Monday, December 04, 2006

WSJ Prints Lies

The OpinionJournal, which is an adjunct of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, came out with an article today with the following breathless lead:

Global Warming Gag Order
Senators to Exxon: Shut up, and pay up.

Washington has no shortage of bullies, but even we can't quite believe an October 27 letter that Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe sent to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Its message: Start toeing the Senators' line on climate change, or else.

The only problem is, it's completely untrue. The WSJ was nice enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to provide a copy of the letter written by Sens. Rockefeller and Snowe, and nowhere in that letter is there any threat made to Exxon, nor is there one single implication that Exxon will have to comply with the Senators' wishes "or else" they'll be made to "pay up". It is merely a well-reasoned suggestion that Exxon stop funding anti-global warming kooks and join the rest of the reality based world. Indeed, Exxon is as far as I know the last major oil company that refuses to acknowledge the reality of global warming and is still funding a massive propaganda campaign designed to mislead the public about the scientific evidence. The letter makes this case quite clearly, which the author(s) of the WSJ piece would know if they would pay attention to what's in the letter rather than inventing stuff that isn't.

The article is dishonest in myriad other ways as well. What I find most obnoxious is the fact that while the WSJ makes the false accusation of a "gag order" against Rockefeller and Snowe, there are in fact many real instances of the Bush administration imposing gag orders upon climate scientists who have tried to inform the public about the results of their work. The WSJ piece mentions the case of James Hansen, the respected NASA climatologist, and the 24 year-old George Deutch whose credentials consist only of having worked on George W. Bush's reelection campaign. Deutch imposed a gag order on Hansen by requiring anything that Hansen said publicly to be vetted by Deutch's office first. The WSJ, for some reason, doesn't see a problem with this at all. The fact that Hansen is "one of the most publicized scientists in the world" makes it okay for the Bush administration to censor him, and poor George Deutch is the victim for having lost his job. But even in this small detail, the WSJ can't be bothered to tell the truth. Deutch wasn't fired for being a tool, which would have been perfectly appropriate, he was fired because he lied about having graduated from college.

That would cap my daily allowance of right-wing dishonesty if not for the fact that I chanced upon a couple of right-wingers blogging the story, and not only do they get it wrong, they also add a bunch of other nonsense in as well. This is reminiscent of the Mark Foley scandal where I was rudely awakened to the fact that these people live on an entirely different ethereal plane. This guy for example claims that "Democrats [are] bullying big oil", because "Democrats" have sent that mean, nasty letter to Exxon. Apparently, he's unaware of the fact that Olympia Snowe is a Republican.

Additionally he claims that everyone who is concerned about global warming must walk to work or be exposed as a hypocrite:

If it were truly about the environment or global warming, we’d all be on bicycles right now. Democrats wouldn’t be flying all over the world on their expensive planes, or driving their SUVs and limos, and they would have made damn sure by now that nobody else would have been, either. [...]

If you’re so pissed off about big oil, sell your cars and start walking to work. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrit [sic]. Which, as everyone knows, is the calling card of a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. “Do as I say, but not as I do.”

You want everyone else to ride their bikes, walk to work, etc., but no, not you. You still fire up the furnace when it gets cold out, even though Big Oil is behind that. You still drive to work, even though Big Oil provides you with the means to do so. You still fly from one coast to the other, even though Big Oil provides the fuel your plan is carrying. And if you think that Congress doing the things they’re planning on doing to Big Oil is going to make your life, or anyone else’s, better, then you’ve got another thing coming.

And then there is this idiot making essentially the same argument:

And then there's Arnold who's planning another law to prevent global warming all the while emitting more carbon than the average American he'll try to control. Have Snowe and Rockefeller written to Arnold or to Hollywood, another huge carbon emitter? Or does being a hypocrite by saying one thing and doing the opposite protect one from Snowe's and Rockefeller's nastygrams?

At the risk of being a pedant, I'm going to explain why this line of reasoning is stupid. I think it's necessary because I have seen this brain-dead argument one too many times to believe that it's considered legitimate by only a few wingnuts here and there.

None of us has chosen to live in a carbon economy. That decision was made by people long ago who didn't know about the dangers of global warming and were primarily driven by market forces that were incapable of accounting for the negative effects of fossil fuel consumption. That decision has had wide reaching consequences because our economy contains a vast infrastructure that has made us dependent upon fossil fuels. That's why it's called a "carbon economy" -- because fossil fuels are thoroughly integrated with nearly everything we do.

It is precisely for that reason that we as individuals can't change things no matter how hard we might try. We are forced to use carbon based fuels, either directly or indirectly, if we wish to be economically productive and consume the fruits of our labor. And with the possible exception of some obscure radical here or there, no one in the scientific or environmentalist communities has suggested that we should simply drop all economic activity and go back to living in caves. Economic activity is a good thing. But we would like to generate economic wealth without emitting tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

The idea therefore is that we should transition from a carbon based economy to one that is based on some other energy source. How exactly we're going to accomplish that is rather tricky. My preferred solution is to create a primarily nuclear based economy with wind and solar picking up the slack. Some people don't like nuclear power, so they want renewables to provide all or most all of our energy. Still other misguided souls think that a hydrogen economy will wean us off fossil fuels. Another possible solution is to allow market forces to decide by internalizing the true costs of fossil fuels through a carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme, thereby making alternatives economically preferable. Those that are most cost-effective will then naturally rise to the top, helping to spur on technological innovation that in any other context right-wingers would have absolute faith in.

Whatever the case, the fact is that someone who believes that we should transition out of a carbon economy can under no circumstance be called a hypocrite because he uses fossil fuels. We use fossil fuels because that's what's available. If something else were available and of equal cost, then maybe it would be germane to point out that certain people are using fossil fuels when they don't need to. But making alternatives available and cost competitive isn't going to happen because a few people decide not to drive their cars.