I usually like Emily Yoffe. Her Human Guinea Pig columns are great, and she’s generally the kind of snarky writer who makes me love Slate. Sometimes, though, she is, as Kevin Drum says, inane. Witness her piece today in the Washington Post op-ed page:
In “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore tells us that unless drastic global changes are made, our cities will be inundated and those of us who haven’t drowned will face a world wracked by cataclysmic weather and swarming with pestilence. One of his devotees, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, is coming out with his own environmental horror movie warning of human extinction if we continue living as we are. This would have a negative effect on the box office, but extinction might be preferable to the future Gore envisions.
She doesn’t expand on this point. It just goes without saying that we obviously would prefer mass human extinction to living like the Swedes. I mean, clearly.
I, however, refuse to see the apocalypse in every balmy day. And I think it’s wrong to let our children believe they’ll be swept away before they get a chance to fret about college admissions. An article in The Post this spring described children anxious, sleepless and tearful about the end; one 9-year-old said she worried about global warming “because I don’t want to die.”
So, basically, global warming isn’t a problem because, if we are to be reminded of it, the wee yoots will be scared. Or, in other words, “Will someone please think of the children?”
All this is not to say that it’s not getting warmer and that curbing our profligate environmental ways is not a commendable and necessary goal. But perhaps this movement is sowing the seeds of its own destruction — even as it believes the human species has sown its own. There must be a limit to how many calamitous films, books and television shows we, and our children, can absorb.
It doesn’t seem sustainable to expect people to remain terrified by such a disinterested, often benign — it was so nice eating out on the patio! — and even unpredictable enemy. (I understand we’re the enemy, but the executioner is the weather.) Recall that the experts told us last year would be a record-setting hurricane season, but the series of Katrinas never materialized.
So she’s saying we shouldn’t be scared of global warming, not because it’s not happening, but because the nagging will get boring after a while. Truly, Yoffe has the most important aspects of this issue on her mind. But what’s weirder about this section is that Yoffe seems, indeed, to be suggesting that global warming could turn out to be a myth – witness her comparison to the relative mildness of the 2006 hurricane season. Which is it, Emily? Is global warming a naggy fact or a naggy myth? We need to pin down the irritating bastard.
Since I hate the heat, even I was alarmed by the recent headline: “NASA Warns of 110-Degrees for Atlanta, Chicago, DC in Summer.” But I regained my cool when I realized the forecast was for close to the end of the century. Thanks to all the heat-mongering, it’s supposed to be a sign I’m in denial because I refuse to trust a weather prediction for August 2080, when no one can offer me one for August 2008 (or 2007 for that matter).
There is so much hubris in the certainty about the models of the future that I’m oddly reassured. We’ve seen how hubristic predictions about complicated, unpredictable events have a way of bringing the predictors low.
Okay, so naggy myth it is. Apparently, Yoffe does not understand how it’s different to guess the weather on a specific day than it is to approximate the average temperature of a decade or so way in the future. However, the mere fact that she does not understand should not get in the way of mocking weatherman. Because, seriously, weathermen suck.
It’s also hard to believe assertions that the science on the future of our climate is settled when climate scientists can’t agree about the present — or the past (there is contention about the dates, causes and even the existence of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age that followed). Now, Gore and others say that Katrina was a product of global warming and that we can expect more and bigger storms. But there is actually brisk scientific debate over the role global warming plays — if any — in the creation of hurricanes.
A study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution last month, looking at 5,000 years of Atlantic hurricanes, found “large and dramatic fluctuations in hurricane activity, with long stretches of frequent strikes punctuated by lulls that lasted many centuries” — with the stormier periods occurring during cooler ocean temperatures. But talking about Earth’s constant, and still inexplicable, climate changes and cycles is not useful if you’re trying to shock.
Now we’re getting into clichéd global warming denial, easily debunked by the good people at Grist. Which, of course, Yoffe is qualified to offer, because Emily Yoffe is, first and foremost, a scientist.
In his new book, “The Assault on Reason,” Gore denounces what he sees as today’s politics of fear. Yet his own campaign of mass persuasion — any such campaign — is not amenable to contradiction and uncertainty. It’s about fright and absolutes. But just because something can be plotted on an X and Y axis does not make it the whole truth.
Kevin Drum’s right: that last sentence deserves an award. And I really like the equating of the blatant fearmongering of the Bush administration with Gore’s presentation of the scientific consensus. Because, you know, Gore must have ulterior motives behind his promotion of modern climate science. Surely he has some sort of financial interest in people believing in global warming. Wait, wait, no, that’s crazy.
As I said, Emily Yoffe is usually a good writer. But she’s writing way above her pay grade here.