Friday, June 01, 2007

Responding to the latest bit of global warming denial propaganda

I flipped to Rush Limbaugh yesterday* and heard him raving about a NASA scientist saying that the problem of global warming was overblown yada yada which had been preceeded by Rush playing a parody song of someone doing an impression of Al Gore saying that the earth will soon burst into flames. Typical Rush. Here's what the propaganda king said:

That's former vice president Algore portrayed vocally by white satirist Paul Shanklin. This is pretty big news here. The NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, I don't know if this guy is a dittohead or not, but if not, he could be ... Michael Griffin, NASA administrator appeared on NPR and he told them that while he has no doubt that a trend of global warming exists, quote, "I'm not sure it's fair to say it's a problem we have to wrestle with." In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep that aired today, administrator Griffin said, "I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."

That is a brilliant point. As long as the Earth has been around, billions and billions of years, who are we to say that the way it is right now is perfection for everybody on the planet. This drills one of the biggest holes in the whole hoax of global warming that there is. The vanity, the assumption that the Earth as it is now is precisely perfect, has been, should be, and that any change from this point is bad and that we are causing it, how do we know that the so-called perfect climate of the Earth is now, for all the people of the planet? How do we know that the climate 30 years ago or a hundred years ago -- the point is, there is no perfect climate because it's always changing. The Earth is constantly heating and cooling. To arbitrarily say, "Today," when we have this political/religious issue that we're trying to infuse everybody's minds with, "this is perfect, any change from here is bad," when nobody can possibly know this.

"The comments come at a difficult time for the Bush administration, which is undergoing pressure from other members of the G8 club, which under the current chair of Germany is pushing for global action on CO2 emissions." Speaking of CO2. Get this. Roy Spencer sent this to me yesterday, Dr. Spencer, our resident expert, climatology, University of Alabama Huntsville. He said, "Rush, people try to scare you by saying that humanity pumps 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and it sounds like a big number." You know, Gore's out there saying this in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, 30 billion tons of CO2. Thirty billion tons. That's bad. Dr. Spencer's writing a book that's due out sometime in the fall about some of this, and he said, "I came up with the following illustration of how little CO2 there really is in the atmosphere and how little humanity produces. While Gore is out there saying that there are 30 billion tons of CO2 being pumped by human beings into the atmosphere each year, the current constitution of the atmosphere is this. It contains 38 molecules of CO2 for every 100,000 molecules of air." Folks, that's nothing. "Thirty-eight molecules of CO2 for every 100,000 molecules of air, and it would take humanity five years to increase that number from 38 to 39. So every five years we add one molecule of CO2 to each 100,000 molecules of air." And yet this is how the left sells stuff, 30 billion tons, CO2, and now Germany and the G8, they're saying, "Well, we gotta stop CO2 emissions. We're pumping 30 billion tons." It's not a factor. Thirty-eight molecules for every 100,000 molecules of air. Anyway, congratulations, Michael Griffin, great comment. There's some other things that he said here as well. But that's the main point. Who are we to say that it's perfect now?

First, it may come as some surprise (not**) but Michael Griffin was appointed to NASA by President Bush. This might lead one to speculate that the White House did one of its infamous litmus tests and made sure that Griffin had the "right" (i.e. Exxon Mobil supported view) opinion on global warming before he landed his position. Indeed, a blogger at the climate science blog Prometheus raised that very point in his response to Griffin's NPR interview. And the quite simple answer to what Rush has deemed "a brilliant point" is that it

indicates ... that Griffin has absolutely no appreciation for the risk that anthropogenic climate change poses. Risk implies both knowledge and uncertainty and if Griffin simply wanted to make a point about uncertainty I'd concede it. But instead he seems to simply cast out the severe risks that do exist in favor of some sort of fig leaf that says "we may have altered the climate but we're too arrogant if we think we should stop altering it because our alterations might be good for other people."

And as Chris Mooney adds in his entry "Of Idiocy and Optimal Climates"

what Griffin is ignoring is the whole issue of risk and its distribution. Our global society is set up for--adapted to--the current climate. But now we're moving in the direction of raising the sea level considerably--even as much of the global population is coastal--and melting large amounts of ice, while also altering the occurrence of phenomena, such as droughts, that could have a dramatic impact on food and water supplies.

How can anyone think this is not a tremendous societal risk, even if there might be some people--in, say, Buffalo, New York--who may actually have more pleasant weather under global warming?

Now, the bit about Roy Spencer. Frankly, I'm amazed that a scientist would have the nerve to say such a thing. That is pure and absolute sophistry and the only people that sort of "argument" is going to sway are individuals who are completely ignorant of the science of global warming and the relationship that CO2 has to temperature. Basically, the fact that CO2 comprises a small total percentage of the atmosphere is totally irrelevant to the debate, and it is Spencer who is in point of fact doing exactly what he is accusing his opponents of doing ... he is using the relative minute amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to trivialize the fact that current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are unprecedented in human history and that a plethora of evidence has established a correlation between increased levels of CO2 and temperature. For an analogy to demonstrate how specious this line of reasoning is, it would be like me asserting that drinking 2 or 3 shots of vodka can't intoxicate you because your blood alcohol content would still only be about .08.

As it just so happens, Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter is the first myth debunked in NewScientist's Climate Change: A guide for the perplexed. Given the sheer inanity of Spencer's bit of denial that he gave to Rush Limbaugh to be consumed without question by Rush's million of listeners, perhaps considering Spencer's links to global warming denial organizations is in order.

