Unethical Op-Ed Of The Year: “Time To Panic” By David Wallace-Wells

Just in time to lay a foundation for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s hysterical and hilarious “Green New Deal,” the New York Times’ February 16 Sunday Review section devoted its front page entirely to an essay by David Wallace-Wells called “Time to Panic.” It is, of course, about climate change. The Times presented it on a scary red background, with an illustration of someone peaking through their fingers, as if they were watching a tense moment in a horror movie. (I actually do that, sometimes.)

The article is afear-mongering piece that extols fear-mongering, so it basically disqualifies its own credibility. The author’s credibility? It’s a mystery: I spent about 20 minutes on Google trying to determine what Wallace’s background is, and failed. The Times just says that he is an author, and has a whole book coming out, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” from which this junk is adapted. Various bios I could track downonly say that he is a “non-fiction writer”–I don’t know about that. So I’m going to assume that he is just a journalist who has adopted climate change as his hobby horse, and it seems to be working out for him. Since he’s not trained as a scientist–presumably if he had any actual independent technical understanding of climate science he would be waving that credential—we know that like Al Gore, Ocasio-Cortez and whichever Kennedy it is who want to lock up climate change “deniers,” his understanding of the topic is entirely second hand: he chooses to believe reports and summaries of scientific research that he  doesn’t know enough to critically evaluate. We also know that, like Gore and Ocasio-Cortez, who has floated the theory that the earth has only 12 more years before becoming Hell, he believes in hyping and over-stating in order to motivate the public. He says so outright:

Panic might seem counterproductive, but we’re at a point where alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons…being alarmed is not a sign of being hysterical; when it comes to climate change, being alarmed is what the facts demand. Perhaps the only logical response.This helps explain the second reason alarmism is useful: By defining the boundaries of conceivability more accurately, catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly.

This is what Ethics Alarms calls “Authentic Frontier Gibberish.” Not thinking clearly—for panic by definition substitutes an emotion, fear, for reason—allows us to think more clearly. Got it.

Why should anyone take seriously someone who makes such arguments?

There are other clues that Wallace-Wells is a confirmation bias exploiting hack. For example, while praising panic as a catalyst for public policy, he writes,

“A fourth argument for embracing catastrophic thinking comes from history. Fear can mobilize, even change the world. When Rachel Carson published her landmark anti-pesticide polemic “Silent Spring,” Life magazine said she had “overstated her case,” and The Saturday Evening Post dismissed the book as “alarmist.” But it almost single-handedly led to a nationwide ban on DDT.”

The banning of DDT, as opposed to a thoughtful regulation of it, is a fine example of what panic-driven policy reaps. DDT, used judiciously and in small amounts, saves lives. The ban on DDT killed people. Another example is nuclear energy, which remains the most promising and realistic alternative to carbon-based fuels, but has been so thoroughly tarred by environmentalist fear-mongering that it is barely mentioned as a climate change remedy.

Here’s another self-damning argument for hyping and fear-mongering:

“Throughout the Cold War, foes of nuclear weapons did not shy away from warning of the horrors of mutually assured destruction, and in the 1980s and 1990s, campaigners against drunken driving did not feel obligated to make their case simply by celebrating sobriety.”

But foes of nuclear weapons as deterrence were and are wrong; Wallace-Wells just assumes that his progressive readers are as willfully ignorant of history as he is. And citing drunk driving is really bad strategy, for Prohibition is another example of bad policy enacted out of “do something!” fear and hysteria.

Even climate scientists find Wallace-Wells’s arguments misleading. An earlier, similar piece, a  long article in New York Magazine that spawned his book while this one cannibalizes it, was criticized by those who actually specialize in climate change, who suggested that the writer didn’t know what he was talking about.

Pennsylvania State University’s Michael Mann, for example, perhaps the best known climate researcher known for skewering skeptics of climate change, wrote, “The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.” Mann called Wallace-Wells’s claim that satellite data shows  globe warming acceleration more than twice as fast since 1998 as scientists had thought,”  “erroneous,”  as in “wrong” and rejected the idea that hyping and fear-mongering was a responsible strategy:

The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.

