just in itself."

Now give those third graders–wink wink wink–some extra credit!

I’ve got a fever

Speaking of facts–I mean whether they matter on the op-ed page–pointing out that someone else has distorted or minimized or ignored inconvenient facts seems to me to be one of the hallmarks of an op-ed since it's one of the key moves in any critical argument.  Perhaps for that reason alone op-ed editors ought to be ever more vigilant for claims such as the following from George Will:

Regarding McCain's "central facts," the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, which helped establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — co-winner, with Al Gore, of the Nobel Peace Prize — says global temperatures have not risen in a decade. So Congress might be arriving late at the save-the-planet party. Better late than never? No. When government, ever eager to expand its grip on the governed and their wealth, manufactures hysteria as an excuse for doing so, then: better never.  

Sounds like the IPCC says the globe isn't warming.  But:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.

That's the IPCC report of 2007.  Will seems to think temperature and climate are the same thing.  They're obviously not.  Can't someone at the Post tell him? 

The rest of his piece seemed a perfectly fine excursus on why some proposed measure to address global warming (cap and trade of carbon emissions) is a bad idea.  It might be.  But not because global warming is a communist hoax.  What communist hoax would use a capitalist system–trading and markets–to undermine capitalism?  But maybe that's just what the communists want us to think.


The President of the Czech Republic has helped Charles Krauthammer find the true enemy of freedom.  It's knowledge about the natural world.  This knowledge is especially dangerous if Krauthammer doesn't have the patience, time, or expertise to understand it.  He writes:

Predictions of catastrophe depend on models. Models depend on assumptions about complex planetary systems — from ocean currents to cloud formation — that no one fully understands. Which is why the models are inherently flawed and forever changing. The doomsday scenarios posit a cascade of events, each with a certain probability. The multiple improbability of their simultaneous occurrence renders all such predictions entirely speculative.

Yet on the basis of this speculation, environmental activists, attended by compliant scientists and opportunistic politicians, are advocating radical economic and social regulation. "The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity," warns Czech President Vaclav Klaus, "is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism."

If you doubt the arrogance, you haven't seen that Newsweek cover story that declared the global warming debate over. Consider: If Newton's laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown, it requires religious fervor to believe that global warming — infinitely more untested, complex and speculative — is a closed issue.

But declaring it closed has its rewards. It not only dismisses skeptics as the running dogs of reaction, i.e., of Exxon, Cheney and now Klaus. By fiat, it also hugely re-empowers the intellectual left.

For a century, an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class — social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies — arrogated to themselves the right to rule either in the name of the oppressed working class (communism) or, in its more benign form, by virtue of their superior expertise in achieving the highest social progress by means of state planning (socialism).

Two decades ago, however, socialism and communism died rudely, then were buried forever by the empirical demonstration of the superiority of market capitalism everywhere from Thatcher's England to Deng's China, where just the partial abolition of socialism lifted more people out of poverty more rapidly than ever in human history.

Just as the ash heap of history beckoned, the intellectual left was handed the ultimate salvation: environmentalism. Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but — even better — in the name of Earth itself.

Such a combination of straw men (the weakest versions of global warming arguments–not to Newsweeks's idea of "debate" about global warming), red herrings (communism, socialism, etc.), ad hominem (arrogant scientists are just trying to rule the world), ad ignorantiam (since we don't know much about the effects of carbon, let's do nothing. . . ), and just plain non sequiturs (Newton's law of motion was "overthrown" so distrust everything short of that) has not been seen for, um, weeks on this page.

Built on sand

George Will compares the housing "crisis" (his scare quotes) to another one of his famous pseudo crises:

The housing perhaps-not-entirely-a-crisis resembles, in one particular, the curious consensus about the global warming "crisis," concerning which, the assumption is: Although Earth's temperature has risen and fallen through many millennia, the temperature was exactly right when, in the 1960s, Al Gore became interested in the subject.

There is a big difference, someone ought to point out, between the "climate" and the "weather" or the "temperature" at any given year.  Suggesting that these are the same–and then pointing out how silly global warming is–is just dumb.  I'm not even sure if this would rise to the standard of the straw man.  At least with the straw man you have to approximate someone's real argument in order to make the deception work.    

Anyway, on the strength of this astounding misunderstanding, Will launches into an a priori, and rhetorical-question-driven, assault on the housing crisis.  He writes: 

Are we to assume that last year, when housing prices were, say, 10 percent higher than they are now, they were exactly right? If so, why is that so? Because the market had set those prices, therefore they were where they belonged? But if the market was the proper arbiter of value then, why is it not the proper arbiter now? Whatever happened to the belief, way back in 2007, that there was a housing "bubble"? Or to the more ancient consensus that, because of, among other things, the deductibility of mortgage interest payments from taxable income, too much American capital flows into the housing stock?

Where's the drooling dunce who holds the position Will ever so skillfully skewers (that's two alliterations) here?  Nowhere I bet.  People may be wrong about the nature of the housing issue–they may even exaggerate it in a bit of political hyperbole–but Will should do us a favor of describing someone's actual position rather than the a priori incoherence of a straw man's position.