Having it both ways on global warming

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, December 14, 2009 22:56 EDT
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This morning, I posted about how health care reform opponents are taking the “throw a bunch of shit and see what sticks” approach, which of course means making anti-health care claims that flat out contradict each other. This is far from an unusual tactic with conservatives, since the conservative movement has fully embraced the idea that it’s just as good, and possibly better, to create rationalizations for their predetermined beliefs as it is to look at the evidence and arguments and really think about them. Which is really thrown into stark relief when it comes to global warming, where rationalization is the only contribution right wingers make to the debate, and so of course often flatly contradict themselves.

I was already annoyed when I read that Chris Wallace wants to have a “debate” between politicians about the reality of global warming. Hey, high school cross-ex debate can be unintelligible, but at least those kids know that just because you win a debate doesn’t mean your arguments have any actual merit, much less that you are right. No number of Sarah Palin right wing witless cracks expressed to get the Fox News audience cackling will do a damn thing to change CO2 levels in the atmosphere, thus a “debate” on the subject is functionally useless, especially since there is exactly no chance of there being evidence presented and examined soberly.

But that level of annoyance only exploded when I saw that Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is pulling the “hey, we should want global warming!” card, while also minimizing the reality of it. It was a classic example of throwing out a bunch of contradictory arguments and hoping whatever one you want to hear will stick.

CO2 is odorless, colorless, tasteless – it’s not a threat to human health in terms of being exposed to it. We create it as we talk back and forth. So, and if you go beyond that, on a net basis, there’s ample evidence that warming generically — however it is caused — is a net benefit to mankind.

So, he’s actually trying to argue that because we breathe CO2 out, that means that it is impossible for it to be a greenhouse gas, which is the “my shit don’t stink” argument if I ever heard one. We know that Barton knows he’s lying, by the way, because if we offered to put him in a room full of nothing but CO2 on the grounds that we breathe it out and so it must be completely harmless, I think he’d decline. But of course, even that misses the point. No one is arguing that global warming is bad because we don’t want to breathe CO2. We’re arguing that global warming is bad because the climate change is going to be ruinous to the ecosystem that we rely on for survival.

Of course, what Barton is trying to do is have it both ways: argue against the reality of global warming while also arguing that it’s a something we should embrace. But you can’t have it both ways. To say that global warming is positive is to admit that it exists. To deny that it exists is to admit that it’s a bad thing that will happen. Conservatives are up a creek in a sense on this, because they want an argument that will get both people who are resentful of reality and people who perceive it and therefore are eager to push lies for the hell of it, and people who have enough self-respect to not want to be seen as someone too stupid to get the evidence for global warming, but want to minimize the ugly reality of it. Unfortunately, as I noted earlier, there’s no penalty for throwing out contradictory arguments. There’s no penalty for throwing out absurdly stupid arguments, either.

I swear to god, a conservative could go on TV and say, “There’s no global warming, and here’s the proof!”, lift the mic up to his ass and blow a fart in it, and that could very well be taken as a serious argument on the same level as mountains of evidence for the reality of global warming. Otherwise, how could we be “fair”?

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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