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With Climate Change, Life Imitates Art

Monday, June 20, 2011

Some people dispute that science fiction predicts reality. I would refer those people to the recent changes in the debate over climate change.

In what some consider one of the great science fiction series, "Babylon 5," there is an alien race called the Drazi. Every five years, half the Drazi don green sashes, and half don purple sashes, after which they fight for political supremacy. It doesn’t matter what one believes, only what color sash one wears. Some people dispute that science fiction predicts reality. I would refer those people to the recent changes in the debate over climate change.

For some time now, the green climatists have had a fairly straightforward litmus test: it was basically “you’re with us, or against us.” Anyone who differed in any way from the green-climate orthodoxy, in which “unequivocal” planetary peril mandates an immediate, hard-left restructuring of the global economy, was tagged as a “climate denier,” a not-at-all veiled implication that one has the moral fiber of those who deny the holocaust.*

Every so often, such thinking bursts forth in a splenic fountain of intolerance: in a column for the Sydney Morning Herald, columnist Richard Glover recently wrote: “Surely it's time for climate-change deniers to have their opinions forcibly tattooed on their bodies.” While I’m guessing that Glover would like to retract this suggestion, such silliness is nothing new: others have suggested these heterodox thinkers should be subject to Nuremberg-like trials, shunned by the media and professional peers, and meet worse fates. The only thing surprising is that such beliefs have not yet qualified as cause for punitive awards in divorce and child-custody settlements, or been criminalized as a form of spousal abuse.

On the issue of climate change, the Right has refined their tolerance equation to match that of the Left: ‘you’re either with us or against us.’

Until recently those holding heterodox positions were a fairly diverse group—let’s call them the, er, rainbow-climatists. Some disputed scientific claims about the exact level of climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases. Others disputed this or that climate feedback assumption. Others accepted that climate change was real, but probably not too bad. Some were simply skeptics in the old-fashioned sense of rejecting soothsayers and doom prophets, computerized or not. Still others might have bought most of the green-climatist orthodoxy, and held that climate change was real, partly human-caused, and likely harmful, but they differed regarding policy prescriptions. They may have argued that a carbon tax was “better” than cap-and-trade, that mitigation could wait for a few decades while technology evolved, or even that, in their opinion, trying to forestall climate change would do more harm than adapting to it. Contra to the climate-denier meme, few if any of these multi-value folks could actually live up to the label—the number of people who, over the years, declared the entire enterprise of climate-anything to be a giant hoax would probably find a phone booth a fairly roomy place to hold a meeting. I personally do not know anyone who argues that greenhouse gases do not absorb radiation and do not hold additional heat in the atmosphere, and I would guess I know 99 percent of the rainbow-climatists.

But as the 2012 elections approach, things are changing in the political universe. While those in the green movement always rejected the rainbow, those on the right tolerated it. But as Inspector Jacques Clouseau might say, “not any more.”

Over at climatedepot.com, and, apparently in the Rushbo zone, there is a new tone of intolerance when it comes to diversity of climate opinion: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie (hail the redeemer of fat guys from New Jersey!) have all been slammed recently for being taken in by the great climate con, and are basically being written off as viable candidates on the right. The Right has refined their tolerance equation to match that of the Left: “you’re either with us or against us.” They have gone for the purple sashes.

Anyone who differed in any way from the green-climate orthodoxy was tagged as a ‘climate denier,’ a not-at-all veiled implication that one has the moral fiber of those who deny the holocaust.

I suppose (though I’m not sure how) this might be good politics, but I don’t think this development is any healthier for the climate-policy discussion than the “denier” motif that went before.

Kenneth P. Green is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

* Quick challenge: think of any other area where you’d call people a “denier.” You could argue that a rock-climber was in denial about the distinct risk of plunging to death, but you wouldn’t call them a gravity-denier. You might say that someone was in denial about the death of a loved one, but you wouldn’t call them a death-denier. Pretty much everyone who drives is in denial of the probability that they’ll be in an accident, which doesn’t mean they are accident-deniers.

FURTHER READING: Previous entries in this series are “Plainly Not Helping Spain,” “Don’t Envy Germany,” “Renewable Energy Fails to Green the U.K. Economy,” “Italy and the Eco-Mafia,” and “A Dutch (Re)Treat.” Green discusses “President Obama's Flawed Energy Blueprint,” “The Green Jobs Myth,” and “Empowering the Free Energy Markets.” Steven F. Hayward has recently written, “2011 Almanac of Environmental Trends,” “Unsettling the Settled Science,” and “In Denial.”

Image by Rob Green/Bergman Group.

 

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