The Times article really is a brief for totalitarian government, without having the honesty to say it clearly. (So is the “Green New Deal”) Ironically, the author holds up the motto ““Tell the truth” as a guide while avoiding reality and dealing in magical thinking himself. Like the Green New Deal, he cites high-speed rail as a viable alternative to air travel: it isn’t, it’s unaffordable, and it’s a pipe dream. Political and fiscal realities are as important to acknowledge as scientific facts,  the climate change hysterics like Wallace-Wells either ignore them, or try to obscure them. Here’s the core political fact, and it is a fact: our democracy is not going to voluntarily begger itself, drastically reduce its standard of living and constrain its life choices in order to forestall a theoretical catastrophy. Ocasio-Cortez knows that (I guess?) and Wallace-Wells, who appears smarter than her, knows that. Surely the leaders of the Democratic Party know that. This means that they also know that only an oppressive, non-democratic regime could make the kind of draconian changes they are advocating, and this means that they are, without expressly admitting it, calling for an elimination of democracy and the installment of a totalitarian system–a nice one, of course—for the greater good.

The news media, by publishing deceptive and irresponsible essays like “Time to Panic,” is fully complicit in this effort. Fear has always been the door thorough which despots enter a culture. Here’s my answer to that, and Wallace-Wells, the Times, Ocasio-Cortez and the rest:

I will choose liberty and personal autonomy in a harsher environment over surrendering both to government power wielded by people who lied, hyped and encouraged panic to seize control. Accepting a certain societal hell to avoid a theoretical environmental one is foolish trade.

46 thoughts on “Unethical Op-Ed Of The Year: “Time To Panic” By David Wallace-Wells

  1. “Panic might seem counterproductive, but we’re at a point where alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons”

    Same applies to their attacks on Trump. It is pervasive.

  2. Very tidy nutshell for the entire culture of leftism and its issues. One crisis after another requiring immediate and draconian action to save…something. Always accompanied by a subtraction of individual rights replaced with centralized authority. Can they not see they are laughable apparatchiks?

    • Very tidy nutshell for the entire culture of leftism and its issues. One crisis after another requiring immediate and draconian action to save…something. Always accompanied by a subtraction of individual rights replaced with centralized authority. Can they not see they are laughable apparatchiks?

      OK, OK, I’ve been working on this! I have been asking the question: Why are happening in our present the things that are happening? And saying that we seem to examine surface, and react against surface impressions, but do not seem to understand *causation*: why these things are manifesting and why.

      Allow me to start with something Alexandre Dugan said: “The essence of the human being is to be a soldier”. Now, with that in mind let us call to mind the Social Justice Warrior. The notion of ‘entering into service’ of an ideal and turning against the forces of darkness is a trope that has been very important and exalted in the West. Take for an example the Anti-Fascist American warrior. Take for another example the similar notion of *warriorship* even of a more gentle sort: Mr Smith Goes to Washington. Take any sort of hero mythology and behind it stands the ideal of the noble warrior.

      There are two distinct poles that we might identify within the possibility of the warriorship I have suggested. Let me mention the French Revolution (a defining event) as a soldiering against oppressive hierarchies. We see today that the SJW is serving the continuation of the processes begun in the French Revolution: radical egalitarianism and the undermining of any structures that are based in established notions of hierarchy now thought to be *oppressive* and outmoded. The movements now manifesting are not conservative in any sense, but rather socially radical. Prior to the French Revolution, the world (cultural and intellectual) was oriented toward established hierarchies, moral, political, social. The French Revolution began a process of overturning those hierarchies. And one entire class of the Warrior Model takes up that banner, as it were. It seems to me that we need to see the degree to which our own America, especially in the Postwar, reacted against *oppressive structures* that were brought into the light by the anti-fascist activists. Indeed, America was called as a soldier in an epic and determining battle against ‘the forces of fascist darkness’. Therefore, this Soldier really does exist, and so does his battle as a manifestation of idealism.

