Predicting the end of the world is in part how Philip Plait, Ph.D., curator of the Bad Astronomy blog, makes his living. He is, after all, author of Death from the Skies!: The Science behind the End of the World. But his doomsaying in an Election Day piece for Slate was of a different, decidedly less scientific, sort.
Worried about “the crucial issue of global warming” (or, as Plait calls it, “reality”)? A Republican victory at the polls, Plait warned, would mean “put[ting] a cohort of science-deniers into positions of authority over the very science they want to trample.” Come January, “Ted Cruz (R., Texas) could be chairman of the committee on science and space.” Your vote, Plait wrote gravely, “quite literally affects the future of humanity.”
The “politics of fear” were for yesteryear. This is the politics of “the end of the world as you know it” — or, in the case of global warming, the plain old end of the world.
People have, of course, been predicting the End of Times since the Beginning of Times, and prophets of apocalypse are in plentiful supply on both ends of the political spectrum. Conservatives, too, have seen visions and dreamed dreams, particularly with regard to the current administration. But it would be denying actual reality (not Plait’s facsimile) not to acknowledge that forecasting doom is a particular recreation of the Left — and, with the rise of global warming, a recreation that has attained a particular vehemence.
Start with the usual type of doomsaying, the “end of the world as you know it” type, demonstrated on several occasions in these recent elections. In Texas, Democrat Wendy Davis insinuated that Greg Abbott would rescind protections for interracial marriage (despite being himself in an interracial marriage), while in Colorado NARAL Pro-Choice America warned that Colorado’s Republican Senate candidate, Cory Gardner, would, if elected, ban condoms. In a 2011 ad opposing Medicare cuts, the liberal Agenda Project depicted Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan literally tossing an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman off a cliff, and the next year, the vice president of the United States warned an audience of black voters that Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains.”
Global warming ups the ante. Maybe you are not interested in the availability of birth control in Colorado. But you can’t be uninterested in global warming, because, like it or not, global warming is interested in you — and in literally everyone else. Global warming is not about political agendas; it’s about science, and science brooks no counterargument.
But scientific knowledge per se has no political agenda; liberals do. And long before the science was settled, the Left saw in global warming a source of fear that it could commandeer for its political purposes — ensuring, in the process, that the “science” of global warming became the handmaid of liberal policy, not, as liberals claim, vice versa. The consequences for political and intellectual discourse, and for the independence required for scientific progress, have been predictably grim.
That liberals’ global-warming zealotry has more to do with politics than with principle, Alex Berezow noted in his response to Plait at RealClearScience. Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a sweeping House majority quite recently, he observes, but they used those numbers to do precisely nothing about climate change. When the House forwarded a cap-and-trade bill to the Senate in the summer of 2009, Harry Reid let it die without ever calling a vote. “Why is Phil Plait blaming Republicans, but not Democrats?” Berezow asks. “Well, you can answer that question.”
Pointing to these contradictions, and to the fact that scientific fact and liberal policy preferences have been all too often conflated, is a much better path for conservatives than saying with a shrug, “Well, I’m no scientist.” One does not have to be a scientist to have an informed, defensible opinion.
By a sleight of hand, liberals claimed the mantle of “science” and have used it to prognosticate doom. Conservatives should not cede that ground. If we do, we are in for many more years of apocalyptic warnings from “scientists” who, like Plait, espy the waters rising, the weather weirding, and, through the hole in the ozone layer, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Ted, and Hades followed him . . .
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.