Does Not Computeon July 8, 2013 at 12:00 am
Having once decided to sign up for comment-posting on the National Review’s website,I am periodically subject to its contributors’ diatribes turning up in my inbox. Yet I am afraid to delete them, lest they exchange genes with my Viagra spam and emerge stronger than before. Can you imagine if a screed against a boho Colorado software programmer (who wants more asiago on his tri-colored pasta salad but demands it be paid for through a higher estate tax) could lead to a ten-hour erection? I’m sure the Grey Old Party would want to know about something like that.
And so it was that I recently found myself reading “The Goldberg File”, a dispatch from National Review Online’s editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg. And amidst the author’s political musings and modest efforts at Dave Barry-esque humor, I learned that conservatism is not just being beaten back from wedding chapels these days, but also from ground it once held regarding global warming.
The truth or falsity of global warming was still a live issue only a few years ago. But with the re-election of the first president to be unambiguous about the end of the world, along with enough batshit weather events to keep the issue vivid in our active memories, the conservatives have found themselves adrift like a polar bear on a disintegrating slush patch, no longer able to fight the consensus.
Coal-fired ideologies die hard, however, and pollution apologists aren’t ready to give up the ghost. Here is where Goldberg, an unwelcome tag-along amongst conservative chatterers (his intellect is too soft for the think tanks, his tone too moderate for the right wing media, his politics too unambitious for the establishment) serves a useful purpose for liberals and Greens, by sloppily revealing the internal workings of the right-wing mind. And nowhere does he give the game away better than on global warming. The result is that, thanks to Goldberg, we can look over the horizon and see an end to conservative skepticism on this topic. Yay! Just in time for the Maldives to disappear!
Goldberg’s newsletter begins with a classic conservative talking point, disguised as a joke, where he swipes at Al Gore’s “war on the stuff plants breathe”, aka carbon dioxide (you know… “they call it pollution, we call it life”?). But Goldberg can’t seem to figure out which side of history he wants to be on: the side that won or the side he shills for. Thus, though he refuses to count himself amongst the “adamant opponents of anthropogenic-global-warming theory” (never use a prole word like “man-made” when “anthropogenic” will do), he must still attack the “profound anthropological hubris at work when you think all negative changes in the climate are mankind’s fault.” (emphasis his.)
And though Goldberg is “totally open to the idea that man plays some role in the near-term fluctuations of the climate,” he is still a long ways from trusting the models of scientists who dare predict what the climate will be like a century from now, because such egg-headery cannot be disentangled from the real threat, which is Barack Obama’s “invincible arrogance”.
“What offends,” Goldberg carps, “is the idea that he — or the scientists he listens to — necessarily have the best remedy for the situation.”
Here is the intellectual finger trap that Goldberg, as a midling right-winger, is caught in.Yes, the science on global warming has been accepted at the highest levels of every world government. All that remains are decades of stalling about who will adjust their economies first. Goldberg knows this — his memo is filled with caveats meant to distance himself from global warming deniers. But Goldberg, as well as others on the right who have managed not to be completely buffaloed by reactionary cranks, must still dance with who brung ’em, lest they be accused of being tofu-nibbling liberals.
So, after burning every bridge they could on the road to gridlock, conservatives of good conscience are now left trying to unwind their own rhetoric about eco-communists, Climategate and “global cooling” and break the news to their rancorous base that yes, there will be a hell of a lot of wind farms in our nation’s future… as well as less coastline. But they must still kill the messenger in the process or be labeled as squishes.
However, reactionary conservatism is the only glacier on the planet that isn’t melting, and if Goldberg did not hold a privileged rank at the National Review, the rusting hull that was once the flagship journal of the conservative movement, it is doubtful he could even get a hearing.
Goldberg tries to have it both ways, though. Here he is rolling his eyes at those nerds at NOAA, the UN, et al.:
Even if you think the global-warming crowd is exactly right, why on earth should I listen to some guy who studies ocean temperatures or how clouds reflect sunlight about how to tax certain products or organize our industry?
This would be a fair point had Goldberg been addressing some scheme, hatched by a bunch of poindexters, to hurl test tubes at our economy. But the busybody he is actually referring to is… President Obama.
“But what Obama is doing here is trying to use the authority of science to cut through democratic impediments to do things in areas where climate scientists have no special authority or expertise.”
In other words, on the Goldberg worldview, scientists have no business suggesting any kind of policy fix (like a carbon tax) to address global warming, but neither do elected officials who may be persuaded by such scientists. And anyway, global warming may be real, but it isn’t real real, and if it is, it’s pure hubris for a bunch of monkeys with a glorified prefrontal cortex to think they can tackle it.
This is the kind of logical paradox that would usually cause a doomsday computer to meltdown, but the mind of a conservative is one so bent to doom that there is no subverting it. Instead, Goldberg answers the dilemma with a logical paradox of his own: he links to an American Enterprise Institute agenda for “solar radiation management” as a cure for global warming, because if giving Bunsen Honeydew the keys to our economy is nonsensical, surely the opposite– turning climate policy over to a think tank obsessed with growing capitalism–is the fix.
Jonah’s conceit is hilarious on two levels. First, if global warming is only worthy of Jonah Goldberg’s ambivalence, why does the AEI study he recommends make climate change sound as if it is as real and obvious a threat to human life as a plum-sized shadow on your chest X-ray? Second, the fix, “solar radiation management”, is nothing less than an experiment in terraforming. It is quite literally Zod’s evil plot in Man of Steel! How does dumping a layer of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere not qualify as “hubris”?
Goldberg concludes that before we do anything hasty, like putting Zach Snyder in charge of saving the planet Earth, we should “wait about thirty years … Get the [climate] models to work [and] wait for countries like India and China to get rich enough to forgo fossil fuels.” I can only imagine that Goldberg is anticipating some sort of new power source that runs on the laughter of butterflies or something. How would increased wealth equate to billions of people deciding to forego fossil fuels? If anything, an increase in the wealth of these mostly impoverished nations would come from a greater consumption of energy, through an infrastructure that uses ever more fossil fuels.
The issue for conflicted conservatives like Jonah Goldberg is that the “thirty years” he would like to delay his conscience have already elapsed. Thirty years ago global warming was just beginning to seep into the public consciousness (hell, Hollywood was taking it on as early as 1973’s Soylent Green). Now the verdict is in, and history has banged its gavel. The right-wingers who used to be willing to die on a hill to rebuke celebrities like Al Gore are now trying to shut out the din of the entire scientific community, world governments and even our own Pentagon.
It’s time to admit you lost, Jonah. Stop tilting at wind farms.