Climate Change Skeptics Don’t Have To Be a Barrier

I wanted to follow up on one of my previous posts about anthropogenic climate change skeptics, like myself.   Meg Bostrom, co-author of a 2009 report on the current climate conversation, makes an interesting point in a recent Washington Post column.  It’s a point I’ve made in this blog, although admittedly she does it much more compellingly:  you don’t have to believe that a) climate change is caused by humankind or b) that humankind can reverse climate change, to effect meaningful policies to protect our environment and move the world to a less fossil-fuel dependent place.

Bostrom states, “There is good reason to think that those who are worried about climate change would make greater progress–especially among Republicans, who profess increasing skepticism about warming–if they focused less on arguing the scientific reality and more on building support for specific solutions that all sides can agree on.”

I am not a Republican, especially as defined by tea partiers.  But I don’t feel that we do anyone any favors by hyping opinion over science and/or silencing those in the scientific community who may have real challenges to the sentiment that humans are causing what appears to be the indisputable fact that the earth is warming.

Nor do we have to, according to Bostrom, in order make a difference in the green agenda–an agenda I fully support.  Bostrom reports that according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, over 70 percent of Republicans favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks and SUVs.  Here are some other stats regarding Republicans:  64% want more federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology; and 55% favor spending more on public transportation.

Her recommendation is that “green” folks stop assuming that “we must first achieve unanimity on global warming science” before any real progress can be made in the country toward progressive ecological policies.  It may mean that cap-and-trade does not have a prayer right now, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress on the many solutions that people agree on across party lines,” she says.  And, I might add as someone who does not define himself as a doctrinaire anything–including “liberal”–that this inclusive, up-beat stance allows someone like me, who balks at the absolutist-sounding science of anthropogenic climate change with its shout-down-opposition tactics, to advocate for policies that will make our environment cleaner and move us toward a world where we don’t have to rely on fossil fuels for power.

Having said this, I can’t help send out a green groan toward my own Republican Senator,  Orrin Hatch–you know, the ancient one who is now trying to woo the tea partiers who may bounce him out of the Senate just like they did last election to his colleague Robert Bennett.  Hatch is riding the reactionary wave of tea partiers to slam not only “junk science” but any effort at all to join in the anti-pollution efforts that are common ground to all of us.  Professor Barry R. Bickmore, in a column today, reports that Hatch’s slumming webpage “Climate Change 101” touts highly questionable science itself.  Apparently, there is a section which uses “fraudulent data” by one Christopher Monckton, a man with no scientific training but who nevertheless is affiliated with the “Science and Public Policy Institute.”  This to poo-poo not only studies that suggest man has helped create global warming, but that we need to develop alternative power sources and factor the environment into all of our policies.

Lest one think that the professor calling the senator on his blarney is simply riding a partisan hobby horse, the professor is not only a Republican himself but teaches geological sciences at the flagship university of one of the most conservative religious organizations in the country:  the Mormon Church. True to true conservatism–something we haven’t seen since the GOP was hijacked by the religious and reactionary far-right, Bickmore has a novel suggestion to Hatch and his Party-of-No colleagues:  “Instead of wallowing in anti-scientific doubt-mongering, why can’t Republicans start garnering support for solutions to the climate change problem that don’t involve massive increases in government revenue and control?”  He then cites Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC)’s suggestion of a “carbon tax swap,” in which “a tax is put on carbon emissions but payroll and income taxes are reduced by an equal amount.”  This, proponents contend, would encourage Americans to curb their emissions and (are you listening, Senator Hatch?), not increase government spending.

This option isn’t exactly my style, but at least it’s a productive alternative, something Republicans these days never seem to proffer.

We can work together to solve real problems that our country faces if we start looking for common ground. That goes for both the Republicans and the Democrats.  Just doing one shining, substantial thing in a bi-partisan way would propel this country into a new era of soaring hope for the future. 

Copyright, David G. Pace, 2010

Review of Christopher Hitchens’ “Hitch 22”

[Sensitivity alert:  the “c” word and the “f” word are used in this post.]

The title of Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, Hitch 22 is based on the brilliantly acerbic WWII satire by Joseph Heller Catch-22, the title of which has entered the lexicon and describes a no-win situation, a “catch” that is frustrating, and in the case of Heller’s novel, absurdly hilarious. At least from the outside looking in.

To the reader, Hitchens’ memoir is only obliquely funny. It is wry, raw and searching and, as might be expected by the atheist author of God is not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, stinging in its condemnation of many, many things–from English literary luminaries like his best friend’s father Kingsley Amis, to the excesses of the political left; from the lunacy of organized religion to the hypocrisies of the English boarding school system.

The book is also a breathless romp through literary and political history of the formative English/American decades of the 60s and beyond.  But what makes its 424 pages worth reading is Hitchens’ transformation from a doctrinaire Anglo-socialist carousing the streets of Cuba looking for the “authentic Left” (p. 122) to a pro-war advocate of the American/British invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I first learned of what seemed like a classic flip-flop in Hitchens–from liberal firebrand to advocate of preemptive war–at the BookExpo in New York City in May 2010. Having been diagnosed with esophageal cancer (virtually a death sentence), Hitchens was there promoting this book, and–even though I had some serious problems with his anti-God/anti-religion screed-posing-as-a-measured treatise, I went to hear him speak anyway. He was appropriately profane–must keep up with the image, I suppose–using the word “cunt” at least three times in a fifteen-minute speech, along with a limerick about an Anglican priest fucking an altar boy.

