Commentary Magazine


Topic: hurricanes

Scare Tactics Backfire for Environmentalists

President Obama and other leading liberal lights keep telling us that the debate about global warming is over. Though the notion that scientific debates are decided by a vote of scientists or rather than research is decidedly unscientific, this conclusion is echoed throughout the mainstream media and popular culture. Those who are skeptical about the claims that human activity is changing the climate are treated like Holocaust deniers or lunatics. But the problem that those trying to mobilize public support for extreme measures intended to avert the extreme consequences of global warming are having is that most Americans aren’t buying it. Even worse for them, the scare tactics they’ve been employing are actually backfiring.

That’s the conclusion from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research organization who co-authored an op-ed in today’s New York Times titled “Global Warming Scare Tactics.” In it, they point out that rather than helping build support for carbon caps or other restrictions on industry or individuals the attempt to give the impression that an environmental apocalypse is around the corner is backfiring. Most specifically, the widespread practice of linking natural disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires is having the opposite effect on the public.

More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.

For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division. Since 2006, the number of Americans telling Gallup that the media was exaggerating global warming grew to 42 percent today from about 34 percent. Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether global warming is caused by humans rose to 42 percent last year from 26 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center.

While Nordhaus and Shellenberger are not global warming skeptics they are dismayed at the way the alarmists have undermined the case for climate change.

Claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.

That makes a lot of sense but don’t expect this to change the tactics being employed by either the White House or most environmental activists. Without the gloom and doom scenarios they’ve been trying to float this past decade, they have little to offer either the public or Congress.

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President Obama and other leading liberal lights keep telling us that the debate about global warming is over. Though the notion that scientific debates are decided by a vote of scientists or rather than research is decidedly unscientific, this conclusion is echoed throughout the mainstream media and popular culture. Those who are skeptical about the claims that human activity is changing the climate are treated like Holocaust deniers or lunatics. But the problem that those trying to mobilize public support for extreme measures intended to avert the extreme consequences of global warming are having is that most Americans aren’t buying it. Even worse for them, the scare tactics they’ve been employing are actually backfiring.

That’s the conclusion from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research organization who co-authored an op-ed in today’s New York Times titled “Global Warming Scare Tactics.” In it, they point out that rather than helping build support for carbon caps or other restrictions on industry or individuals the attempt to give the impression that an environmental apocalypse is around the corner is backfiring. Most specifically, the widespread practice of linking natural disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires is having the opposite effect on the public.

More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.

For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division. Since 2006, the number of Americans telling Gallup that the media was exaggerating global warming grew to 42 percent today from about 34 percent. Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether global warming is caused by humans rose to 42 percent last year from 26 percent in 2006, according to the Pew Research Center.

While Nordhaus and Shellenberger are not global warming skeptics they are dismayed at the way the alarmists have undermined the case for climate change.

Claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science. Our warming world is, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, increasing heat waves and intense precipitation in some places, and is likely to bring more extreme weather in the future. But the panel also said there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.

That makes a lot of sense but don’t expect this to change the tactics being employed by either the White House or most environmental activists. Without the gloom and doom scenarios they’ve been trying to float this past decade, they have little to offer either the public or Congress.

 There are a few problems with the scare tactics Gore helped popularized. One is that they aren’t credible. There’s plenty of evidence popping up that shows the increase in temperatures isn’t as advertised as well as that its effects are not as devastating as the global warming alarmists claim. If even the UN is prepared to debunk the notion that every hurricane or fire is the fault of global warming, not to mention the idea that the East and West coasts will be under water within a decade or two, why would anyone imagine that Americans who have good economic reasons to be skeptical about these claims would buy into Obama’s recommendations.

Another is the refusal of the environmental crowd to embrace the most obvious responses to concerns about carbon-based energy: the nuclear option. Nordhaus and Shellenberger say that more Americans respond positively to environmental claims when they are put in a context with viable alternatives rather than calls for draconian cuts in economic activity or personal autonomy that is integral to the use of automobiles and other sources of carbon emissions. But since the same people who are trying to sell us on the notion that the sky is falling about warming are the ones who have already delegitimized nuclear power because of fears that are equally exaggerated or unfounded.

Lastly, the authors have discovered that the extreme scenarios put forward by people like Gore as well as the attempt to convince people that natural disasters are part of the warming scenario don’t increase public support for their ideas. If anything, research shows that hysteria increases skepticism rather than diminishing it. If, as they ask, “climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?”

Nordhaus and Shellenberger have some good advice for environmentalists, especially their effort to convince them to pose their arguments in a context that is more about finding popular solution based in technology rather than pie in the sky scenarios about transforming the planet. But they shouldn’t expect, their warnings to be heeded. The most extreme scare tactics used by global warming alarmists aren’t just a tactic; they are integral to the worldview of these activists. Its not just that they fear that extreme weather will cause damage, if you listen closely to many of them, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some think humanity has it coming as a natural consequence of capitalism.

Most of all, it’s that sense that we are being sold a bill of goods by the Al Gores that has fueled the backlash against warming advocates. Having tied themselves to claims that are easily debunked, even by those who agree with them on many questions, the environmental movement has painted itself into a corner from which no amount of common sense can extricate them.

