Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

If You Don’t Believe in Global Warming, the Terrorists Win

comic by Stephan Pastis - see bottom of this post for more info

I am far from the first person to observe that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. If the arguments for a course of action are so weak that national security must be drawn into the discussion my reaction is identical to the gal’s above. In the final panel of the strip she has departed and the character known as Rat consoles himself with the thought that his lame pick-up line was “worth a try.”


On New Years Eve a gent named Brad Sylvester decided to imitate Rat. (Click the headline to go to the original source.) He does so by hypothesizing about Osama bin Laden:

If we were to ask Osama Bin Laden the following questions, what would his answer be? Should America reduce its use of oil? Should America doubt the findings and value of its scientists? Amazingly, Bin Laden’s answers to those questions would almost certainly match those of global warming deniers.

Sylvester’s argument, therefore, is this: I have fabricated imaginary opinions and assigned them to bin Laden. I have fabricated more imaginary opinions and assigned them to climate skeptics – whom I label with the pejorative term “denier.” Voilà! These opinions are identical. Therefore, climate skeptics and bin Laden are equally morally reprehensible.

Nice try. Unfortunately, two seconds with Google turns up news reports that suggest bin Laden’s views are actually closer to Sylvester’s. Bin Laden, you see, also thinks climate change is a crisis – and that it’s all the West’s fault. As the UK Telegraph reports:

“Discussing climate change is not an intellectual luxury, but a reality,” [bin Laden] said. “All of the industrialised countries, especially the big ones, bear responsibility for the global warming crisis.”

This hardly comes as a surprise. In bin Laden’s universe, everything bad is the responsibility of the decadent, industrialized West. Sylvester’s assumptions about bin Laden are therefore flawed. Moreover, his logic is loopy. Yet somehow he thinks he has settled the matter. It is time, he declares:

…to set aside this false debate and acknowledge the evidence that global warming is real, is strongly influenced by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels and will have real consequences.

Actually, it is time to refer back to a post I authored a few weeks ago, regarding the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. As I wrote then:

After billions of dollars and decades of research…all the IPCC is able to say for certain is that the world has warmed slightly over the past 150 years. In the opinion of the IPCC’s experts…it’s very likely that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions caused most of the warming during the last third of that period.

There has never been a smoking gun that points unequivocally to human responsibility. Sylvester’s declaration that global warming is strongly influenced by human activity is at odds with the findings of the IPCC. Very likely. Most. One-third. The language used by the IPCC is neither precise nor definitive. It involves guesses and opinions. Even worse, the period of time stressed by the IPCC is equivalent to the blink of an eye – 150 years on a planet that’s 4.5 billion years old.

There is, indeed, a false debate going on. It seems to be taking place in the minds of folks such as Sylvester. In the real world, many reputable scientific voices have expressed thoughtful and nuanced objections to the dominant climate change narrative. To suggest, as Sylvester does, that these people are rejecting scientific findings out-of-hand is profoundly uninformed.

Sylvester declares that:

Science is a fact-based endeavor and scientists relay [sic] on the preponderance of evidence to make assertions that they test through unbiased experimentation. Scientific claims are reviewed by unrelated third-party experts before they gain acceptance…

It would be marvelous if this were true. But the reason people such as myself are skeptical of climate change research is because the scientific method frequently appears to be MIA missing in action. Climate science rarely involves unbiased real-world experimentation. Instead it relies heavily on computer models programmed with boatloads of assumptions and guesses about what might/could happen in the future.

It would be great if the IPCC waited for scientific claims to “gain acceptance” in the scientific community before it incorporated such claims into its reports. But it does not. Instead, it relies on still unpublished studies that the larger scientific community has been given no opportunity whatsoever to evaluate. Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion is all about the fact that climate science routinely ignores established scientific practice. The book discusses how the peer-review process seems to have turned into the pal-review process where climate science is concerned. It documents how the IPCC embraces the findings of people with scant credentials whose work has never been systematically double-checked. (One of the most shocking bits of fallout from Climategate was senior climate scientist Phil Jones’ testimony that in all the decades he has been publishing in reputable journals no one has ever asked to see his raw data or computer codes.)

Know thine enemy used to be a truism. Smart people used to understand that, if you wanted to be successful against an opponent in war – or in a debate – you needed to invest some time attempting to understand them. What makes them tick? How do they see the world? Why do they behave the way they do?

I am continually surprised at how lazy climate change activists seem to be. They don’t bother to read any thoughtful, moderate climate skeptics. Instead, they name-call, they invent bin Laden opinions, and they declare the debate to be over.

Is this really the best they can do? Is this as far as they’re willing to rouse themselves? If they really believed this to be a planetary emergency would they not be desperately trying to have real conversations with real climate skeptics – rather than shadow boxing with imaginary ones?


The comic at the top of this post first appeared in newspapers in May 2006. It is published in a collection titled The Crass Menagerie, on page 216. Pearls Before Swine can be read online here.


h/t Pirate’s Cove


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