I disagree with my Post Alley colleague Joel Connelly, who dismisses the concern that scientists skeptical of the party line on global warming are being silenced. His argument, titled, “Skeptical of Climate Change Skeptics,” was posted here September 19. In it, he cites what the skeptics about climate-change science say, goes harumph, and chucks it into the trash.
Connelly wrote the article in response to an article on the RealClearPolitics website. The article raised an alarm over the cancellation of a speech by John Clauser, a theoretical physicist who shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in physics for his work in quantum technology. Clauser was set to address the International Monetary Fund, but the speech was canceled, presumably because the IMF (which is not a scientific body) didn’t like what Clauser was going to say. Judging from what he has said before, Clauser was going to say that the rise in average global temperature was “no cause for panic and alarm,” and to proclaim otherwise was to follow “misguided science.”
Let’s be clear. I don’t know whether Clauser is right. I’m a retired newspaperman, as is Connelly. We worked for the same paper, The Seattle P-I, for about 15 years. In his career, he mostly wrote stories about the environment and politics, and I mostly wrote stories about business and politics. We have different political opinions, and that’s all right, but neither of us is a scientist. Our professional expertise is in making arguments.
Connelly’s September 19 article is not harsh in tone. It doesn’t traffic in obvious lies. It has a down-to-earth, let’s-get-real sensibility. It condemns with softness. But consider the kinds of arguments he makes. In an appearance of fairness, Connelly quotes Clauser and lists Clauser’s Nobel Prize credentials. He quotes Cliff Mass, Seattle’s most prominent expert on the weather. And the next thing he writes is a big leap: “Skeptics have found a political home in the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. Ex-President Trump has called global warming ‘a hoax.’”
That is a rhetorical trick: Lump your opponents with Donald Trump. Put a MAGA hat on a Nobel prizewinner.
Another rhetorical move is to question your opponent’s motives. Connelly does this by raising concern about “Big Oil,” which “will profit and prosper if demand [for oil] stays higher…” Why is this part of the discussion of a Nobel Prize winner? Is Clauser in the pay of Big Oil? Is Cliff Mass? Am I? Connelly is careful not to specifically suggest such a thing — but he brought it up. Think about why he brought it up.
A further rhetorical move is to shift the argument from the science, which is complicated, and make it about something simple: The glaciers are melting! Beetles are eating the forests! Fire burned a town on Maui! And finally, having dismissed the scientists rather than meet them on their turf, he nails down his argument by appealing to the authority of Pope Francis, Martin Luther King, and a kayaker named Keenan.
I’m getting real tired of Seattle progressives who assert that anyone who disagrees with them on this topic is a “denier.” Let’s unpack this. Consider the following propositions:
- The Earth is warming and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased.
- The Earth is warming because of the increase in carbon dioxide, which was caused by people burning petroleum and coal.
- Global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed, along with other problems facing humanity.
- Global warming is more important than all other problems. It is an existential crisis that threatens all human life. The debate is over. We need to act NOW.
- Specifically, we need to stop drilling for oil and gas now, invest now massively in solar and wind (but not nuclear!), and replace our petroleum-driven cars with plug-in electrics within the next 10 years — or we risk an irreversible spiral of doom. Probably we should stop flying in airplanes, eating meat, using leaf blowers, and a lot of other things.
I will not dispute No. 1. The globe has warmed a few degrees and glaciers are melting. CO2 has gone up in the past 150 years. Those are facts. I have heard arguments against No. 2, but let’s assume that’s true also, along with No. 3. That doesn’t get us to affirm Nos. 4 and 5. It’s wrong to imply that people who don’t buy 4 and 5 as “deniers” of 1, 2 and 3, and especially as deniers of No. 1. The people who do this are not just being sloppy. They’re being sly and nasty. They’ve got to stop it.
It is also wrong to overstate what your opponents believe. I’m not saying that Nos. 4 and 5 are exactly what Connelly believes, but I think they do describe what a lot of people in this town believe.
My answer to them is: You’ve got a mountain to climb before you can establish Nos. 4 and 5, and you can’t avoid the effort by waving your arms and yelling. You may have a sign on your lawn that says, “Science Is Real.,” The sign may make you feel good, but it doesn’t mean that you’re right. And it doesn’t give you the standing to shut other people up.
Connelly may be right about warming, and John Clauser and Cliff Mass may be wrong — I don’t know. But I don’t like it when a group of scientists complain that they are being intimidated, canceled, edited out — and people who don’t agree shrug and call them thin-skinned. Science requires the right to challenge other people’s opinions. So does political life. Let’s defend the people who exercise that right, even if we’re not ready to defend everything they say.