Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for March 20th, 2007

The lunacy of the masses

Posted by metaphorical on 20 March 2007

If you want to get depressed, there are few better ways than to look at the the unlimited ability of your fellow citizens to deny the obvious, especially when reality might be a little bit inconvenient. Of course I’m referring to global warming.

A poll today on the Wall Street Journal’s website asks, “Is global warming tied to human activity?” Everyone from the National Academies of Science to NASA to the U.N. has come to the conclusion that global warming is a fact and human activity is largely the cause. The tiny minority of so-called scientists who deny global warming never publish in peer-reviewed journals and their studies are always found to be sponsored by oil companies and others with a vested interest in denying the blinding obviousness of global warming.

At 5:00 EDT, when I last looked, 6144 people had responded to the WSJ’s poll. Here’s how they answered:

WSJ.com Global warming poll, 20 March 2007

In other words, only 35% answered “Yes definitely” and only a total of 56% said that it was at least plausible. 44% said that it was unlikely, or simply untrue, or denied that global warming was even taking place. In other words, nearly half of all people of one of the wealthiest and most educated demographics you’ll find on the Web have been conveniently bamboozled by the loose consortium of oil companies, Bush administration lackeys, Fox News commentators, and random ecological holocaust deniers who apparently emit enough greenhouse gases to obscure the crystal-clear light of reason.

You might think that rather than represent the average intelligent reader of the WSJ, the surveys there cater to the rare Bush administration afficianado or other religious extremist. But according to a colleague of mine who looks at wsj.com almost every day, these surveys seem to get a broad range of opinion. And sure enough, today there was a survey that asked “Should Attorney General Gonzales remain in office?” In case this blog is being read in the year 2050, I’ll just mention that this post was written a day before Gonzales’s near-certain resignation tomorrow. A healthy 68% of 12838 said yes.

Let’s leave aside the depressing fact that twice as many people care whether Gonzales steps down, only to be replaced by another incompetent Ed Meese clone, than about global warming, even as far as the massive effort of clicking a couple of times on a Web page is concerned. Basically, half of the answering public opts for the scientific belief that conveniently implies we needn’t make any sacrifices to preserve the planet for future generations.

It’s an extraordinary victory of ennui over reason, because frankly, the case for global warming is as overwhelming as an asteroid hitting the White House, a more realistic fantasy by any standard. Though the case is even stronger now in any number of ways, back in 2004 Science magazine published an article, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.” It looked at “928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords “climate change.”

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

None of the papers. Let’s just let that word echo…. none.

When I said that everyone from the NAS to NASA to the U.N. has come to the same conclusion, I was just skimming the surface. As the Science article notes,

The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling.

Let’s just let that word echo… compelling.

So maybe 44% of the WSJ crowd are assholes—a possibility that shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. But the idea that 44% of any crowd could be global warming deniers is a little bit—to use the word from the top of the post —depressing.

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