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Talking about Global Warming until Los Angeles Freezes Over

By Brian | January 19, 2007 | Share on Facebook

Here’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. discussing global warming on The Huffington Post:

Last week I saw robins and bluebirds in upstate New York where they don’t usually arrive before April. Crocuses and daffodils were in bloom everywhere. A friend ate asparagus he harvested in the normally frozen Catskills in the first week of January. Turtles in downstate New York, like bears in Scandinavia, forgot to hibernate for the first time in human history.

For those last stubborn holdouts still skeptical about the existence of global warming–e.g., CNN’s chief corporate fascism advocate Glenn Beck, who broadcast another of his denial tirades last week–and to those who exalt the warmer weather as preferable to a snowy winter, consider the impacts on our fellow creatures. Last April an early spring in Wyoming’s Teton Range caused horseflies to arrive early. The young Redtail hawks, who were still unfeathered, were devoured in their nests by the voracious bloodsuckers. Not a single baby Redtail survived to fledge in the Jackson Hole valley.

The recent disruptions to animal and plant behavior are evident to anyone except for ideologically blinded right-wing flat-earthers and Exxon/Mobil’s political and media toadies like Michael Crichton, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

This was published on January 16, 2007. Ten days earlier, the temperature in the New York area reached 70 degrees (average temperatures for this time of year are in the low 40′s). Everybody was talking about the incredibly warm weather. Many people, like RFK Jr., took the opportunity to link it to global warming.

I blogged about it here:

A single warm winter in a single city proves absolutely nothing about global warming. And to suggest it does is to go down the slippery slope of having to explain why a particularly cold winter in a different year or different city . . . isn’t equal evidence to suggest that the problem has magically disappeared.

Events of the last few days illustrate my point brilliantly. Two days before RFK Jr.’s rant was published, the temperature in Los Angeles dropped to 20 degrees. Soon after that, LAX reported its first snowfall since 1962. Here’s today’s weather map from USA Today (just 3 days after RFK’s rant):
Note that except for Southern Florida, the entire nation is near or below freezing, including single digits in typically-temperate places like Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.

The awful thing about this is that RFK Jr. is right about global warming and its potential to affect our society and our way of life. But because he went off on such a hate-filled diatribe based on evidence that has nothing whatsoever to do with global warming, he opens the door for his opponents to call him an idiot, and further cloud the issue.

Apparently, in today’s politics, it’s not enough to be right about something. You have to seek out and take advantage of any perceived opportunity to bash your opponents into the ground, even if it means bending a few facts to make your point. Some folks will never learn…

Topics: Political Rantings | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Talking about Global Warming until Los Angeles Freezes Over”

  1. jason says at January 19th, 2007 at 12:00 pm :
    “…in today’s politics, it’s not enough to be right about something. You have to seek out and take advantage of any perceived opportunity to bash your opponents into the ground…”

    I would say this is the result of 25 years of hate-filled talk radio, largely (though not entirely) promulgated by the far right wing. Even a good bleeding-heart liberal can only take so much bashing before they get pissed off and start hitting back themselves. I would say that the solution to this problem would be to do away with the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Coulters… but then that would be a violation of the first amendment, and we lefties love that one. It’s a mess, for sure.

    As for the global warming thing, as I’ve said before, I wish it had been labelled “global climate change” instead of global warming, because it more accurately reflects what’s going on.

    None of which invalidates your point, of course, which I largely agree with.

  2. Brian says at January 19th, 2007 at 7:03 pm :
    I would say this is the result of 25 years of hate-filled talk radio, largely (though not entirely) promulgated by the far right wing. Even a good bleeding-heart liberal can only take so much bashing before they get pissed off and start hitting back themselves.

    Heh, now you’re starting to sound like my friend, Jeff Porten.

    Here’s the thing: if you’re right, then shame on the liberals, because there’s a difference between general party bashing and advocating for a specific issue. Guys like RFK Jr. and Al Gore can focus on promoting environmental change (as they very often do, btw) and leave the name calling and hyperbole to the Al Franken’s and Randy Rhodes’ of the world.

    Those folks (on both sides of the nut house) don’t have a specific issue to promote, so they don’t hurt themselves legislatively when they’re caught twisting facts, implying false causality, etc.

    The right gets this distinction and the left does not. This is why you’ll never see Sean Hannity running for political office, but Al Franken is running around claiming that he’s going to be a senator (governor? I forget…) from Minnesota.

  3. Jeff Porten says at January 20th, 2007 at 7:55 pm :
    Man, it’s a good thing it’s so cold outside. Low temperatures prevent one’s head from exploding.

    Brian, this post manages to misstate the case in so many ways that I had to spend five minutes smoking a cigarette (and contributing to CO2 load) trying to put my response in order. Here goes:

    1) As I think we’ve debated before, “global warming” is a misnomer. The correct term is “climate change”, and rapid climate change is the worst of all. The story isn’t so much that it was 70 degrees in DC, it’s that we had a 40 degree temperature drop in 12 hours. One such change in a small region isn’t a story, either; a nationwide change, or a large number of such changes, is.