Thoroughly offended by him, I didn’t think I’d read his book, but, stuck at Newark International overnight, I braved the first few pages and was hooked. It turns out that unlike his God book, “Hitch,” as he is known by his closest friends, has in fact turned out a searing tome of transformation that will challenge the assumptions of both the liberal and the conservative. In the end his meanderings, his pontificating and his astute observations of family, state and the cliques he found himself alternately beholden to and soured by turns into a touching, at times tortured self-examination that few of us would initiate and if we did, could not endure.

Perhaps because he’s dying, Hitchens has pulled out the stops, relentless in skewering everyone. For example, he reports that author Gore Vidal is a shameless bugger–a kind of literary “top,” giving it to young men who caught his fancy while never admitting to what it might say about identity.  (Hitchens’ candor about his own bi-sexual exploits is refreshingly non-judgmental, more a function of happenstance, power among sexed-up males and the social position of being, as a boy and a young man, identified as “pretty” rather than signaling orientation.)

Reading this book made me believe again that relentless self-examination and honest expression (and, lest I be misunderstood, not just profane expression) might still be possible in this world, and that while the norm is to adopt the opinion of someone else, we all have the responsibility at some point to actually form our own opinions. Hitch-22 is a good example of this. It turns out that the god-hating Brit who later in life found out he was Jewish, is a worthy opponent in the best sense of that term. He is articulate, self-deprecating and fearless about where his formidable intellect may take him, and what actions it then demands in the real world.

It’s impossible to predict where Hitchens’ opinions will fall. Unlike Americans who seem to merge social conservatism to right-leaning (pro-war, for example) politics, Hitch can happily reside in a place animated by liberal sexual mores and still eviscerate Noam Chomsky for suggesting that the Bush Administration was actually behind the attacks of 9-11. Intellect and and learning (academic or otherwise) are not litmus tests of credibility for Hitchens even though he honors intellect and learning. While religion is a falsity, ethics sometimes even borne of a religious mind, are warrants for his arguments. And too, he is not ashamed of appearing gauche, sentimental or loyal, becoming an American citizen at least partly to show his approval of the United States’ unvarnished and “necessary” response to the terrorist attacks by destroying Iraq.

Being pro Iraq war might have been forgivable to his cronies in the old country, but becoming an American and applauding Bush’s cowboy-ism must not have gone over very well with the likes of Martin Amis and others, and certainly not the die-hard members of the International Socialists with whom Hitchens aligned, some would say went slumming with, for more than two decades. Still, I have to admire that he had the courage of his convictions, even though I cannot agree with his assessment of the Iraq War being justified. He can talk all he wants about the horrors of Saddam Hussein on both the Iraqis in all of their tribal configurations as well as the Kuwaitis and Iranians; he can detail the chemical warfare, the callous disregard for life at any age or any class of people; he can rail against the softness of the Liberal Left (a railing that they–we?–deserve on many fronts), but he can’t convince me that hyping a madman’s connections to Al Quaeda–or worse lying–can bode well for a country that still at least claims the moral high ground when it comes to armed intervention. It was still a preemptive war and it has proven devastating in ways that even the horrors of Hussein cannot justify. What use is it in the long run to become the very thing we abhor? Surely, Hitch could have addressed that in his capacious mind along with recognizing the future effects of mendacity as a modus operandi on the future lives of his own young children.
But Hitchens doesn’t address these effects, perhaps because he feels that the end justifies the means.  That lying or at least hyping “weapons of mass…” whatever is necessary for the good of…whatever. History will tell us if that is so, but probably with more questions than statements.  Questions such as:  “Was Harry Truman right in dropping atomic bombs on Japan?” and “Should Winston Churchill be held accountable for successfully putting the passenger liner Lusitania in the path of German U-boats for the express purpose of propelling the U.S. into WWII?”  And to be honest with myself as a reader of Hitch 22, history will also tell us if we were guilty of over-thinking something as critical and devastating as jihadists blowing themselves up in the name of Allah.

The self-criticisms, as Hitch calls them near the end of the book, relate more to the shamefully inadequate logistics of the Bush Administration and Pentagon.  “[W]hat I should have been asking [Paul] Wolfowitz [Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy], instead of bending his ear about these enterprises of such moral pith and geostrategic comment, was: ‘Does the Army Corps of Engineers have a generator big enough to turn the lights of Baghdad back on?’ or perhaps ‘Has a detachment of Marines been ordered to guard the Iraq National Museum?'”  Hitchens didn’t ask those questions, he confesses, but he is still unrepentant:  “I probably now know more about the impeachable incompetence of the Bush administration than do many of those who would have left Iraq in the hands of Saddam.” 

In the end, though, it is the personal rather than the “geostrategic comment” that grounds Hitch.  His detailing of one soldier, Mark Daily, reminds the reader that the inherent goodness of Americans who have “made up…[their] minds that the United States was a force for good in the world, and that it had a duty to the freedom of others” is what tips the balance for him…and hopefully others.  “He had no doubts at all about the value of his mission,” he writes of Daily who was killed by an IED in Mosul, Iraq. That Daily credited Hitchens’ writings on the “moral case for war” as an impetus for his own service rendered Hitch speechless after reading the account of the young man’s death and the fallout in his hometown of Irvine, California.  “He had no doubts at all about the value of his mission,” writes Hitch of Daily, “and was the sort of natural soldier who makes the difference in any way.”

I am still not sure that in this day of industrial, preemptive warfare spurred by the unique madness of our own clumsy leaders, that soldiers make any difference at all in a war–except to each other. But Hitch’s encounter with the story of this young man–and later his encounter with his grieving family–touches on the broadening questions we should all be asking about the power we have to destroy and the potential we have to restore. 

Copyright, David G. Pace, 2010