      But there is another *pole* and we must speak of that. Just as the French Revolutionary warrior, and this entire *project* became possible, so did reaction against it. Take Joseph le Maistre as an example . . . and certainly Nietzche. The French Revolution is seen as the moment when blind and irrational forces begin to drag the Occidental Civilization toward and into the abyss. They propose a counter-narrative to the glorious and idealistic vision of the Enlightenment. That when you destroy hierarchy, you destroy value. That this *egalitarianism*, noble in idea, resulted in the destruction of noble values or aristocratic values, and the ‘leveling’ of society into a bland meaninglessness: I use the term Walmart America to describe the horrifying, but logical, outcome of aspects of egalitarianism and also of democracy (the rule by the mass-man).

      Now, in our present, I suggest that there is another and opposing School of Warriorship (if you will) that is gaining power because it claims meaning and surrounds itself with powerful ideals and ideas, but which are anti-liberal since liberalism is the outcome of revolutionary egalitarianism, and aristocratic, irreverent and also dangerous. If you examine the various figures on the ideological Right you will see that they are, to a man in fact (with an occasional woman!) soldiers battling for other and contrary idea-sets. Some are ‘Christian Warriors’ if Christianity is understood as an older system of values rooted in hierarchy-of-meaning and valuation. Some are anti-Christian and pro-pagan and see Christianity in some of its destructive, democratizing, egalitarian aspects and resist it. But they are militants who serve various strains of ideas that have been, shall I say, pushed out of the picture.

      Even here, among those who participate on this blog, and even Jack himself as a warrior of ethics, each of us try to find a *worthy battle* and to engage in a fight in a cause that is larger than ourselves. It means: service to meanings that are transcendent to a given moment in mutable time.

      While I do not understand the idea-base of the present Ecological Warriorship that is being chosen as a flag or banner, it does seem to be obvious that it is such a banner. Though Heidegger was much more to the right, he nevertheless noticed that ‘finding an enemy’ and ‘locating an enemy’ and even ‘inventing an enemy’ is necessary in the *project of being*:

      “The challenge is to bring the enemy out into the open, to harbor no illusions about the enemy, to keep oneself ready for attack, to cultivate and intensify a constant readiness and to prepare the attack . . .”

      So, I suggest — I think this is fair and useful — that we understand the need and the demand to soldier in our present as especially important and relevant. And to understand the *poles* of activity as I have outlined.

      • Assuming your poles theory is correct, would it be fair to say we are seeing distinct cultures develop around them and, in essence, forming warring tribal units?

        • I think the immediate answer is ‘yes’. My impression is that it operates in different ways at different levels. There is a high, intellectual pole for both the *progressive-type* and the same for the *reactionary*, ‘civilization saving conservative’. In the best of circumstances these people might sit down and talk and, at least, articulate their views to each other in a civil manner.

          Obviously, it all gets very very complex and difficult when the European wars are discussed and one has to offer an interpretation.

          At the lower level — as with Antifa vs Alt-Right confrontations (Charlottesville is a good example) they are at each other’s throats but — this is my impression — many on each side would have difficulty articulating a coherent position. They are fighting because it is part of nature that people define themselves through their battles.

          At the street level, and definitely in the various domains and recesses of the Internet, similar divisions show up. I also think it is important to note that among each pole in the ‘movements’, it is young people who are asserting themselves. The overall tone is so young, and often so inexperienced. Communication occurs through a mode and means of communication that is relatively new.

          I have an example of a fellow who I admire, but who comes out of the Traditionalist-Right. He is a Nationalist but with caveats. You might appreciate his view. I’d be interested to hear your opinion (it’s in 2 parts).

          Why Western Civilization Needs Christianity

          • Although not a part to your original conversation I have watched both parts and find nothing with which to quibble. His comments on the “post-Christian culture” seem spot-on to me. I will be looking for more of his work.

  3. The issue with climate change is not the fact that it exists – of course, it exists and anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of earth history regarding climate would recognize that. My favorite is “Snowball Earth,” but there is something else of note.

    We just completed a Sunday night – Monday morning snow in Massachusetts. The European model on the storm, the local model, the National Weather Service model and AcuuWeater model all had something in common. They were wrong! They were all *right* in predicting snow, but the rest? Nice try! The same applies to climate change. Do you believe the sky is falling or do you believe nothing behind that curtain?

