The Right’s Toxic Shame on Climate Change

December 1, 2018


Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine:

I’m relieved, I suppose, that Trump officials didn’t actually suppress, censor, or doctor volume two of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. All they did was release it on the Friday after Thanksgiving, suggesting that somewhere deep in what passes for someone’s conscience in this putrid presidency, some residual shame might linger. One of the more innovative arguments of the report was even pitched to the bottom line: high projections expect to knock ten percent off U.S. GDP this century — more than two Great Recessions put together. And so the last teetering argument of the carbon polluters and their enablers — that preventing climate catastrophe will cost jobs and reduce growth — was proven void once again. Au contraire, it turns out. There have been more jobs in solar energyin the U.S. since 2015 than in oil or natural gas extraction. Maybe a decade ago, the expense of wind and solar was a major obstacle and expense for a non-carbon future. Not any more.

The denialists, in other words, have nothing left. The most striking thing about Bret Stephens’s inaugural column in the New York Times was not its banal defense of the principle of scientific skepticism, but its general lameness. Rereading it this week, it is striking how modest its claims were. They essentially came to this: “Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.”

And that’s it. But no serious scientist claims “total certainty” about the future of climate, just a range of increasingly alarming probabilities; no one is demanding “abrupt and expensive” changes in public policy, just an intensification of efforts long underway with increasingly reliable and affordable new technologies; and, yes, treating your opponents as evil morons is rarely a good political strategy and Al Gore was terribly supercilious — but, seriously, that’s the only substantive argument Stephens had or has? There’s not enough hay there for a straw ant.

The same blather can be found in this week’s column by Jonah Goldberg, lamenting Max Boot’s sudden volte-face on the issue. Jonah has a point about Boot’s somewhat too instant makeover into a resistance icon (I’ve made it myself), but on the substance of climate change, what defense of the American right does Goldberg have? Zippo. He argues that “there are a lot of different views on climate change on the right.” I find that about as convincing as the argument that there are a lot of different views on race among Harvard’s faculty. Sure, maybe, in private, a few don’t subscribe to the idea that America is as ridden with white supremacy as it was in the 1920s. But you won’t get very far in the academy if you say that in public, will you?

More to the point, the hypothesis of carbon-created climate change doesn’t just have “some legitimate science” on its side, as Goldberg puts it, but a completely overwhelming majority of the science. You should, of course, retain some skepticism always. It’s possible, for example, that natural selection may be replaced as the core scientific consensus about how life on Earth evolved. Possible. But do we have to express skepticism every time new science based on that hypothesis emerges? Please. And I honestly can’t see how the science of this can be right or left. It’s either our best working hypothesis or not. And absolutely, we can have a debate about how to best counter it: massive investment in new green technology; a carbon tax; cap and trade; private-sector innovation of the kind that has helped restrain emissions in the U.S. already. And this debate could be had on right-left lines. But we cannot even have the debate because American conservatism has ruled it out of bounds.

New polling suggests Republicans continue to move in the direction of climate awareness, but slippery wording makes it unclear how far.  Believing the climate is changing is a long way from accepting the responsibility to do something about it.

The Hill:

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans and a majority of all Americans now acknowledge climate change, according to a Monmouth University Poll released Thursday.

The poll found that 64 percent of Republican respondents said they believe that Earth’s climate is changing, up from 49 percent in 2015.

According to the poll, 92 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents also said they acknowledge climate change. Eighty-five percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents polled acknowledged climate change three years ago.

Just over half of Americans surveyed — 54 percent — said climate change is “very serious,” while 17 percent say the problem is “somewhat” serious,” according to the poll. In Monmouth’s 2015 poll, 41 percent said climate change was “very serious.”

One-quarter of Republicans surveyed said climate change is a “very serious problem,” compared to 82 percent of Democrats and about 51 percent of independents who said the same.

The poll also found that 16 percent of Americans said climate change is not happening, while 5 percent of those surveyed said they are unsure if it is occurring.

Geography, according to the poll, also plays a role in Americans’ views of the seriousness of climate change. Residents of coastal areas were 17 percent more likely to say that climate change was a “very serious” problem, compared to their inland neighbors.

