Comes the New York Times with an op-ed headlined, "Global warming scare tactics." One point is indisputable: that journalists and those concerned about climate change shouldn't leap to blame the phenomenon for every major natural disaster.
But the deeper point embedded is that those of us in the reality-based community can't reach our fellow citizens on the right unless we tamp down our sense of "obligation to convey the alarming facts":
While the urgency that motivates exaggerated claims is understandable, turning down the rhetoric and embracing solutions like nuclear energy will better serve efforts to slow global warming.
A host of little nagging problems trails this article like feral dogs chasing an SUV through the remains of suburbia. The authors, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, are primus inter pares among the robooted "pragmatic" environmental movement. In almost every case, they argue environmentalism has lost, apparently because of its bellicosity, and must "move on." Alternatives must become cheaper than fossil fuels. How this can happen when policy prevents fossil fuels from being accurately priced, they never say. And new nukes aren't being built because of resistance from greens, but from Wall Street.
But this is the small stuff. The big one is how America has pretty much come to the end of dialogue. This has happened only one other time, during the 1850s, with the compromisers dead and the nation headed to the Civil War. Oh, my stars and garters! I am being alarmist! Uh...hmmm...can I not alienate conservative readers?
I don't see how. Anything I write about climate change, other than it being a hoax or natural, will automatically cause their minds to snap shut like steel traps, to use Woodrow Wilson's metaphor. As a result, no intelligent responses are possible.
This is what happens when we are living in the Cold Civil War.
Virtually everything is politicized to polar extremes: women's health, transit, rising inequality, Stephen Colbert replacing David Letterman. The media wants to propagate the idea that "both sides are to blame" but that's not true. The right has its handed-down dogma on every issue, no curiosity, no interest in the facts — and the vehemence to fight (backed by plutocrats' billions).
On the other hand, it is hopeless, alienating, for us to discuss the conclusions of virtually all scientists who are actually experts in climate: that climate change is real, human-caused, happening now and faster than assumed even a few years ago. How gauche, facts. Better to reinforce stereotypes that encourage endless driving, sprawl and the fleets, armies and subsidies to keep it all relatively cheap. Funny, science isn't questioned if it promises oil from fracking.
In the run-up to the Civil War, both sides had what at the time were considered extremists. Each was willing to fight. Most Northerners wanted the abolitionists to tone it down, stop being extreme in their depiction of the evils of slavery...just shut up. Although about one in three Southern families owned at least one slave, most wanted to preserve the Union and were wary of the "hotheads" in South Carolina.
But by the end of the 1850s, the regions could no longer talk to each other. Fights erupted in Congress, including the infamous "caning" of Sen. Charles Sumner.
In 1860, when a new party that, to varying degrees, opposed slavery won not only the presidency but commanding majorities in Congress, the deep South seceded. It was soon joined by other Southern states. Abraham Lincoln was at pains to say he would not interfere with slavery. Like some Republicans, he initially hoped to gradually eradicate the evil, buying out the owners. But to the "hotheads," the mere threat was enough. Also, the majorities meant the impossibility of expanding slavery into more territories.
Image what might happen today if a fighting new (or revived Democratic) party assumed such control and was committed to taxing carbon, removing subsidies for fossil fuels, weaning Americans off sprawl and cars, removing the fleets and troops that ensure cheap gasoline. It is an interesting thought exercise, given the parameters of the New Confederacy and its militancy.
That won't happen. Between the Supreme Court, the oligarchs control of politics, popular ignorance and the shameful level of voter participation, the game is pretty much over. The question is whether it ends in a whimper or a bang.
But it is interesting that no one on the right — not even in what remains of Bill Buckley's enterprise of intelligent conservatism — ever tells its cohorts to tone it down, how they might win over liberals, or how they must argue from actual facts. How the side that once lionized Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind now worships Sarah Palin anti-intellectualism and believes the earth is 6,000 years old.
No matter the good intentions of Nordhaus, Shellenberger, et al, the right doesn't believe climate change is is real, human caused, happening now and posing a serious threat to the future, much less that even the slightest response is required.
Never mind alarmism — they (the alarmists behind the Iraq "smoking gun mushroom cloud" war) refuse to accept the settled science. They actively campaign to suppress it.
Yet climate change is not a relatively secondary issue where some ground can be given to clear a receptive mind (who was most responsible for ending the Cold War, Reagan?). It is the defining, disrupting issue of our time and especially our future.
Wait. I can compromise and show some doubt and alternatives. It will be that barring a nuclear war or asteroid strike.