Say what you want about George Will, but the man has been a principled and consistent conservative. But every now and then, he produces a big turd of a column. Last Saturday, he used some sneaky rhetoric and half-baked figures to suggest that global warming is just a scare tactic. Let's break down why..
Say what you want about George Will, but the man has been a principled and consistent conservative. But every now and then, he produces a big turd of a column. Last Saturday, he used some sneaky rhetoric and half-baked figures to suggest that global warming is just a scare tactic. Let's break down why his claims are laughably wrong.Will tries to equate some dire climate warnings by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu with the bygone fad of "global cooling." A bit about that: Roughly thirty years ago, some in the popular press managed to stir up a story about a possible coming ice age, based in a cooling trend seen between the 1940s and 1970s and the artificial effect of aerosols. Will then uses that anecdote to trot out two findings:"According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."And the kicker:"Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare."Point by point, Will's argument falls apart. First off, the global-cooling anecdote that Will cites didn't reflect an actual mainstream scientific opinion-scientists that looked into it at the time concluded that the cooling threat would be far outweighed by warming effects from carbon emissions. It was a half-baked assertion that managed to make the cover of Time-which is a journalistic error, but not a scientific one. (The New Republic summarized the actual debate nicely.) Still, Will uses that example to springboard into a pool of the ripest nonsense.First, the assertion about ice levels is just wrong. As Talking Points Memo notes, the research group he cites responded thus:"We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts."On to the second point. Global warming hasn't risen since 1998 because that year was particularly hot. No good statistician would take that simplistic, ten-year comparison and close the case. In fact, Nate Silver looked at the longer term statistics and the resulting graph, covering the last sixty years, is damning for Will's argument.As the American Prospect points out, conservative columnists seem to trot out a piece on global cooling when they get pinched for an idea. But Will's column is something else: A willful misreading and outright distortion of the facts, in one of the country's papers of record. How will the Washington Post respond? So far, they haven't.