It was to be expected that An Inconvenient Truth would face attacks from the right. I expected those attacks to mirror the ones that swarmed around Fahrenheit 911: tiny kernels of fact, or at least alleged, debatable fact, surrounded by clouds of bilious harumphing and chest-beating.
The principal goal of such attacks is not to discredit the facts in the movie; it is to create the impression that the facts have been discredited. The goal is to create a piece of conventional wisdom: the movie is full of lies and exaggerations. As we all know, conventional wisdom requires very little anchor in reality. It just requires repetition.
All that’s needed for these kinds of slime campaigns is one critique that holds up, or at least one that can’t be immediately and decisively shot down. Once that one critique is in place, all the other bloviators in the right media world can simply take it as accepted fact that the movie’s been discredited, dispense with factual arguments altogether, and get straight to the bilious harumphing.
But this strategy depends on that one critique. Gregg Easterbrook’s attack on the AIT was an attempt to serve that role, but it got demolished by Media Matters within days. Jason Steort’s attack on the movie — the National Review cover story — was another, but it got demolished by ThinkProgress, several times over.
As a consequence, the latest attacks don’t yet have conventional wisdom to draw on. They are, as a consequence, woefully confused and vapid. They wander through a fog of stale stereotypes about environmentalists, and about Gore, and scarcely brush up against the movie itself.
Two quick examples:
First, there’s Holman W. Jenkins Jr., a member of that storied den of hackery, the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Read his piece about the movie. I defy you to make sense of it. It is almost literally nonsensical. A small example:
Here’s a test. What if science showed conclusively that global warming is produced by natural forces, with all the same theorized ill effects for humanity, but that human action could forestall natural change? Or what if man-made warming were real, but offsetting the arrival of a natural ice age? Would Mr. Gore tell us meekly to submit to whatever nature metes out because it’s "natural"?
Uh … what? Seriously. What does that mean?
In a million years, the time it takes the earth to sneeze, the planet will likely be shorn of any conspicuous sign we were ever here, let alone careless with our CO2, dioxins, etc. Talk about an inconvenient truth.
Again, what? We shouldn’t address global warming because we’ll all be gone in a million years?
A remarkable and improbable thing is that, despite presumably devoting decades of study to the subject of global warming, nothing Al Gore has learned leads him to say anything that would strike the least informed, most dogmatic "green" as politically incorrect. He doesn’t discover virtues in nuclear power. He doesn’t note the cost-benefit advantages of strategies that would remove CO2 from the atmosphere, rather than those that would stop its creation.
First of all, the movie is 98 percent science review. What in that science is supposed to be "politically incorrect"? And the movie says nothing about policy responses to global warming, other than to mention the Socolow-Pacala paper on stabilization wedges. Where was nuclear power supposed to come in? Has Jenkins even seen the movie?
Second, there’s Robert L. Bradley Jr., proprietor of a energy-industry-funded nonprofit, writing in the Houston Chronicle. His story is called "Al Gore’s telling whoppers again." The casual reader might conclude that there are some lies revealed. Instead they just find lies. This is from the first paragraph:
Self-interested consumer choices are the culprit, and a government-directed reshaping of energy production and consumption is necessary. The Gore-led campaign is clear: A grass-roots movement must arise to force politicians to give us our bitter medicine — smaller cars, more expensive appliances and higher gasoline prices and electricity rates.
I count at least three "whoppers" there. The movie does not blame "self-interested consumer choices." It does not recommend "government-directed reshaping." It says nothing about "smaller cars, more expensive appliances and higher gasoline prices and electricity rates." That paragraph — literally every word of it — is drawn from the fevered stereotypes that haunt Bradley’s brain. It’s just made up.
The rest is no better, just a turgid display of throwing-shit-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks, in which Bradley cites climate skeptics saying warming’s been exaggerated, while simultaneously — and rather astonishingly — dredging up the Greening Earth Society cant about global warming (which, remember, isn’t happening) helping to fertilize the world’s plants.
Is this really the best they can do?