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Why Al Gore’s Warming Fibs Matter

Al Gore has done it again. Having been repeatedly lambasted for making exaggerated claims and telling outright lies in order to promote his environmentalist agenda, he’s now committed another gaffe that will further undermine his credibility and that of his cause. As Politico reports, in an interview with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein while once again claiming that global warming was the cause of an increase in storms and hurricanes, Gore made the following assertion:

In the interview, published Wednesday, Gore said that “the fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over” storms like hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

“The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

But, as Politico noted, other experts and the Post’s own environmental reporters were quick to point out that this isn’t true. The National Weather Service itself admitted that no such plan existed.

Though this was the most egregious element of the interview, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, it wasn’t the only one. Just as dishonest was his claim that the temporary flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan justified Gore’s claim in his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, that the area would soon be permanently underwater. But, as New Yorkers are well aware, the 9/11 memorial is currently dry. Gore’s alarmist predictions are just as daft today as they were when the film first came out.

This is certainly fodder for Gore’s critics and will, in turn, elicit more impassioned defenses of him from his fans. More significantly, it will also generate comments from slightly more sober advocates of the global warming agenda, to the effect that such fibs don’t really matter because their purpose is to raise awareness of a genuine threat to humanity, albeit one not quite so imminent or terrible as the nightmare scenarios spun by the former vice president. But, as Taranto also pointed out, Gore’s mendacity is significant, not just because a lot of people believe him, but because they cast doubt on the entire enterprise he’s seeking to promote. If, as believers in global warming continually tell us, skeptics are undermining faith in facts and science, there is no greater contributor to such cynicism than Al Gore.

Read More

Al Gore has done it again. Having been repeatedly lambasted for making exaggerated claims and telling outright lies in order to promote his environmentalist agenda, he’s now committed another gaffe that will further undermine his credibility and that of his cause. As Politico reports, in an interview with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein while once again claiming that global warming was the cause of an increase in storms and hurricanes, Gore made the following assertion:

In the interview, published Wednesday, Gore said that “the fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over” storms like hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

“The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

But, as Politico noted, other experts and the Post’s own environmental reporters were quick to point out that this isn’t true. The National Weather Service itself admitted that no such plan existed.

Though this was the most egregious element of the interview, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto pointed out, it wasn’t the only one. Just as dishonest was his claim that the temporary flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan justified Gore’s claim in his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, that the area would soon be permanently underwater. But, as New Yorkers are well aware, the 9/11 memorial is currently dry. Gore’s alarmist predictions are just as daft today as they were when the film first came out.

This is certainly fodder for Gore’s critics and will, in turn, elicit more impassioned defenses of him from his fans. More significantly, it will also generate comments from slightly more sober advocates of the global warming agenda, to the effect that such fibs don’t really matter because their purpose is to raise awareness of a genuine threat to humanity, albeit one not quite so imminent or terrible as the nightmare scenarios spun by the former vice president. But, as Taranto also pointed out, Gore’s mendacity is significant, not just because a lot of people believe him, but because they cast doubt on the entire enterprise he’s seeking to promote. If, as believers in global warming continually tell us, skeptics are undermining faith in facts and science, there is no greater contributor to such cynicism than Al Gore.

At stake here is not Gore’s reputation. In his post-political existence, he has proven himself impervious to shame or to criticism. Having enriched himself on government-subsidized “green” investments and profiteered from the creation of a failed cable channel that wound up netting him a cool $100 million from its sale to the Qatari owners of Al Jazeera, Gore can thumb his nose at fact-checkers and critics alike and laugh all the way to the bank.

Gore is no stranger to challenges to the credibility of the assertions to his movie. Though there are a number of websites that point to numerous, significant errors in the movie, a British court ruled that it should be viewed as a polemic rather than fact when a critic sued to prevent it from being shown in schools as an authoritative view of the subject of global warming.

We need not rehearse the contentious debate about global warming to understand just how insidious Gore’s willingness to play fast and loose with the facts on global warming is for the maintenance of a civil discussion on the subject. But if those who believe the U.S. must take drastic action to halt global warming continue to insist that the facts lie all on one side of the argument, it is incumbent on them to stick to the facts and not make exaggerated claims.

Gore has never been able to do that. Thus, he has done more to both fuel the most alarmist and unrealistic scenarios about the possible impact of global warming and to inspire skepticism about this belief. Wherever the truth may lie on this subject, and there are strong cases to be made on both sides, surely there should be no tolerance for a man who routinely lies about it.

Yet no matter how often his falsehoods are uncovered, the environmental community rarely if ever takes Gore to task. He has reaped all sorts of applause and honor for his lies from an Oscar to a Nobel Prize. Indeed, the more his assertions are debunked, the less his fans seem to care. But they should. No one has done more to sink the discussion about global warming into the realm of sci-fi fantasy alarmism or to invite more skepticism than Gore. It’s clear that the more his lips move, the less likely it is that we’ll hear the truth. Those who advocate concern about climate change and who want to mobilize Americans to support the measures they believe will save for the planet should be pleading him for him to shut up, lest doubters about the environmental faith in warming be further undermined. 

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