Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The People We Have To Deal With

Fred Barnes' idiotic refutation of climate change has been making the rounds the last few days. Barnes says that it's been cold lately. This is his proof. When pressed for actual evidence, he said, "I'm not going to do your research for you." Because he's not going to do any research at all.

It's hard to know what to do with climate change deniers. More broadly, how do we deal with prominent right-wing journalists who have platforms who reach millions of people, yet prefer to deny reality. Are their heads in the sand? Are they just evil?

My guess is a combination of the two. Barnes is probably not all that smart. At the same time, what he wants is to get the Republicans back in power as soon as possible. So trashing every position held by a Democrat is his highest priority. He's attacking scientific findings, but I'll bet when it comes to weapons technology he's as pro-science as it gets. He's selecting what he wants to know, which suggests a touch of evil as well as a choice of ignorance. David Roberts has a great piece about how Barnes and other right-wing journalists have one source for their climate change denying information: the office of Oklahoma senator and certified idiot James Inhofe. Who needs scientists when you have the single worst senator in office today?

When we talk about climate change specifically, people like Barnes can hold a lot of sway because it's still really hard to get people to think about climate rather than weather. It's been cold in the Northeast for much of the winter. Because they are cold right now, the earth must not be warming at all! It's all a hoax. Al Gore becomes the butt of jokes. Meanwhile, Australia is setting record high temperatures and suffering through deadly fires. Texas has been 10 degrees warmer than average all winter. And while either of these circumstances could happen independently and thus aren't specifically the fault of climate change, the overwhelming evidence shows that the earth is warming and that extreme weather will be more common. But how to communicate this complexity to the public? I have no answer, but without a simple message it's really hard to convince people that their world is changing irrecovably and that we must take immediate action to stop it.

Meanwhile, birds are wintering further north every year because of warming. And salamander populations are collapsing in Central America for the same reason. But it's cold outside!