Monday, June 2, 2008

Thank You, Charles Krauthammer

Thank you, Charles Krauthammer. Thank you for demonstrating, in just one commentary, everything that is wrong and downright laughable about the Media Right.

Today’s syndicated effort, “The Radicals Are Back, Now Wielding the Environment” elicits a chuckle just from the title. (Imagine some crazy slobbering commie socialist lefty guerilla charging at you while wielding … the environment?)

But Krauthammer’s obfuscation, conflation, deception and manipulation are really no laughing matter.

1.

“I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier. I’m a global warming agnostic.”

From the get-go, K tries to equate global warming with religion. The device is simple: Use the language of atheists and agnostics (who presumably are “pro” global warming… a nice manipulative conflation) against them. I appreciate the attempt, but there’s one small problem. Religious zealotry is based on belief. Global warming alarmism is based on fact.

One cannot, at this point in time, “believe” or “not believe” in global warming. It’s something you either accept or don’t. And if you don’t accept it, it’s not because you have six close friends who actually study the issue using real instruments and real numbers. Face it, it’s because you just don’t want to. You don’t want to because it means you can’t sustain your lifestyle, you don’t like people telling you what to do, and/or you own stock in, work for or get paid by someone (directly or indirectly) with billions of dollars at stake in casting doubt on the issue.

2.

“If Newton’s law of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown, it requires religious fervor to believe that global warming is a closed issue.”

Nice try. Really, Krauthammer is a good writer, and that’s what makes arguments like these all the more insidious. This is the latest example of something the Media Right does incredibly well: Common Sense Nonsense. “Hey, scientists once thought the world was flat, too!” “I can’t predict the weather tomorrow, let alone 20 years from now!” It’s brilliant manipulation.

The stock market can’t be predicted tomorrow, but financial planners make a living predicting its behavior over the long term, based on evidence. Newton’s laws of motion were never “thrown out,” they were given greater context by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Doctors (who are scientists, people) once thought bleeding with leeches would cure your brain tumor. Today, I’d bet if your doctor told you to start chemo for that brain tumor, you wouldn’t say, “No, you guys once thought the world was flat. I’ll wait.”

(Side note: The threshold of “factual proof” for people like Mr. Krauthammer is so much higher for global warming that it was for going to war with Iraq. Why is that?)

3.

“Guess who does the rationing?”

I actually agree with the context of this zinger (that nuclear energy is an important part of the global warming solution). But K’s point is that the “Church of the Environment” eschews nuclear energy in favor of rationing, because the government does rationing, and liberals love government. I guess then, by the transitive property of logic, that a climatologist working in Britain who thinks knowing your carbon footprint is a good idea must then work for the United States government. (And K must be against the rationing that took place in World War II.)

The Media Right constantly plies its audience with the claim that “liberals love government” but “hate America.” (I’ve never understood the implied contrary point: that conservatives love their country but hate the institution that runs it… except the military.)

But to really understand this issue, consider this: Politics and method acting are the same thing: Look at who’s saying what, and ask yourself, “What’s their motivation?” Nobody loves government. The only motivation to love government is if you’re already in government, and you want absolute power. Academics warning the world about climate change are largely outside of government (especially the executive branch), so that doesn’t make any sense. Besides, if you want to take over the government, there are far more effective means to do so than “wielding the environment.”

The right thinks the left loves government because the left recognizes that in our history, the federal government has sometimes been the tool of last resort to blunt lawless behavior and correct social discrimination. Ending slavery? Had to be the federal government. Giving anyone except land-owning white men the right to vote… to VOTE… the federal government. Punishing corporations who ignore the law? If the industries can prove their moral fortitude and earn the right to self-regulate, great. Most haven’t. Has to be the government.

* * *

Here’s what K doesn’t want you to know. The people who “wield the environment” have little or no financial stake in that position. (Quick quiz: If Al Gore was motivated by money, would he: a) write a book on the environment and do a documentary; or b) become a K Street lobbyist for the oil and gas industries?). The people who keep saying “there’s no proof, we need more study, science is squishy (but it's time for my prostate exam)” by and large have an enormous financial stake in taking that position.