    Climate change is the new shiny keys for the left. Invariably the consensus is drifting towards the end of the world in 10+ years.

    • Rick M. wrote, “Climate change is the new shiny keys for the left. Invariably the consensus is drifting towards the end of the world in 10+ years.”

      I actually haven’t heard anyone seriously predicting the end of the world or anything close, just catastrophic damage to property, catastrophic loss of human life, severe limiting human activities in some areas due to one thing or another, etc, etc. Heck even if all human life ceased to exist on Earth, the planet would survive for a many billions of years until our sun goes supernova. 😉

  4. If your summary is even remotely accurate it seems his grip on the language is rather tenuous. He’s conflating “Panic” with “Alarm,” for starters- the two are similar emotions but not identical. I may be alarmed by finding out my car has a major safety recall, and respond by being exceptionally cautious until it is repaired. This is not panic.

    He also is making the argument that “It is appropriate to be alarmed” is the same as “alarmism is appropriate.” If one is never alarmed by anything, it’s likely one is suffering from complacency, which is not good. However, the ability to be alarmed by a situation in no way requires alarm to be your default response to EVERY situation (aka “alarmism”).

    So before even getting into the meat of his argument, it becomes clear that he’s going to use sloppy language to string together non-sequitur arguments. One can reasonably agree that climate change data is alarming and merits care and possibly a response, without it following that one should panic. As long as he uses all his terms interchangeably, his whole argument is garbage.

    • … If one is never alarmed by anything, it’s likely one is suffering from complacency, which is not good…

      That reminds me of this adaptation of a well known verse: “If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs, maybe they know something you don’t”.

      • Not aimed at PM, just a good place for this comment.

        Losing your mind does not help the situation, and if others know more, knowing obviously does not help them cope.

        I find that the ability to keep one’s wits in crisis is valuable no matter the circumstances. Emoting only provides emotional and mental relief for the emoter: it impedes others in dealing with the situation.

        I have (and have taught my children) to focus on dealing with the issue at hand: stop the bleeding, escape the fire, shoot back until the shooting stops, whatever is next. Then, after the action, go fall apart in private, cry, or rage if that is what is needed to relieve the stress.

        Training and mindset are everything.

  5. An Alarmacyst getting rebuked by Professor Michael Mann is signature significance.

    In Mann’s defense, Penn State University exonerated him of scientific malpractice/malfeasance in the ClimateGate non-scandal, despite an horrendously incomplete, botched investigation headed up by then President Graham Spanier.

    Spanier also botched another PSU investigation by ignoring numerous, damning reports from the school’s athletic department.

    The name Jerry Sandusky sound familiar?

    • The problem with global warming is that it is scientifically probable, but the data is so opaque. Increased carbon dioxide should warm the planet, but by how much? Global warming has been treated differently than any other scientific topic in that the conclusion without proof was stated and only people with data reaching that conclusion are considered valid for funding. Physicists are allowed to question if gravity exists, but not global warming (no, really).

      My take on this is, if the data really, clearly shows manmade warming that will cause disastrous effects, shouldn’t the researchers involved want everyone to see the data? Well, they don’t want you to see the data. They make it almost impossible to see the data. One large group of researchers sent out e-mails ordering people to destroy all the original data, so that only the ‘processed’ data would be available. Methods of avoiding FOIA requests for the data were discussed. The methods and rationale for modifying the temperature data are not clearly stated. Groups that question the dominant narrative are eliminated from publication and funding. I ask myself “Would all of this deception be necessary if the data clearly showed what they claim it shows?” and the answer is negative. Only if the data is inconclusive or contrary to the narrative would this amount of organized resistance be necessary.

      The other real problem with the narrative is that they make it sound like the US, all by itself, can solve this. Asia generates more carbon dioxide than all of North and South America combined. None of the global warming activists are working on getting Asia or any 3rd World countries to be part of the solution. They claim that the US and Western Europe can do it all by themselves. If you can’t demonstrate that global warming is occuring, you can’t prove that warming will be damaging (remember the medieval warm period?), and your solution can’t possibly work, what is REALLY going on?

