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Too Soft on the Environmentalists?


Many readers have written to chastise me for being too soft on the global-warming gang in my piece today. Their objections come in two main varieties: 1. excruciatingly detailed arguments about who wrote what paleoclimate report and how the data was fudged because a data station was located near an urban parking lot, etc. 2. tactical arguments that we ought not to give an inch and that we should, now that we have an opportunity, kick the loonies while they’re down.

A few thoughts:

Arguing against the science itself seems to me a poor approach (at least a poor one for me) because, even accounting for the CRU fraud, there is lots and lots of data that supports, at least in part, the global-warming narrative. Those of us who do not want cap-and-trade or a Copenhagen climate cop breathing down our national neck probably don’t want to make the data our hill to die on: For one thing, it’s probably not all false, and conservatives’ first allegiance should be to reality. For another, the strongest part of our argument isn’t our conclusions about science, but our conclusions about public policy. So my argument isn’t about assessing the scientific data — most of us cannot do that, anyway — but about assessing the assessors. Climate science is a lot like evolutionary science in that it is the subject of many vacuous arguments among English majors and lawyers and others who do not have much to add to the scientific discussion. I am not so much interested in the science as in the strength of our belief, or of our disbelief, when it comes to the various global-warming narratives that inform the policy debate on the subject.

Here’s a thought experiment: Let’s say you have an acquaintance you know to be a dishonest cretin. Let’s call him “Senator Snout.” Not only is Snout a prevaricator, some members of his family are, too, being in the professions of lawyering and politicking and the like. And some of them aren’t outright liars, but are prone to overexcitement and exaggeration. Still others are honest as the day is long, but you wouldn’t trust their judgments. Let’s say Snout runs into your office one day to inform you that your house is on fire. He’s run up the stairs, he’s sweating and goggle-eyed. “Your house is one fire!” You know him to be dishonest, but the vision of your house on fire is a powerful one: your loving wife, darling children, worldly goods, beloved household pets, engulfed in flames. Do you pick up the phone? Just to check and make sure everything is okay? Do you call 911? Or do you ignore Snout entirely and go about your business, with no thoughts of wife and children and worldly goods and pets succumbing to smoke and flames?

Now, imagine it’s not Snout, but a member of Snout’s family — a family you know to be tainted with dishonesty. Snout’s brother, say, runs in saying “Your house is one fire!” Do you make the call? Now, what if you hear from several members of Snout’s family? Do you go on reading your e-mail, checking off items on your Tuesday morning to-do list? Do you discount them all? Do you discount them entirely, or only in part?

On global warming, some of the Snouts are telling us that our house is on fire. But mostly Snout is warning us that our house might catch fire, and he’s suggesting that we buy an insurance policy — from Snout Inc. We can decline the insurance policy and keep our own counsel on the risk of our worldly goods going up in flames while acknowledging that it is possible that our house may catch fire, and that some of that old wiring up near the attic maybe needs to be replaced, that we need to check the batteries in the old smoke alarm, etc.

Maximalist positions — “The World Is Ending!” vs. “Global Warming Is a Hoax!” — are emotionally satisfying, and therefore to be regarded with suspicion. Conservatives can guard our liberties and wealth without going to the wall over every data regression in every climate-change model under the sun.


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