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February 28, 2010

New Tomdispatch


The Attack on Climate-Change Science
Why It’s the O.J. Moment of the Twenty-First Century

By Bill McKibben

Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal. It was a mixed and judicious appraisal. “The subject,” the reviewer said, “is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly.” And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first president Bush announced that he planned to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

I doubt that’s what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet.

And here’s what’s odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin. If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.

Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data...

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the U.S., never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at February 28, 2010 10:25 AM

This means that climate change research is bigger than the health care bill?

When do we get to see Republicans hauling that to cap-and-trade hearings?

Posted by: zic at February 28, 2010 07:49 PM

If a snowstorm hits, you must acquit!

With sympathy (and gratitude) for Mr. McKibben et al, it's increasingly apparent that the most we can do now is delay the inevitable... it's too late to bail this boat out, even if we could wake up the other passengers.

Frankly, it's probably better to just let this sucker go down (acknowledgements to Bush the Lesser). The longer we delay a severe culling of the human species, the less the survivors (of all species) will have to work with. Which, at this pace, may not be much more than pre-Cambrian ooze.

To the extent they could, I wonder how many non-human species would be rooting for us to make it through this, even (or perhaps, especially) amongst those that are being dragged down with us.

Posted by: SunMesa at February 28, 2010 11:22 PM

Nobody has any problem seeing that people in the past collectively deceived themselves, or that people in other cultures in the present collectively deceive themselves, but my oh my, we in the present in the West are supposedly collectively rational. Then again, the evidence of that isn't so compelling when you pause to reflect on it for, oh, a minute.

There are mountains of evidence for all sorts of things people are not going to believe for emotional and psychological reasons. Neurologists have even confirmed as a scientific matter that many opinions are not formed in the reason centers of the brain. As the folks who put on Limbaugh and O'Reilly and Savage well know, opinions on questions like climate change and other political issues get decided in the emotion centers of the brain. Far from needing neurological training, all you need is to have your eyes open to recognize that most people aren't going to believe that their lives have been set up to destroy the world and that the process is well underway. The thought that we're destroying ourelves and our descendants is about as deflating as anything gets.

Those more cerebral types like David Brooks, even if they see the scientific consensus, also aren't going to admit that anything as a practical matter can really be done about it. Because if something actually can be done about it, however unpleasant the changes might be, then a person who makes that admission to himself has to fight for those changes, which is a real bummer and would be life-changing. Nobody wants that! That's why the smart guys like Brooks just tell themselves that nothing can really be done and accept that we'll have to muddle through and let future generations worry about themselves. It's also why they hate moralizers like Al Gore who actually point out why that their position is none too commendable. Most people hate moralists who expressly or by implication sit in judgment on them, especially if there really isn't an effective reasoned defense against the criticism.

Worst of all, ironically, the sort of thinking reflected in this comment confirms the wisdom of Brooksian vacuous cynicism. Nothing can be done, and we're doomed, so let's just forget about it and move on. The neurologists and political scientists and cynics could actually have their own conference and prove that no one will pay any attention to the scientists and writers like McKinnon, and their mountain of evidence would be as big as the mountain of evidence the scientists have. So we all should just forget the whole thing, from the perspective of making a rational individual choice, and we're justified in hating that prick Gore and his fellow travelers for making us feel shitty about everything. There's nothing we can do about it anyway, so we'll do better collectively not dwelling on such negative thoughts. After all, in the long run we're all dead anyway. Let's be happy along the way.

This sort of mental process is really how we learn to love Big Brother. That Pavlovian torture with the rat makes for better literature, but Big Brother really wins our hearts in much more boring, mundane ways involving pragmatism, fatalism and realism.

Posted by: N E at March 1, 2010 10:06 AM

The problem with the analogy to the OJ Trial is that it was a show trial, and the show was played by all participants in a charade (with the possible exception of Sheck and a couple others who were limited in their commentary on other lawyers on Simpson's team). A simple reading of the autopsies makes it clear that one man didn't do it, and OJ certainly couldn't have done it the way that Marcia Clark said he did it. Actual science in the trial proved that Simpson was framed. Meanwhile, public opinion was formed by such figures as Geraldo Rivera and the guy from those Beethoven movies who spent hundreds of hours on the newly-emerging cable networks chanting the same one-note song of Simpson's guilt.

I was interested in seeing McKibben talking about the power of propaganda in directing public opinion in the face of science, but he offered the opposite.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at March 1, 2010 10:49 AM
Worst of all, ironically, the sort of thinking reflected in this comment confirms the wisdom of Brooksian vacuous cynicism. Nothing can be done, and we're doomed, so let's just forget about it and move on.

Not clear if this was in reference to my comment above. If not, disregard.

The point was not whether anything can be done (to perpetuate our stranglehold on the planet), but whether anything should be done. This is a potential opportunity to arrest the rampant growth of what, in any objective assessment of the last 5000 years, could best be described as a pathogen.

But since you bring it up, the conclusion that there's little that can be done at this point to avoid disaster is not at all a product of fatalistic cynicism or Big Brother brainwashing, but rather, just basic physics and chemistry (hint- you can't evolve your way out of a burning building).

Or, maybe scientists are just cynical and misanthropic by nature. The shoe fits me, anyway.

Posted by: SunMesa at March 1, 2010 12:37 PM


Sorry, I actually meant my comment. I think it's ironic (and sucks) that understanding the nature of the problem actually exacerbates rather than mitigates the problem.

Posted by: N E at March 1, 2010 01:59 PM

Bob in Pacifica

I have never examined the OJ Trial, though I had to live through the damn thing too. What evidence are you talking about that showed one man couldn't have done it? I might be able to read about that trial without an aversion reaction by now, but if OJ was innocent, he really is the worst actor ever.

Posted by: N E at March 1, 2010 05:32 PM

"This means that climate change research is bigger than the health care bill? "

Generally speaking, both are equally important. Note that climate automatically affects health :)

Chimpu Sharma

Posted by: Chimpu Sharma at March 2, 2010 10:39 PM