Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Global warming and the illusion of debate

Stop the presses! Secondhand smoke is bad. So proclaims Surgeon General Richard Carmona in this morning's paper.

"The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard," Carmona said.

I well remember when the secondhand smoke theory first made headlines in the 1980s. For years thereafter, the mere idea that breathing someone else's cigarette smoke was dangerous provided grist for the right-wing punditry, which wallowed in outrage at the very idea that one might have the right to not inhale. Pseudoscience, they raged, all in the name of perpetuating a liberal social agenda.

Secondhand smoke? Hell, firsthand smoke remained a controversy until quite recently. Or at least one would think. Really, any doctor would have told you that smoking kills and the vast majority of us believed it. But the tobacco industry spent years and millions of dollars to masterfully throw up a cloud of doubt that didn't really exist and reams of junk science to point out that they've never really PROVEN that cigarettes kill. And they were always able to put a few voices out there to back them up that sounded very scientific. It worked, too. Millions of smokers continued to puff away, willfully rejecting the prevailing science, glad for the illusion that there was still debate over the matter. It wasn't until the tobacco industry, facing hundreds of billions of dollars in potential damages, came clean and admitted they knew darn well that smoking kills.

I rehash the smoking "debate" as an analogy to the reputed debate going on right now over global warming. The vast majority of climatologists for years have expressed belief that global warming is transpiring and that we humans are causing it. Finally last week the National Academy of Sciences weighed in that yes indeed we are causing global climate change and courting catastrophe. In the morning's paper, buried behind the front-page revelation that smoking is bad, is brief in which the Associated Press polled 100 top climate researchers about Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Our those 100 polled, 19 had actually seen the movie, and all 19 said Gore and the moviemakers got it right. For the record, I have not seen the movie myself, and I may or may not see it.

Yet the illusion of debate rages on. I'm sure some contrarian scientist are sincere and can make lucid points to support their disbelief in global warming. I also know that there's a concerted effort to throw up a fog of misinformation and give the notion that there are still credible questions over whether global warming exists or if it's just a "hoax," as U.S. James Inhofe, R-Okla., characterizes it. We know that ExxonMobil provides over $1 million per year to organizations who can muddy the waters. Many of these are not science related concerns, but merely right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom (for) average citizens (and) the media," states a 1998 Exxon internal memo that the tree-huggers managed to get their hands on.

And just as the tobacco industry's tricks stalled meaningful action for decades, so do the corporate nay-sayers' tactics. A young classmate of mine declared the other day that all this global-warming talk might just be some sort of Marxist plot. Perhaps some folks really honestly believe that this is an unsettled matter. Others I believe stubbornly refuse to acknowledge what is indeed an inconvenient truth. To admit that there is such a thing as global warming and to understand that it necessitates personal and national sacrifice, well, that's too much to ask. We don't believe in sacrifice anymore. That's what our ancestors did 65 years ago. As for us latter-day folks, it's all about consuming as much as we like, never sacrificing and never denying ourselves.

To those who still don't believe, I ask you, could the weight of all the evidence in the entire universe ever change your mind? Where is the bar of proof for you? In the stratosphere? The troposphere? If 9 out of 10 scientists say X, is it wise to cast your lot with the scientist who says Y? Looking back, when would it have been personally wisest to believe that smoking kills, in 1964 when the first surgeon general's report came out or in 1998 when the tobacco industry finally admitted it? Likewise, if you ever decide that maybe the vast majority of scientists are correct on global warming, will it be too late to do anything about it?

If you still insist that substantive debate remains over whether we are warming our Earth, you may be interested in knowing that debate apparently rages on in other questions of science that you may have thought were settled a long time ago. Click here to learn more.

A backward glance in The Onion

Do you ever read The Onion? For those of you who aren't in on the joke, The Onion is a satirical newspaper that plays on current events and social phenomena. It reads like a regular newspaper, and is very serious in newspaper style, yet is outrageously funny. I have an Onion page-a-day calendar, and here's this morning's selection, obviously dating back to 2003:


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Maintaining his hardline stance against Saddam Hussein, President Bush ordered Iraq to fully dismantle his military before the U.S. begins its invasion next week.

"U.S. intelligence confirms that, even as we speak, Saddam is preparing tanks and guns and other weapons of deadly force for use in our upcoming war against him," Bush said Sunday during his weekly radio address. "This madman has every intention of firing back at our troops when we attack his country."

Bush warned the Iraqi dictator to "lay down (his) weapons and enter battle unarmed or face the consequences."

By the way, readers who live here in the Gateway City will enjoy today's story online. Click here.

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