Right-Wing Think Tank Review: 3/22/07
American Enterprise Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)
Gore on the Rocks
By Steven F. Hayward
Pub. 3/21/07; also pub. in National Review.
Hayward's article attempts to establish the idea that there is a "backlash" under way, in the scientific community and among the general public, against climate change "alarmism." Celebrating the fact that "public opinion has barely budged" on climate change, Hayward uses Al Gore as a foil for various denialist assertions.
He begins by citing William Broad's recent article
in the New York Times
, which purported to show a backlash against the former Vice President's climate change lobbying "'from rank and file scientists' who 'have no political ax to grind.'" (See here
for criticism of Broad's piece). Hayward goes on to quote Mike Hulme, a British climatologist who sounds a reasonable note of caution about the dangers of always assuming worst-case scenarios. The article then distorts the sense of Hulme's statement by following it with a quote about "internal backlash" from Kevin Vranes - who is also cited in the NYT piece, and who, critics have noted
, has published very little peer-reviewed work on climate change.
Hayward then argues that the recent report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "undermines many of Gore's most spectacular
claims" [emphasis mine]. Citing, for instance, Gore's warning about the possibility of a 20-foot rise in sea level, Hayward uses the IPCC's more limited conclusions to criticize outlier
claims about the effects of global warming, without noting that the report itself affirms
extremely strong evidence for anthropogenic influence on climate.
Like a number of other conservative writers, Hayward cites the recent British documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle
as evidence of a scientific "backlash" against warnings about climate change. Critics have noted
that the program offered little more than the usual debunked denialist claims; one of the scientists featured in the program, meanwhile, has stated
that Channel 4 misled him about the nature of the documentary and distorted his opinions.
Hayward and other conservative writers are focusing on examples of extreme rhetoric from non-scientist climate change activists, then conflating the more cautious language of actual scientists with discredited denialist claims, to impute the existence of a "backlash" against warnings about global warming in general. Using certain activists as a straw man, Hayward is attempting to attach denialism parasitically to actual science.
As RealClimate.org has warned
Much of the sensationalist talk in the public discourse (and to which the scientists in the piece, and we, rightly take exception) are not the pronoucements of serious scientists in the field, but distorted and often out-of-context quotes that can be further mangled upon frequent repetition. We have often criticised such pieces (here, or here for instance) and it is important to note that the 'shrill voices of doom' referred to by Mike Hulme were not scientists, but campaigners.
Yet we cannot expect conservative think tanks to make the same distinctions.
Meanwhile, Hayward also attempts to portray a backlash against climate change campaigners among the general public. Again, he resorts to ridicule of Al Gore, criticizing Gore's "profligate energy use" (here we see the synergy
of the conservative think tanks and right-wing media/attack operations). At the same time, Hayward mades an important political point - one which progressives should carefully consider:
Liberals in the 1960s and 1970s never comprehended how damaging "limousine liberalism" was to their cause. They seem even more oblivious to the self-inflicted wounds of "Gulfstream liberalism." Whatever the intricacies of climate science, middle-class citizens understand that Gore wants them to use less energy and pay more for it, while he and his Hollywood pals use as much as they want and buy their way out of guilt, like a medieval indulgence [Emphasis mine].
Carbon offsets have a emerged as a way for people to use market-like mechanisms to mitigate the environmental harm caused by their personal energy use. This is a laudable idea, but it has the potential to be politically disastrous. It implies that burdens will not be equally shared, and could allow cultural and class-based resentments to undermine serious efforts at emissions reduction. It structures emissions reduction much as the Union's ill-conceived military draft was structured during the Civil War: theoretically, anybody can buy out of it, but in practical terms, only the wealthy can do so. Carbon offsets are not technically hypocritical, but they are
deeply hypocritical on a symbolic level.
[Remainder of post lost]
Labels: American Enterprise Institute, global warming, Right Wing Think Tank Review