Planet Earth

A Vast Mass of Gas

June 24, 2011

Hindenburg

My sometime college classmate and debate judge, Al, has just published a very long rant in Rolling Stone. Though I know little of that scene–it’s been years since I last dined with Jagger—I see Al has something interesting to say, as recovering Nobel laureates often do, once he’s gotten the usual pitcher of warm spit out of his system.

I counsel constant vigilance on seeing young Gore in such a mood, for the world’s salvation affords an enchanting pretext for those predisposed to societal intervention, and Al has been known to wave the abolitionist banner at the sight of a cigarette. This time he (or his focus group) actually has a point: The climate change debate has become indistinguishable from professional wrestling.

The Climate Wars are as far removed from scientific discourse as the World Karate Championships are from a match cage full of masked Mexican dwarfs. Although the problem began back in the day when the antics of the two WWFs, wildlife and wrestling, were still distinguishable, the gorgeous Georges, Rushes, and Glenns of yack radio and TV have kicked the nonsense up a notch by focusing on scientific noise to the complete exclusion of signal. When was the last time you saw a climate scientist complete a sentence on TV, let alone a paragraph?

“The Climate Wars are as far removed from scientific discourse as the World Karate Championships are from a match cage full of masked Mexican dwarfs.”

This change in media strategy is an exercise not in science, but semiotics, the increasingly dark art of creating and manipulating symbols. It scarcely signifies which of the usual K Street suspects authored Fox’s latest gambit, or whether the bills are paid by the Koch’s petroleum coke or the soft coal in Rupert Murdoch’s ancestral backyard. The content, or lack of it, testifies that the talking heads who are supposed to defend us against regulation and carbon rationing have been told to quit arguing about climate science and talk down to their audience on science itself. This they do in true postmodern fashion by denying that anybody’s science is better than the other fellow’s. Having denounced relativism with every other breath, they sure know how to practice what they preach.

And how to forget the past as prologue—it is quite a spectacle to see the right attempting to rerun Steve Gould and Carl Sagan’s generation-old gambit of appealing to their own authority while indulging in prime-time number-fudging. The evidence of this ranges from vanity-press journals with PR copy presented as though it were peer-reviewed scholarship, to the barmy bafflegab of a bona fide peer, a bug-eyed Old Harrovian named Christopher Monckton. This crack cricketer’s quack Question Time is quite delightful, for he is numerate enough to serve as the Daily Telegraph’s Sudoku editor, and it is a joy to watch him bowl over the cranks, carnival barkers, and octogenarian emeriti annually assembled for the Tea Party science fair laid out by Heartland and Discovery Institute.

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