Climate spurs debate — some thoughtful, some pretty frustrating

Antarctic Ice SheetThe Western Antarctic ice sheet has begun to collapse. There’s no scenario for reversal and the whole western sheet will be lost. It IS going to happen. This was the conclusion of two separate studies soon to be published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters and reported lots of places but of course not everywhere (see below).

“it shook me a little bit”

Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said.

On the left (well, really the “center”) there’s a debate about how to communicate to the public. Basically the question is: should news about unfolding climate change emphasize urgency or actual somewhat-nerdy detail? (See: Climate Hawk vs. Serious People for example.)

  • Serious Person“: If you read the studies, this ice sheet “collapse” will be a slow-moving affair, in human terms, not really occurring rapidly until 200 years from now, or even later, at which point we’re on our way to seeing sea levels rise 10 feet or more.
  • Climate Hawk“:  Ya, sure, but we should still have “COLLAPSE!” in the headline just to get attention. If we’re going to avoid the worst of climate calamities, we must act now, now, NOW… within the next 15 years. Telling people that the real shit storm will arrive long after they’re dead is an ineffective motivator (for most of us) to do something NOW.

These are both reasonable arguments, and here at The Daily Tissue we weaselly endorse both, simultaneously.

But meanwhile what’s happening on the right?

Well, it’s unchanged. It’s now a very dumb discussion where facts don’t matter. Climate change is to be ignored, minimized or derided. It’s a foolish orthodoxy. In the week just past Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) reversed himself and said what “conservatives” (at least for now) simply must, must say,

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”

Republican candidates believe (or know?) that they cannot say anything else if they hope to be nominated. So Rubio says it, even though he’s from a state where parts of two major cities and all of the Everglades will drown in the future.

But it’s not just the craven politicians angling to a Republican base. It’s more extensive than that.

Jonathan Chait in his Daily Intelligencer column does a point-by-point takedown of two conservative, millionaire star-pundits — George Will and Charles Krauthammer who will never run for office.

Krauthammer and Will are (or used to be) as good as it gets in the world of conservative movement punditry, and yet there they are on Fox News just grasping for ways to cast doubt on an established scientific consensus, even on the whole scientific field of climate science. WHY? Would they be drummed out of the movement if they broke with Rush Limbaugh?  Would they lose their well-paid pundit gigs? How long can this bubble-think go on?

Remember “Bagdad Bob”?

Bagdad Bob was DOUBTLESS. THE. ONLY. amusing figure in the 2003 Irag war. As Iraqi information minister, “Bob” became hilariously famous for saying things like “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” as U.S. tanks were rolling by, on camera, in the background behind him. He was a figure of rich satire at a terrible moment. This is what Krauthammer and Will are doing, positioning themselves as American Bagdad Bobs denying climate change, even as — in the background — California’s fire season lasts 75 days longer than a decade ago, rain events become stronger and more frequent in the northeast, and on and on.  

Are we really doomed to do almost nothing at the highest levels of government because of a gridlock where one side enjoys its bubble of misinformation and magical thinking? That’s where the smart money would be wagering for now. Even though it cannot last.