You make me so mad

The proliferation of global warming deniers occupying the highest echelons of the Republican political and intellectual structure (need they be listed here?) notwithstanding, Al Gore is really partisan–and on top of that, some environmentalists seem not to value people more than plants.  So if anyone is responsible for the failure of environmentalism, Michael Gerson argues, it's them.  While we're at it, if anyone is responsible for the failure of women's rights, it's those annoying feminists:

Some Republicans and conservatives are prone to an ideologically motivated skepticism. On AM talk radio, where scientific standards are not particularly high, the attitude seems to be: "If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it." Gore's partisan, conspiratorial anger is annoying, yet not particularly relevant to the science of this issue.

This points, however, to a broader problem. Any legislation ambitious enough to cut carbon emissions significantly and encourage new energy technologies will require a broad political and social consensus. Nothing this complex and expensive gets done on a party-line vote. Yet many environmental leaders seem unpracticed at coalition-building. They tend to be conventionally, if not radically, liberal. They sometimes express a deep distrust for capitalism and hostility to the extractive industries. Their political strategy consists mainly of the election of Democrats. Most Republican environmental efforts are quickly pronounced "too little, too late."

Even worse, a disturbing minority of the environmental movement seems to view an excess of human beings, not an excess of carbon emissions, as the world's main problem. In two recent settings, I have heard China's one-child policy praised as an answer to the environmental crisis — a kind of totalitarianism involving coerced birth control or abortion. I have no objection to responsible family planning. But no movement will succeed with this argument: Because we in the West have emitted so much carbon, there needs to be fewer people who don't look like us.

Human beings are not the enemy of sound environmental policy; they are the primary reason sound environmental policy is necessary.

If the movement to confront climate change is perceived as partisan, anti-capitalist and hostile to human life, it is likely to fail, causing suffering for many, including the ice bears. And so the question arises: Will the environment survive the environmentalists?

Now in some respect this might be sound practical advice.  But really, I think Gerson has blamed the unreasonable excesses of the Conservative movement on their perception (which is in reality a caricature) of the environmental movement.  That caricature, of course, exists primarily in their minds.  Sure, you can find some pretty jerky environmentalists, but you need not consider them the key representatives of the movement.

18 thoughts on “You make me so mad”

  1. Right wingers have always played the strawman game of finding some extremist figure on the fringe of a cause they despise and then presenting him as if he were the absolute mainstream most representative example imaginable of that cause. Rush Limbaugh is notorious for finding extreme feminists who most feminists have never heard of all, labelling them “feminazis” and pretending they are universally accepted spokepersons for all feminists everywhere. It would be like me pretending that David Duke was the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    Gerson’s caution-troll advice is basically just another wingnut excuse to do absolutely nothing whatsoever about climate change.

  2. Underlying this argument is a standard conservative assumption that growth is good. Maybe I’m a jerky scientist of the disturbing minority, but I don’t think my desire to see the population stop growing constitutes hostility to human life. Curbing the population seems like the most parsimonious way to reduce our negative impact on the planet. I like people just fine; it’s just that having 6 billion people living on the planet at one time probably isn’t sustainable. I think 6 billion is probably excessive–I will cop to that.

    I wonder how many people Gerson thinks the planet can support…an infinite number if we just had sound environmental policies?

  3. Gerson thinks the planet can support…an infinite number if we just had sound environmental policies?

    I think when we’re speaking of someone with Gerson’s apocalyptically-oriented religious convictions, these sorts of questions never enter into the discourse. You see, it doesn’t matter, because, as they say, “it’s all gonna burn.” I’m sure the Creator appreciates such an gracious view of It’s creation.

  4. Ice bears. Gotta love it when someone’s sarcasm is so thick it extends to taxonomy.

  5. jcasey, I wish I can see everything as black and white as you and your peers here see it.

  6. Something tells me you don’t really wish that.  But something also tells me you don’t have the faintest idea how I see the world.

  7. Here is the crux of the matter when we discuss environmental issues: are you and I willing to give up some of our comforts to actually make a difference? In reality we have 2 parties that represent us: the right, with all their deniers and the left with all the environmentalist’ support.  The only difference between the 2 is that one pretends to do something about it. To change the course of our environment some drastic measures will have to be taken. Measures that neither party is willing to take.  Measures that most people are not willing to take. 1 in 4 hybrid car owners also own an SUV. Gerson is right, until we end this bipartisan way to approach every issue, nothing will ever be done. Maybe the left should call out those “pretty jerky environmentalists” and distance themselves from them. Maybe the right should stop inventing excuses. But to make this a one-sided issue is something I expect from Gerson, but not from you.

  8. I don’t remember making any of the assertions you attribute to me. 

    But, just to be clear, here’s what I was saying.  On the right side of the aisle, in the office of the President of the United States on down, are people who deny stuff many scientists consider settled.  On the left, a very unrepresentative sample of people favor radical ideas.  So the biggest offenders–the ones with actual political offices–deny the reality of global warming.  But on the other hand, some crazy but “disturbing minority” (whatever that means) of environmentalists are “anti-capitalist.”  Who’s to blame?  The people who exaggerate the importance of fringe political groups, or the people who hold political office?  Well, according to Gerson, the people who hold political office cannot be blamed so far as we can go “nut picking” through the environmental movement to find some people no one listens to anyway.  We’ll always be able to do that.  One might as well bring up super fringe right wing characters every time Bush makes a policy statement–we’re not going to believe him unless he distances himself from the Nazi party. 