Which one do you trust?

11 comments:

Ted said...

I just don't think the arguement is going to ever be over. People like to argue too much anyway. I would say instead of making the "Global Warming" argument turn it into a stewardship arguement with polution as your back bone. Pollution is pretty much known. Stewardship for those of us who believe in God is a no brainer. I think that is an arguement that can be won. I know that I am a little skeptical about what scientists say because there is a bit of percieved air of superiority to the scientfic community on my part. For the longest time they have pushed evolution and the big bang theory. Now they are saying the big bang theory has been dismissed but when I was in school they insisted that it was fact. Just makes it hard to trust them. They have cried wolf before and been wrong.

Marc Conklin said...

Regarding Big Bang, when was that questioned? That's news to me... but keep in mind, that a case of people today trying to figure out what happened billions of years ago. This is a matter of seeing what's happening right now and extrapolating.

Ted said...

I just think the stewardship arguement makes more sense.

Ted said...

And the big bang has pretty much been dismissed in the colligate realm.

Kevin Sawyer said...

Would you have used Krauthammer's mug shot if he looked like John Edwards? I doubt it. But to your points.

The category error in the title is clearly intentional. As such, to take it at face value is disingenuous, no?

I would add dittos to the use of the term 'agnostic' (the use of which, out of context, you are certainly familiar) except that the main problem with enacting sensible environmental policy has been the notion that we ought to be willing to sacrifice ANYTHING in order to stop global warming. That notion has religious undertones, in my view. Agnostic describes my view precisely.

I do not (and, I suspect, Krauthammer does not) have any sort of problem with people seeking to remedy the effects of human climate change. However, any legislation to this end must be measured against a cost-benefit metric.

At present, the environmental movement seems to want to dispense with any sort of metric. Krauthammer might be unfair in introducing Newton's disparaged laws of motion, but there is a valid point there about the limitations of science.

Science cannot craft policy. It cannot decide which calamities merit this, or that, sacrifice. It cannot weigh the benefit of humanity (writ large) against the needs of the average citizen. It certainly cannot deduce the motivations of a movement that often veers from its stated (in press releases) mission to save us from ourselves vis a vis climate destruction.

I do remember some shenanigans related to a subspecies of owls, after all.

In a democracy, the cost-benefit analysis is not left to scientists but to us. In this sense, the environmentalists wield global warming, if not as a weapon, then as a trump card to discourage dissent.

That is not how sound ideas become law. This is Krauthammer's point.

Bill Sheahan said...

Your response to Mr. Krauthammer is appreciated and, just as you concede that "K" is a skillful writer, it is worth noting that you too wield your pen with considerable talent. Your commentary, however, contains a few gaps that deserve to be poked.

First, a careful reading reveals that Krauthammer's use of religion as a rhetorical device is less an attempt to equate atheists and environmentalists in a subliminal attempt to eviscerate, by association, environmentalist claims in the minds of believers and more an attempt to highlight the similar manner in which both environmental and religious zealots obscure the "facts" on which their causes are allegedly based.

Although Krauthammer does not flesh-out this path, my reading of the spirit behind his analogy is this: in the same manner that religious leaders have, throughout history, ignored, modified and/or outright denied inconvenient facts (see, e.g., Mary Magdalene and the critical participation of women in the formation of the early Christian Church obfuscated under the misogynistic falsehoods of Pope Gregory) so too do proponents of the theory of anthropogenic climate change routinely dismiss and ridicule any dissenting view, whether that view is proffered by a bloviating right-wing radio host or by the UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change itself (note: I refer here to the IPCC’s report, not the Summary for Policy Makers which, as Krauthammer correctly points out, is the primary actor responsible for inaccurately generalizing the IPCC’s thoughtful analysis).

Mr. Krautahammer's point is well taken in the sense that reasoned dialogue on this issue cannot take place unless and until Al Gore's army admits that the science on which its core principle rests is speculative and allows for an open discussion that includes the possibility that the globe warms and cools in spite of anything humans might do to her.