But the sad reality is that none of this matters. Griffin and Spencer have done their part. Their assertions will circulate the Rush-Hannity-Drudge axis (coined by Gore in The Assualt on Reason) of the noise machine and the individuals who get their news from these sorts of places are also the individuals most likely to take them at face value (confirmation bias.) This is how the noise machine operates, and how it proceeds to cut large chunks of the American public off from reality.

Update: This isn't related to global warming, but instead to the noise machine. Take a look at this post by Glenn Greenwald documenting how the noise machine has spent the last two years (and I would quibble that its been longer than two years) asserting categorically that Valerie Plame was not covert when her identity was leaked. As Greenwald notes

Many people who listen to right-wing commentators such as these get their "news" about the world primarily, even exclusively, from these sources. And these sources, knowing that, routinely create their own self-affirming though wildly warped realities, in the process denying the most established facts or asserting propositions for which there is no factual basis (Fred Barnes: "The CIA made such a big deal out of Valerie Plame and her name being published. She wasn't even an covert agent or anything" -- Glenn Reynolds: "Since it seems as clear as anything in this affair that Valerie Plame was not a covert agent the day before Novak's column").

And there are countless identical statements about Plame that are not included here where the commentator confined their assertion to whether Plame was "covert" within the parameters of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Victoria Toensing, for instance, repeatedly made misleading statements insinuating that Plame was not covert -- even calling for Senate Democrats to investigate the CIA's criminal referral of the Plame disclosure -- but typically couched those claims as a
statutory analysis, rather than a straight-forward claim about her employment status with the CIA.

But the above-listed right-wing pundits simply made clear, unequivocal statements about Plame's status with the CIA that were outright false. They had no basis at the time for making such statements. But, as they so often do, they made them anyway, because those statements helped to defend the Leader and bolster their political agenda. Most of all, they know that their readers will trust what they say even when those statements are demonstrably false.

This is what the noise machine does non-stop. These pundits/"journalists"/propagandists over and over again state things that are not true. Yet no matter how many times they are wrong, nor how much evidence controverts their assertions, they keep doing the same thing, because in the alternate reality they have fabricated their lies are excepted uncritically as truth. And in cases such as this, when the evidence that they were wrong becomes incontrovertible, they still manage to rationalize reality away or pretend they were never wrong in the first place. And there is no consequences for them being wrong because their salaries are not dependent on them making statements that are factually accurate or adhering to any kind of basic levels of journalistic integrity.

In Greenwald's post you'll find Glenn Reynolds stating that he feels no need to issue a retraction for asserting Plame was not covert because he was simply commenting on a news item. This itself has been one of the standard excuses that the conservative movement has given for its orchestrated assault on reality and truth; bullshit and lies are deemed acceptable if they are issued under the guise of "opinion/commentary."

And this mentality (the Fox News "fair and balanced" model of journalism which can excuse an unmitigated serial truth distorter such as Sean Hannity as "commentary") has started to become a media norm. Witness Lou Dobbs calling critics who point out that he has been disseminating white supremacist lies about immigrants "commies and fascists." As Dave Neiwert has pointed out, Lou Dobbs' - in the words of the New York Times article - "mixes opinions and untruths," yet he refuses to take responsibility when it is demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has issued factually incorrect statements.

*Here's a good rule of thumb: flip to Rush's radio program at any given moment and he will either be in the process of telling a lie or will begin lying within 30 seconds.
**With all due respect to Wayne's World.


Sheldon said...

Nice post Hume's Ghost.

Another interesting point about the arrogance of the "perfect climate" from an archaoelogical perspective. Prior to about roughly 10-12,000 years ago, all of humanity were hunter-gatherers. Only into the holocene warming did agriculture become possible, and hence the sustainability of higher human population density and more complex society. It actually maybe that the climate parameters that we have enjoyed for the past ten thousand years have been optimal for human civilization. A radical departure from those parameters, with warming, and then rapid chilling could indeed spell disaster in many ways.

Of course countries like Bangladesh, low elevation and poor will suffer the most and soonest while the U.S. may be able to adopt quiker and easier to new conditions. Griffin should be able to draw this relatively easy conclusion. Instead he prefers his own brand of hubris.

Hume's Ghost said...

The Long Summer

I haven't read that (yet) but it makes the point you raise: that civilization as we know it is possibly the result of a kind of Goldilocks scenario. If I recall correctly, this point is also made in The Weather Makers.

C2H50H said...

If you drive through the upper midwest during the growing season or talk to farmers, you will find that they have started to find it necessary to change what they plant already. In the northern Great Plains, you'll find winter wheat replacing spring wheat, for example.

If this goes on, there is going to be a massive upheaval in American agriculture. If it results in widespread crop failures, there are going to be hungry people.

And of course this is on top of everybody who can planting corn, thank you very much.

Hume's Ghost said...

Have you read The Omnivore's Dillemma yet? Its on my "to read" list but the list tends to grow faster than I'm able to keep up with.

C2H50H said...

Omnivore's Dilemma, no. I grew up on a traditional more-or-less subsistence farm, I already know far more than I like about the subject. It's not comfortable knowledge. Be warned.

I did enjoy Soylent Green (the book, that is.)

And "Eat the Rich" by P. J. O'Rourke.

Perhaps this discussion has grown a little dark.

Hume's Ghost said...

I'm well past dark. At this point my confidence that american democracy is going to survive is not high.

C2H50H said...

If American democracy does not survive, it's because the electorate doesn't contain enough educable people to out-vote the authoritarian minority, and therefore does not deserve to survive.

In which case it's best to trash-can it and start doing research on some social and political organization that can replace it.

As for me, I think we're headed for a sea-change moment of some kind, and I'm very curious to see what happens in November 2008.