19 Responses to “The Right’s Toxic Shame on Climate Change”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Updates from
    Today’s Climate

    With Just 2 Aging Icebreakers, U.S. Leaves National Security at Risk in a Warming Climate

    Icebreakers are critical to science and security in the polar regions, and their importance is increasing as the planet warms. But the U.S. has been pushing off funding new ones, leaving the military with only has two aging icebreakers compared to Russia’s more than 40. Now Congress is set to decide again whether to fund a new icebreaker—or spend that money on other projects, like Trump’s border wall.

    (InsideClimate News)

    UN Chief Issues Dramatic Climate Appeal to World Leaders

    International climate talks opened in Poland with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging world leaders to take bold actions to avert catastrophic global warming. “In short, we need a complete transformation of our global energy economy, as well as how we manage land and forest resources,” he said.

    (Associated Press)

    ‘Yellow Vests’ Riot in Paris, but Their Anger Is Rooted Deep in France

    The rioting in Paris that has been blamed on rising gas taxes is part of an extraordinary venting of rage and resentment by poor, working people, aimed at the mounting inequalities they see eroding their lives. The New York Times follows how the movement started in France’s rural regions.

    (The New York Times)

    Developing Countries ‘Missing Out on Pledged Climate Funds’

    The UN’s Green Climate Fund pledged big money to help developing nations build clean energy capacity and avoid increased fossil fuel use. But the fund has had a slow start, with rich countries backsliding on their pledges.

    (The Guardian)

    Climate Change: Where We Are in 7 Charts

    The 2015 Paris climate accord’s goal of keeping global warming well under 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels is in danger because major economies, including the U.S. and the EU, are falling short of their pledges, the UN warns. These charts show the changes, where the greenhouse gas emissions are coming from, and what the future could look like.


    California Wildfires’ Carbon Emissions Equal to a Year of Power Pollution

    Wildfires in California in 2018 released the rough equivalent of about 68 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide — about the same amount of carbon emissions as are produced in a year to provide electricity to the state, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Friday.

    (NBC News)

    In Rural North Carolina, a Wind Moratorium Takes an Economic Toll

    A temporary moratorium on land-based wind energy projects in North Carolina will have lasting effects in rural Tyrrell County. In the time that wind construction was prohibited, a major wind farm developer pulled plans for a $200 million project that would have added about $300,000 to the county’s tax base.

    (Coastal Review Online)

    From Whale Songs to War, the Less Talked-About Climate Impacts

    Climate change is more than rising temperatures, extreme weather, and sea level rise. Its effects can be seen across the world’s systems, from changing whale communications to playing a role in disease outbreaks.

    (Associated Press)

  2. astrostevo Says:

    The deniers have reached similar levels of sheer patheticness here in Oz too. Got the Australian (a Murdoch propganda paper) the other morning. ( Don’t judge me – at a beach kiosk whilst being out walking the dog and nothing else to read -certainly not a regular reader of it.) They had an opinion pice typically whining about the issue and teh fact that schoolchildren here have recently attended massive rallies urging our coal-puppet Murdoch installed current Govt to take more action on fighting Climate change and cited and slammed a “recent movie” on the topic – that movie?

    Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ from 2006 – more than a decade ago! Recent? That word you use ..They specifically meant that rather than its 2017 (still hardly that “recent”) sequel) too referring to several claims a judge had apparently criticised in some court case over it.

    When Gore is your main go to argument,well, you really don’t have much at all.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    As representatives of around 200 countries kicked off the COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland this week to develop a rulebook for implementing the Paris agreement, a new study looked at how U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw has affected the landmark climate accord. The verdict? The so-called ‘Trump Effect’ has significantly slowed the momentum of global climate action.

    The study, published Monday by Joseph Curtin of the Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA), examined the fate of the 2015 agreement to limit global warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the context of Trump’s announcement in June 2017 that the U.S. would pull out.

    => 3 Ways the ‘Trump Effect’ Puts the Brakes on International Climate Action

    Time to get real.

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