Several of the experts responsible for writing the IPCC report have stated just that — they have gone on record to explain that the conclusions contained in the Report are not as straight-forward as the Summaries would have readers believe and that, in fact, the direction in which available data point (if at all) is toward the ongoing, millennia-old oscillation of global warming and cooling and not an uncharacteristic “spike” caused by industrialized emissions (see, e.g., The Great Global Warming Swindle, BBC Films)

Second (and unrecognized in your commentary) is Krauthammer’s suggestion that the proper, rational response to the currently observed climate fluctuations is to do “the doable, rather than the economically ruinous and socially destructive.” This kind of measured response finds little traction in the hyper-partisan blogosphere, but it remains our best hope for the adoption of an effective energy policy.

There is little argument among reasonable people that the efforts toward finding more sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of energy are both economically and ecologically advantageous. The cause of environmental zealotry would be well served to trust in the rational intelligence of the world’s citizens rather than targeting the base emotions of panicked response.

Marc Conklin said...

I really do appreciate these well thought-out responses. I think stewardship is the right frame for the issue. It's something everyone should agree on. It seems to me that too much time is being wasted on debating the problem when we should be debating the solution. The earth's temperature fluctuates despite human activity, absolutely. Poles shift, volcanoes erupt. There are cycles to some of that, some of it is less predictable. I think, however, that the relationship between carbon and temperature has reasonably been proven as beyond correlative, to causal. At the same time, we know that fossil fuels are harmful on so many other levels (including serving as the economic jet engine for the world's most oppresive regimes), that we should be coming together and passionately debating solutions. What infuriates me about a commentary such as this is that the bottom-line purpose is to slow things down. In spinmeister circles, "casting doubt" is a time-honored tactic. You do it to buy more time and protect revenue streams of people who have lots of money and power at stake. Krauthammer is actually arguing that scientists are taking their position as part of a left-wing conspiratorial power grab. To say that's over-reaching would be kind. He conflates environmentalism directly with communism and socialism. Not helpful. We need to get beyond fossil fuels for lots of really good reasons, including fighting terrorism. Let's debate the solutions... not waste time pretending that petrochemical energy as it is is sustainable. The infrastructure we've created has to be reinvented, and that's going to be extaordinarily difficult to do. But we've got to do it.

Marc Conklin said...

Kevin, to your point on the "mug shot," it's not a mug shot, it's an official photo. There are far worse ones out there... should I have not shown him at all and been accused of being patronizing? (And actually, I don't really like looking at John Edwards either, to tell you the truth.)

Ted said...

I think we can all agree, indepent of party affiliations, that the photo in question makes you wonder how long his nose is.

Anonymous said...

Hi folks,

Just to chime in here: Krauthammer's claims about the environment and environmentalists are off base. I'm sorry, but sometimes the truth hurts. Global warming is a scientific fact. Yes, sometimes facts are overturned in science (though not the ones Krauthammer mentions), but life ain't perfect. Deal with it.

Regarding scientists' superiority: yes, that's freakin' annoying. I'm a scientist myself, and I completely agree that many scientists need a swift kick in the pants. In fact, there's a movement out there to create something called "civic science": to move science--and scientists--back down to earth to re-connect with real people. Science is invaluable today. But that doesn't mean that scientists should be superior about anything. Frankly, I think most scientists just have poor social skills and they overcompensate in an effort to justify the long hours in the lab.

Regarding the environmental movement, I need only point toward the actions of the Environmental Defense Fund. They are actively reaching out, working with industry, and trying to make things happen. From my vantage point, industry is sometimes farther ahead of the curve than government.

One could say this indicates that the Republican ideal of the market taking the lead is correct.

I like to think it illustrates how hopelessly broken our government currently is.

So let's stop arguing about the science, wake up to reality, and start acting like responsible adults for the sake of our children and generations to come. I don't give a rats ass whether the fix comes from industry, the government, or Charles Krauthammer's rather distinctive nose.

As long as the fix comes...

...ah, the fix...

...feels so good ;)

Beeslippers

Anonymous said...

Beautiful comment, Beeslippers! Thank you for the clarity and good humor. Made my day.