    Once again, since you seem to have forgotten, unless explcitly stated otherwise, my posts concern arguments.  I haven’t taken a policy position here.  And I haven’t made any of the assertions you attribute to me.  The site, as far as I am concerned, is not about my views–these posts are not a vehicle to advance my views on things, whatever they are.  Why’s that?  I’d be crazy to think that the failure of Gerson’s moronic argument entails the cogency of its liberal counterpart.

  9. jcasey, I appreciate the fact that you took your time to explain me your position. I definitely made a mistake in my assertion. It’s not that you made this an one-sided issue, but rather dealing with the logical fallacy which in this case is one-sided. As you stated: “I’d be crazy to think that the failure of Gerson’s moronic argument entails the cogency of its liberal counterpart”. It would be nice, once in a while to analyze some of the liberal conterpart.
    Anyway, you still have my respect, and again sorry for jumping the gun.

  10. I did read that jcasey. And it makes sense. All 5 points are spot on.
    But I still think you can find enough material to cover both sides. There are enough left-leaning columnists out there. Even if it’s just to show good arguments at work. At least once in a while. Maybe once every 10 posts. I think the ratio 1-10 would be more accurate. I don’t want “balance” for the sake of balance.
    Also, it is my guess (based on the comments) that the majority of the people that read your posts are left-leaning. I would think that they are not getting their news from Fox News and get their political opinions from Michael Gerson, David Brooks and George Will.
    With that being said, there’s no need for major changes. Keep up the good work!

  11. As far as I can tell, there are not enough left leaning columnists with the exposure of their right-leaning colleagues.  The ones who do have the exposure (E.J.Dionne for instance) don’t really make arguments in the style of Will, Krauthammer, et alia. 

    I’d be more than happy to bring in left leaning columnists–do you have any suggestions?

  12. John,

    A very interesting post.  Two things come to mind:

    First, a good deal of the members of  the new evangelical environmental blame their late association with conservationism  on the environmental movement, too.  They didn’t want to be associated with the Gaia-ists and other pagans.  And so it seems that their obsession with not associating with the wrong types prevents them from pursuing justice. 

    Second, I think the classification of this fallacy could be a bit more fine-grained.  You’re correct that this is a case of straw-manning, but it is a specific form… it’s not that Gerson misrepresents the misanthropic wing of the environmental movement, but that he takes his accurate portrayal of it to be the best version of the environmentalist platform.  I’d prefer to call it a case of *weak manning* .

    That is, Straw-manning is a misrepresentation of what one’s opponent’s views by changing them into less defensible versions.  Weak-manning is a misrepresentation of one’s opponent’s views by selecting the actual least defensible articulation (as you say, “nut picking”) and portraying it to be the dominant or standard view.  Gerson’s case depends on the latter, not the former.

    You’d had a very insightful posting and discussion earlier on weak man arguments here:

  13. Hi Scott–

    Thanks for dropping by.  That’s an interesting point about evangelicals terrified of living and breathing straw persons.  And that’s more evidence of the kind of damage to the public mind this sort of discourse does.  Gerson knows better–or ought to know better–than to pick the most extreme version of environmentalism as a tool for criticizing the whole movement.  And indeed, you’re right, this would be a very nice illustration of your notion of the “weak man.”  Thanks for pointing that out.

  14. jcasey, how about Frank Rich? Maybe he’s not the “sexiest” pick, but I think it’s worth taking a look. Also, if you want some good material 🙂 you can also go with Jesse Jackson. Even E.J.Dionne is not bad. As I said, just once in a while. I think it’s a good challenge.

    By the way, here’s Maureen Dowd on the same topic:
    “He[Obama]’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food — a perception heightened when The Wall Street Journal reported that the planners for Obama’s convention have hired the first-ever Director of Greening, the environmental activist Andrea Robinson. She in turn hired an Official Carbon Adviser to “measure the greenhouse-gas emissions of every placard, every plane trip, every appetizer prepared and every coffee cup tossed.””

  15. Frank Rich might be a good suggestion, but he engages in a theater-criticism style punditry–he doesn’ t make arguments so much as treat real events like parts of a movie, a bad movie.  He’s entertaining, but one can hardly cite him as making a case for anything in particular. 

    Jesse Jackson is a minor political figure. 

    Maureen Dowd is like Frank Rich, but way worse.

    Dionne rarely makes arguments in the style of Will, etc.

  16. When you use the term “global warming denier” you are, yourself taking part in an ad hominem attack in that you are implicitly comparing your opponents to “holocaust deniers.” You are also, in that comparison, implying that theories of the cause of global warming are a universally accepted truth that cannot be denied. Surely the tools of critical thinking that you apply to other people’s arguments should also be applied to your own?

  17. You are equivocating on the term “denier” by introducing a kind of “argumentum ad nazium” rendering the word “denier” unusable because of a specious guilt by association claim. Furthermore an ad hominem is a kind of Red Herring because it is distracting people with an irrelevant personal characteristic. People who deny the anthropogenic nature of contemporary climate change are exactly what the term describes them as: deniers. There is no implicit comparison going on, only an exact description.

    And it is scarcely possible to imagine a more absurd standard to apply than “universally accepted truth.” The holocaust itself does not qualify as such since, as you point out, there are holocaust deniers. On the other hand, there is nothing which could — by even the most reckless stretch of the imagination — qualify as a scientifically legitimate basis for denying the facts of anthropogenic climate change. So the people who are denying the overwhelming preponderance of evidence — evidence that has been carefully collected over many decades by thousands of scientists and carefully scrutinized in hundreds of peer-reviewed articles — are in no position to complain about the perfectly descriptive term that accurately characterizes their behavior.

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