Media expert on climate change, I am not.
You want columnist climate connoisseur? Go read Lorrie Goldstein or Ezra Levant.
“Humanity’s burning of fossil fuels is having a warming effect on the climate,” Goldstein has written. “But that it’s not as dramatic as we were initially led to believe.”
Levant is slightly less nuanced. Climate change is a “hoax,” he says, and global warming “isn’t happening.”
There are others like Lorrie and Ezra, mostly on the conservative side of the ideological spectrum. There are columnists, think tanks and academics. To them, too, climate change isn’t happening.
On the other side are progressive columnists, think tanks and academics. They do battle with the conservative side on newspaper op-ed pages and on talk radio and at conferences.
As with the abortion debate, or the Middle East, or gun control, or any number of other subjects, these implacable climate change foes debate incessantly. They agree on little, if anything. It goes on and on.
The public, for their part, tend to tune out the quarrelling. To them, it is noise. It is what American thinker David Shenk called (ironically, in this case) “data smog.”
In the modern era, Shenk posits, Joe and Jane Frontporch receive too much conflicting information, too often. They lack the time or the expertise to sift through all of the competing theories and factoids about, say, climate change. So they just give up.
For someone wishing to preserve the status quo, “data smog” is their friend. It is a tried and true method to win. In a political context, it is like vote suppression: if you conclude you can’t change Joe and Jane’s mind about something, persuade them to give up.
That strategy has certainly worked on lots of people: there is so much flatly contradictory information out there about climate change, that many folks just don’t bother to talk about it.
Now, I grew up in Calgary, and I worked in the oil patch. I don’t regard the energy industry as Satanic. I thought the NEP was an unmitigated disaster, and I think Keystone XL is a lot better than shipping oil by rail cars (because they go through places like Lac Megantic) or by boats (because boats sink).
But, that said, I wonder. I look at the pages of the New York Times, as I did yesterday, and I wonder if we might be making a big mistake.
“The nations of the world have agreed to try to limit the warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which would require that emissions slow down and then largely stop in the next 30 years or so,” wrote the Times writer Justin Gillis, who has won a fistful of awards for his work, and who has gone to MIT and Harvard.
“If they continue on their present course through the century, scientists say, the Earth could warm by as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial level, which would likely be incompatible with human civilization in its current form.”
Now, I’m guessing the next step will be for the conservative columnists, think tanks and academics to do their utmost to discredit Justin Gillis. Overwhelmed by the resulting data smog, Joe and Jane Frontporch will then shrug, and give up.
But that last bit – “incompatible with human civilization in its current form” – kind of makes you sit up and think, doesn’t it? It did me.
I’m no expert. And I’m no anti-Keystone extremist. But, some days, I still have that line from the Clash’s ‘London Calling’ running through my head:
“You know what they said? Well, some of it was true.”