The Human Guinea Pig Tries Crack

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.

4 thoughts on “The Human Guinea Pig Tries Crack

  1. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Jump to:
    Polar cities are proposed sustainable polar retreats designed to house human beings in the future, in the event that global warming causes the central and middle regions of the Earth to become uninhabitable for a long period of time. Although they have not been built yet, some futurists have been giving considerable thought to the concepts involved.
    High-population-density cities, to be built near the Arctic Rim with sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure, will require substantial nearby agriculture. Boreal soils are largely poor in key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, but nitrogen-fixing plants (such as thevarious alders) with the proper symbiotic microbes and mycorrhizal fungi can likely remedy such poverty without the need for petroleum-derived fertilizers. Regional probiotic soil improvement should perhaps rank high on any polar cities priority list. James Lovelock’s notion of a widely distributed almanac of science knowledge and post-industrial survival skills also appears to have value.
    Retrieved from “”

    Webposted: July 4, 3007 (sic)
    Environmental activist Dan Bloom has come up with a solution to global
    warming that apparently no one else is talking about: polar cities.
    That’s right, Bloom envisions future polar cities will house some 200
    million survivors of global warming in the far distant future (perhaps
    in the year 2500, he says on his blog), and he’s lobbying on the
    Internet for their planning, design and construction — NOW!
    “Sounds nutty, I know” the 58-year-old self-described “eco-dreamer”
    says from his home in Asia, where he has been based since 1991. “But
    global warming is for real, climate change is for real, and polar
    cities just might be important if humankind is to survive the coming
    ‘events’, whatever they might be, in whatever form they take.”
    Bloom, a 1971 graduate of Tufts University in Boston, says he came up
    with the idea of polar cities after reading a long interview with
    British scientist James Lovelock, who has predicted that in the
    future, the only survivors of global warming might be around 200
    million people who migrate to the polar regions of the world.
    “Lovelock pointed me in this direction,” Bloom says. “Although he has
    never spoken of polar cities per se, he has talked about the
    possibility that the polar regions might be the only place where
    humans can survive if a major cataclysmic event occurs as a direct
    result of global warming, in the far distant future. I think we’ve got
    about 30 generations of human beings to get ready for this.”
    Does Bloom, who has created a blog and video on YouTube, think that
    polar cities are practicial?
    “”Practical, necessary, imperative,” he says. “We need to start
    thinking about them now, and maybe even designing and building them
    now, while we still have time and transportation and fuel and
    materials and perspective. Even if they never get built, the very idea
    of polar cities should scare the pants off people who hear about the
    concept and goad them into doing something concrete about global
    warming. That’s part of my agenda, too.”
    For more information:
    GOOGLE: “polar cities”
    WIKIPEDIA: “polar cities”
    BLOG SEARCH: “polar cities”

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