I am drawn, like a dazed witness to a bloody car wreck, back to Peggy Noonan’s column in the Wall Street Journal last week. If you haven’t read it, you really, really should. It is a marvel.
(As an aside: Noonan is a fixture of the Romantic wing of the conservative movement. She feels conservatism deeply. How deeply? She once said, “Bush the Younger would breastfeed the military if he could.” She said the great truth of 9/11 “is not only that God is back, but that men are back. A certain style of manliness is once again being honored and celebrated in our country …” That’s how deeply she feels conservatism.)
Noonan’s short snippet on global warming contains a superabundance of dimwittery. There is dimwittery in every paragraph, every line, virtually every word. The syllables, the phonemes … there is cluelessness at the molecular level.
Let us begin.
She laments …
… how sad and frustrating it is that the world’s greatest scientists cannot gather, discuss the question of global warming, pore over all the data from every angle, study meteorological patterns and temperature histories, and come to a believable conclusion on these questions: Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous? What exactly are the dangers?
Peggy, welcome to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an extensively peer-reviewed report from hundreds of scientists in over 120 nations. When you’re done browsing there, please visit the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. EPA … oops, Bush got to that one.
Is it possible that Peggy’s simply not aware of the IPCC, probably the most cited scientific body in the history of scientific bodies? That she lives in an ideological world so hermetically sealed she never stumbled across so much as a mention of any of the major scientific reports on global warming? If that is the case, the WSJ seems almost cruel for broadcasting her cry for help. Were she capable of embarrassment …
Then, as so often, Noonan veers from plaintive to addlepated:
Is global warming as dangerous as, say, global cooling would be? Are we better off with an Earth that is getting hotter or, what with the modern realities of heating homes and offices, and the world energy crisis, and the need to conserve, does global heating have, in fact, some potential side benefits, and can those benefits be broadened and deepened?
If it warms up, couldn’t we just, like, throw out our sweaters? Wait, let’s think about broadening and deepening that … we could throw out our down comforters too! Down would be totally early-00s.
And won’t the ice cube industry boom?
Then a wistful plea:
Also, if global warning is real, what must–must–the inhabitants of the Earth do to meet its challenges? And then what should they do to meet them?
Sorry, Peggy, I know you’re forever ISO manly authorities, but Papa Scientist can’t tell you that. You’re a big girl now, all growed up. You can help us figure it out! If you need any ideas, I could introduce you to some clever people I know. They’re called, uh, schmenvironmentalists. You’ll love them!
And that’s just the first paragraph. As bodies fall around me, I soldier on.
A woman betrayed:
You would think the world’s greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can’t. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized.
Scientific method, anyone? And where is the evidence that poisonous ideological politicization has corrupted the entire world scientific community? Just any ol’ evidence will do. I’m afraid State of Fear doesn’t count.
We read on:
All too many of them could be expected to enter this work not as seekers for truth but agents for a point of view who are eager to use whatever data can be agreed upon to buttress their point of view.
The data a) is agreed upon and b) buttresses the scientists’ point of view. Is it possible, just maybe, that a caused b rather than vice versa? That forming a point of view based on agreed-upon empirical evidence is a good thing? In keeping with, you know, the whole Enlightenment project thingie?
And so, in the end, every report from every group of scientists is treated as a political document.
This is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent, and on the Romantic right, affirming the consequent is all the fun. Pure affirmation, uncut with fact.
And no one knows what to believe. So no consensus on what to do can emerge.
Surely they’d tell the ladyfolk if there was something fit to worry about! Gracious.
In summary: The world’s scientists, by releasing peer-reviewed statements of collective knowledge, have prevented people from knowing what to believe. Their united testimony has prevented political consensus from forming. Noonan’s buddies on the WSJ opinion page? Mere bystanders. Sorrowful witnesses to this lamentable process. It’s a damn shame’s what it is.
If global warming is real, and if it is new, and if it is caused not by nature and her cycles but man and his rapacity, and if it in fact endangers mankind, scientists will probably one day blame The People for doing nothing.
Not “The People,” deary. A fairly small group of people. You know most of them.
But I think The People will have a greater claim to blame the scientists, for refusing to be honest, for operating in cliques and holding to ideologies. For failing to be trustworthy.
And when Bush the Younger leads The People to the Promised Land, The Scientists who have betrayed the trust of The Revolution will be first against the wall. All hail Noonan!