    2) Perhaps a better way of phrasing this is that 2/3rds of the California citrus crop was wiped out by the sudden freeze. Climate change that hits the nation’s breadbasket, where half of the world’s grains are grown, could effectively begin to starve the planet (or at least the human population thereof). The level of seriousness with which we treat this problem is perhaps indicated by the NPR reporter signing off by saying, “But don’t worry, there are still plenty of avocados for your Super Bowl guacamole.”

    3) RFK’s “rant” was on the Huffington Post, which is as good a source for red meat rhetoric as the O’Reilly Factor. I suspect you have firsthand experience with RFK’s ability to modulate his tone for his audience.

    4) The core thing to understand about what you call “bashing your opponents into the ground” is that right now the forces for climate change are winning, and winning in a big way. Every year that goes by further ensures that the economic and social changes necessary to reverse the trend (presuming, optimistically, that such is even possible) will be even more wrenching and hence nearly impossible to implement. For example, I listened to a BBC interview the other day that stated that we have to stop air travel. Even we radicals see that as fairly pollyanna, but if the guy is scientifically correct, then the only way that’s going to happen is to make a one-to-one correlation in the public’s mind that “your trip to Florida or Las Vegas directly contributes to the death by starvation of a billion people.”

    4a) You will please note that, no matter how insane the previous argument may sound, the arguments against it on social or economic grounds are utterly irrelevant. The sole question is the scientific debate of whether air travel contributes substantially enough to climate change that the industry can directly cause the deaths of a billion people. This question is by no means answered — but it is also worth noting that if we continue living as we do while we debate the question, we run the risk of answering it through direct experiment, as it were.

    5) Finally, the use of seventy degree weather to talk about the weather is known as a “news hook”. There’s nothing sinister about it, especially considering that people in favor of increasing carbon emissions need no such hook to get their views expressed in the media. In fact, they don’t even need to express such views, as right now the increasing level of carbon emissions is business as usual, no media exposure necessary.

  4. Brian says at January 21st, 2007 at 11:18 pm :
    1) Agreed with you & Jason that “climate change” is a better term. That ship, though, seems to have sailed, and I don’t think there’s anyone who can do anything about it (including Al Gore & RFK, Jr.)

    1a) Rapid drops in temperature: I have no idea how frequent those are, nor do I know if their frequency is increasing or decreasing. Anecdotally, I can certainly recall changes like that in the recent past and from 30 years ago (Thansgiving a couple of years ago: it was in the mid-60′s a few days before, and by the time the Macy’s parade came around, it was in the 30′s with chance of snow – disappointed my kids that year. And back in 1976 (’78, maybe?), my family went to Florida to visit the grandparents – left in 60+ degree weather, and then the northeast got hit by the worst snowstorm in decades & stranded us down in Florida for a couple of days). In any case, all of this is besides the point I made above – RFK, Jr. was not talking about rapid temprature change. He said that the 70 degree weather in January was evidence of global warming to everyone but the evil, profit-motivated, right-wing, republican, baby-killing, puppy-eating, Christmas-ruining, candy-stealing, oil executives. And he was really, really, really wrong.

    2) and 3) Yes, I’ve heard RFK, Jr. speak very eloquently about the environment. As I’ve said before (at least in private e-mail to Jeff, if not publicly on this blog), when he describes the environment as a “thing of beauty” or a “sign of our culture and way of life,” he loses me completely. When he provides real-world, practical reasons to defend and nurture the environment, the argument is so much clearer and so much stronger, it amazes me that he ever does anything else.

    Your point about the citrus crops comes close, although it’s inaccurate in a couple of ways. Firstly, what killed the citrus crops was the early blooming of the plants (when the temperature got into the 60s & 70s before the fruit had time to grow and then froze them on the vine when the temperature returned to normal). Also, your underlying argument is still the incorrect one: since the citrus crop was destroyed, we need to solve global warming (nee, global climate change) to save the citrus crop. If the citrus crop is OK next year, can we forget the whole thing? How about the next five years? Ten? Of course not – it’s still a problem and we still need to address it. Anecdotal evidence does not prove a trend, even if they’re both in the same direction.

    4) Two thoughts here: First, I’d suggest that they’re winning in part because those fighting against them keep grasping for straws like this one. Second, stopping air travel (and hence, delaying or reducing the delivery of the millions of tons of food we ship around the world each year) would do more to cause starvation of billions (OK, millions) of people than the effects of climate change. In this one, concrete example, the option to work on cleaner burning jet fuels is SO CLEARLY better and more practical, it doesn’t even merit defending.

    4a) Again, not my point, but as long as you bring it up: it sounds like you’re saying we have two options: run the world into irreversable oblivion, or stop air travel tomorrow morning. Any other option falls in the category of “their side,” and must be defeated. This is not (or should not be) the case.

    5) Yes, it’s a news hook and no it’s not sinister, but it is extremely stupid. Even before the temperature dropped, we met people in Disneyworld who were talking about the global warming crowd in terms like: “they think the weather’s too warm? We’re from Denver and we’re stuck here for a week because of record snowfalls.”

    A good news hook has at least a degree of truth before it’s spun up to catch everyone’s attention (e.g., WMD’s, Mark Foley). This is just a lack of self-control on RFK, Jr.’s part…


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