In a Boston Globe column titled "Cooler heads prevail against climate panic," Jeff Jacoby denounces what he deems to be "climate fearmongering" about the dangers posed by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. I agree that hyperbole is often damaging to public discourse, however Jacoby should acknowledge that misleading and fallacious claims are of equal concern.
We could start with his own suggestion that those concerned about global warming engage in "end-of-the-world doomsaying" akin to Harold Camping's apocalypse prophesies. As a side note, Rush Limbaugh, who's known for his thoughtful and moderate rhetoric, said the same thing a couple weeks ago.
In his column, Jacoby forwards the claim that "rising carbon-dioxide levels" are not "anything to fear," citing physicist William Happer's assertion that "carbon is the stuff of life." Jacoby also quotes from Happer's statement that "about fifty million years ago" CO2 levels were "much higher than now. And life flourished abundantly." (For his part, Happer thinks that those concerned about climate change are far worse than Harold Camping -- they're more like Nazis.)
Jacoby's argument misrepresents the anxieties that so many, including the national science academies of 13 nations and the U.S. military, have about climate change. The existence of Earth or of life itself is not in question. Indeed, if that's the standard for taking action, then I can't think of any tragedy or injustice that would merit concern.
Rather, as scientists contacted through the Climate Science Rapid Response Team explained, climate change demands attention because it is altering the environments in which our societies operate faster than we are adapting, and the transition may be difficult, expensive, and painful in many cases -- all the more so if nothing is done to slow the changes and mitigate our vulnerabilities.
Happer's comparison to the Eocene epoch (56 - 34 million years ago) contributes little to the debate over whether global warming is a serious problem. As Purdue University's Matthew Huber explained via email, the world 50 million years ago was quite a bit different from the one we know, with "crocodiles, palm trees, and ginger plants near the North Pole," temperatures in continental North America that were 10-15°C warmer, and sea level "about 100m higher." Needless to say, these are not the assumptions upon which we have built our cities, economies, or food and water systems, and any rapid shift in the climate toward these conditions would cause major disruptions.
Recently, The Laura Ingraham Show hosted Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to make his oft-repeated claim that "80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams." This claim has been repeated in various iterations by numerous right-wing media figures and anti-Islam activists for more than a decade, and the statistic appears to be entirely based on a single, unsubstantiated claim made by a Californian Muslim cleric in 1999. The cleric later admitted that his criteria of an "extremist mosque" was one that was "focus[ed] on the Palestinian struggle."
From the November 18 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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