Crawl Across the Ocean

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tide Coming In?

Credit to the Globe for a big section on climate change in today's paper. And good to see that in their poll, 73% of respondents said that they think Global Warming is the result of human activity. I am skeptical that the level of attention climate change has received recently will last, but I am encouraged that there seems to be slow progress towards the kind of public desire for action that will force the politicians to stop stalling.

The most amusing part of the Globe's coverage had to be Margaret Wente's frantic rearguard action. The Globe obviously feels that writing about the same topic over and over again and always being wrong means that you should get a 4-page column to write even more on the topic. Or maybe the Globe editors just realize that the best way to convince those left on the fence to get moving is to give them Wente and have them realize that this is the voice of doing nothing.

Anyway, much like any person who gets involved in a tug-of-war with reality, Wente is losing ground.

Consider her position on climate change scientists in her column giving a platform for climate change skeptic Steve McIntyre (written less than one year ago):

"Unlike almost everyone else in the highly charged climate-change debate, Mr. McIntyre has nothing personal at stake. He doesn't need to advance his career or get research grants."


"But wait. Don't most scientists still believe in the perils of man-made global warming? "Sure," says Mr. McIntyre. "And most stockbrokers believed in Enron."


"He [McIntyre] says that most scientists haven't analyzed the data, and that scientists, like everyone else, are subject to peer pressure and groupthink. "Just because everybody thinks something's true doesn't make it true."

So basically, Wente's position one year ago was that all the world's climatologists were lying about global warming because they were just tyring to get more money for grants or were victims of groupthink.

But now see what Wente2.0 writes in today's globe,
"Because I'm skeptical by nature [ed: yeah, you were real skeptical in your column with McIntyre], I've always discounted the environmental catastrophists. Their message is religious, not rational. But I've also spoken to enough brainy scientists to conclude that human activity is affecting the climate and that global warming is for real."


"To try to get a grip, I checked in with eight leading climate scientists, climate economists and climate-policy analysts. All believe that man-made climate change is a serious issue that demands action."

Now it's possible that in the ten months between Wente columns, there was a revolution in science I happened to miss, a revolution where all the scientists who used to make up results just to get more funding or because they blinded by groupthink were tossed out and replaced with intelligent rational scientists (who came to the same conclusions), but that seems unlikely.

What seems more likely is that Wente, in her status-quo fortified city, has now conceded that the orcs (aka environmentalists, aka reality) have overrun the outer walls which insisted that the science was all wrong, and has now called her rhetorical troops to fall back to the inner walls, where she has to accept what the scientists are saying, but can still deride the dirty hippie environmentalists (extremists!! and alarmists!!, every last one of them), and try to cling to the edge of the scientifc debate which corresponds to the lowest levels of personal guilt or any need to take any action (I believe that all of Wente's columns on global warming are motivated at root by her desire to drive an SUV and not feel guilty about it).

Anyway, I have to admire her chutzpah. If I had spent the last few years writing column after column for a national audience about how climate change was no big deal and we should do nothing, and now I had to write a column basically saying the opposite, I might feel embarrassed, or feel a need to apologize to my readers for my error, or to the planet for the costs of any inaction I helped cause or to all the people I'd mocked along the way who turned out to be right all along, but not Wente. Wente goes right on mocking and attacking all the same people, smoothly transitioning from arguing that we shouldn't do anything, to arguing that we might do too much or take action too soon, from arguing that the people calling for action are wrong to arguing that, OK, they were right, but they are way too shrill about it.

I also like the way Wente titles her column "A Questionable Truth", says at the end that much of what Gore says is "dubious or just plain wrong", and says in the middle of her article that "all these experts are highly critical of An Inconvenient Truth" but somehow, in a 2500 word article, seems not to have hardly made mention of any specific things in Gore's film that are factually inaccurate. Surely if the whole film was questionable, dubious and/or wrong and she talked to all these experts who were highly critical of it, there must be loads of things they could mention that Gore was wrong about - no? But all we get is one measly paragraph,
"Prof. Wunsch, the ocean-currents expert, says that despite what Mr. Gore asserts, there is no chance whatsoever that the Gulf Stream will slow down or stop. Nor did Hurricane Katrina have any link with global warming, nor do this winter's storms and other strange weather."

One person dissents on a couple of points, that's it?

The final, perhaps saddest piece of the article is this:
"At this point, most people say: Well, obviously we've got to start cutting greenhouse-gas emissions as fast as possible. Surely that's the way to make a difference.

This is one of the most common misunderstandings in the global-warming debate. ... Carbon cuts will have an impact — but not for many, many years, because they represent only a tiny fraction of the total CO{-2} that's already in the atmosphere."

One guesses that there aren't many oak trees on the Wente estate. After all, they grow so slowly, what's the point?

Anyway, a year ago Wente's article might have made me angry, but today it just made me laugh. Wente is not quite like King Canute trying to command the tide not to come in. She is more like someone who stood trying to command the tide not to come in, and then when she felt the water coming up over her knees, retreated a few feet towards shore, and stood pretending she had never been standing anywhere else, and resumed her efforts. At some point, you'd think that just giving up on the SUV would be easier than writing all these silly columns.

It's fun to make fun of Wente, but this is a serious issue, and it's good to see it starting to get some serious attention, and it's also good to see that most Canadians have seen through the smokescreen of 'skepticism' that the media has created. Next up, serious government action.



    read this and weep

    By Blogger dan, at 6:15 PM  

  • Now *that* is alarmist!

    But 500 years is a long time, odds are something else will do us in before then...

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:04 PM  

  • Did you see Simpson's article? I enjoyed the contrast, especially where he argues that skeptics are now properly on the "fringe". I hadn't realised that the Globe was that offbeat!

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 9:57 PM  

  • Yeah I saw Simpson's article, and you're right, it was a nice contrast.

    I smiled at the end when he commented that "Others just enjoy the sport of being contrary." and I couldn't help but imagine that he might have a couple of his colleagues in mind when he wrote that.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:15 PM  

  • Should I buy an air-conditioner tomorrow? I'm thinking of a small one only for the back room. So small that I can lift it in and out of the window casing.
    Hmmm. Yeah, the world be damned, I don't have any kids.

    By Blogger Meagerman, at 11:10 AM  

  • Air conditioner?

    What country are you in?

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:53 PM  

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