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How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen: A Skeptic’s View

By Joe Bast

An essay in the current issue of The Atlantic purports to instruct readers on “How to Talk About Climate So People Will Listen.” The author, Charles C. Mann, is a long-time contributor to the magazine who writes about history, tourism, and energy issues. With this article, he tries to cut a path between the two warring tribes in the global warming debate, the Alarmists and the Skeptics.

He fails, rather spectacularly I think.

The first four paragraphs (out of 45) are good, as are a few paragraphs later on about enviro fruitcake Bill McKibben. But the rest of the article simply accepts the dubious and sometimes outrageous assertions and false narratives that gave rise to alarmism in the first place, the same ones skeptics delight in debunking. Surveys show most people know more about global warming than does Mann. If alarmists use this article as their guide to how to talk about the issue, skeptics once again will win most of the debates in bars and around grills this summer.

A Good Start

Mann starts out strong, reporting how the media turned an obscure modeling exercise about the melt rate of the western Antarctic ice shelf into hysterical headlines about coastal flooding. Had he waited a couple weeks, he could have written much the same about “Russian methane holes.” The lesson in both cases is that the mainstream media are utterly unreliable sources of information on the climate issue. They profit from exaggeration, rely on special interests for advertising revenue, and lack expertise to report on science matters.

Sadly, Mann doesn’t appear to have learned this lesson. In the rest of his article he treats mainstream media accounts of the climate debate as dispository. The public understands this: Surveys show nearly half believe the media exaggerate the climate change problem.

Mann reports, in a single but very nice paragraph, the world’s enormous debt to fossil fuels. The Industrial Revolution, he says, was “driven by the explosive energy of coal, oil, and natural gas, it inaugurated an unprecedented three-century wave of prosperity.” One might quibble with his take on this: The improvement in the human condition started before 1800 and was the result of changes in institutions (the arrival of markets, private property, and limited government) and embrace of new values (the Scottish Enlightenment) as well as the discovery of fossil fuels. Without the first and second discoveries, the third would have done little more than heat some feudal castles and light some cobblestone streets.

An Important Step?

After this promising start, the errors come fast. “In an important step, the Obama administration announced in June its decision to cut power-plant emissions 30 percent by 2030.” There’s a lot wrong with that single sentence.

Read more: The Heartland Institute



 

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