Monday, June 12, 2006

George Will's Inconvenient Truth

Reading George Will can be like reading science fiction. You're reading a science fiction tale and the author throws out a couple scientific facts that you know to be true. After a while he tosses a couple more in there that you're not sure of but they sound pretty plausible. Pretty soon you've got people rubbing hedgehog oil on the bottoms of their feet and walking on ceilings and now you're all but sure that you've left the world of science far behind and you're deep into the forests of fiction. You're not sure where you made that transition, but you know it was back on the road a bit.

A few weeks ago, George Will wrote an eminently reasonable piece on "values voters," laying bare the claim that one party has a lock on values. I had an uneasy feeling at the time, a feeling that something was amiss. That was old George pretending to be rooted in a reality based world, getting ready to lead us away from firm ground and into his fantasy world. We arrived there yesterday, with his column about Al Gore and "An Inconvenient Truth."

In this piece, Will hamhandedly snips Gore quotes, in an almost goldbergian way, to create an impression that Gore contradicts himself within "An Inconvenient Truth." Will writes
Minutes after Gore said that "the debate in the science community is over," he said "there is a debate between the American ice science community and ice scientists elsewhere" about whether the less-than-extremely-remote danger is a rise in sea level of a few inches or 20 feet . And he said scientists "don't know what is happening" in west Antarctica or Greenland. So when Gore says the scientific debate is "over," he must mean merely that there is consensus that we are in a period of warming.
Um, no, that's not what he "merely" mean. The debate within the science community that is over is about whether there is global warming and whether man is a significant contributor to it. The overwhelming consensus answer to both is yes. The debate is over the extent of the damage we can expect and how soon we can expect to see the most dire consequences. Will goes on to say that the serious debate is over "the contribution of human activity to the current episode and the degree to which this or that measure (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol) would make a difference commensurate with its cost." He is being, at best, disingenuous here. There remains no question over the contribution of human activity to global warming, but Will and his ilk want us to contine to focus on that question so we don't have to get to the second issue Will brings up. The problem with the cost analysis Will mentions, to Will, is that in addition to weighing the cost of ameliorative measures, a cost-benefit analysis has to weigh the cost, in human as well as financial terms, of doing nothing. Such an analysis, without question, indicates that doing nothing is not an option. So, in Will's world, the question must not be reached.

The thing is, Will is neither stupid nor ignorant. He understands what Gore is saying and he understands the consequences if Gore is right. You have to remember about Will, though, that he has demonstrated in the past that his commitment to integrity, reason, and truth is tenuous when they conflict with his self-interest. He famously opined on Nightline 26 years ago that Reagan had outperformed Carter in a presidential debate, never mentioning that he had helped coach Reagan for the debate, leaving out as well that he did so with purloined Carter briefing papers. In more recent years Will had praised since indicted Conrad Black, never mentioning that he was on Black's payroll. With this history of allowing his integrity to be rented if the price is right, it's hard not to wonder what Will's motivation is for naysaying the overwhelmingly held scientific belief that the climate is changing at a rapid pace that if not abated will drastically undermine man's ability to continue to survive on the planet, that man has contributed to this change, and that we can and must do something to avert this catastrophe. Is it irresponsible to speculate that Will might be heavily invested in oil or automotive company stocks, and that this guides his hand as he distrots the truth about Gore's message? Applying the ="Noonan rule, it's irresponsible not to.
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