      • Recently received a missive from former Fed Chair, Janet Yellen asking me (and other economists) to sign on to a 10% US carbon tax. I suggested to her that she sell her notion to the Chinese and to, essentially, pound sand.

        Why is she / are they so keen to hamstring the US economy? Perhaps because they believe the US must lead regardless of consequences. It occurred to me it might also be their buddies are much more heavily invested in China and are currently losing their shirts. Plus, the added benefit of slowing the Trump era economic recovery to the point of recession.

        • adimagejim wrote, “Recently received a missive from former Fed Chair, Janet Yellen asking me (and other economists) to sign on to a 10% US carbon tax. I suggested to her that she sell her notion to the Chinese and to, essentially, pound sand.”

          A carbon tax in the USA is absolute nonsense. I like the “pound sand” reply.

          • The carbon tax advocates want us to believe that an carbon tax, that’s likely not going to reduce the carbon output of the United States more than a smidgen, is going to reduce the Carbon Monoxide output from fossil fuels in the United States enough to change the overall Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere of the world and slow, stop, or reverse climate change. They are openly lying to the people! These carbon tax advocating imbeciles know that the United States only contributes a small portion (somewhere around 15%) of the carbon to the atmosphere that’s produced from fossil fuels and that the carbon from all the fossil fuels in the world only make up a really small portion (around 5%) of the total carbon in the atmosphere. When it’s all calculated out to what percentage the United States is contributing to the overall carbon in the atmosphere with fossil fuels it’s somewhere around 1%.

      • ”Asia generates more carbon dioxide than all of North and South America combined.”

        It gets worse…or is expected to, leastways.

        700,000,000 air conditioners are expected to become operational by 2030, that total rises to a staggering 1,600,000,000 by 2050, mostly to dark-skinned poor people in India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa et al.

        When True Believers are informed that these poor people (leading meager, subsistence existences) want nothing more than 10 % (if that) of what the former have: on demand energy, improved diets, rudimentary transportation, basic medial care, and perhaps a hempen homespun Navy Blazer, and the ability to head to the fridge and secure some imported tofu, brie, chablis, wheat grass tea, while they post arrogantly suffocating alarmist drivel on Lefty internet forums, what do they say?

        “We realize the criminally insane UNIPCC wants us to reduce our lifestyles 40 % across the board, but that’s just not going to happen. We are the Voices Of A Brave New World (a Green New Deal, if you prefer) and as such, need to be coddled, well fed & comfortable.

        “If we aren’t, that may well weaken our ability to explain to ignorant people (who clearly aren’t as smart as us) what their priorities ought be, because we know what’s best for them. And if that…um…compromises poor people’s ability to escape the trap of poverty and dependence, so be it. Sacrifices NEED to be made!

        Just not by us.

        The extent of the efforts of real real smart, if self-anointed,True Believers (most, not all) will be feverish hand-wringing, deep furrowing of brows, ‘Look At Me’ bumper stickers, ‘I’m Dialed In’ lapel ribbons, and ‘Gosh I’m Nice” awareness bracelets.

        And lest we forget, the kill shot/coup de grâce: talking about it and thinking about it.

        The profligate, sustainable, GREEN, organic, free range, fair-trade, locally derived, humanely dispatched, Mother Gaia-friendly lifestyles will continue unabated.

        Why? Carbon-footprints are for little people!

  6. From about 1,000 different cartoons:

    “Calm Leader or Professor Guy, some people are saying now is not a good time to panic. What do you think people should do?”
    “Panic! Run for your lives! Ahhhh!”

    Or some variation that.

    I never thought the New York Times would have some geek openly extolling the virtues of panic, not even because there’s a good reason, but because it’s useful for propaganda purposes. Real life is dumber than cartoons.

      • I think she (The old Gray Lady suffering the print version of Left-sided Alzheimer’s) still publishes Acrostics in its Sunday Magazine section. You have to be sane to solve those. For the last two years, the paper has supplemented its income with a standalone digital subscription exclusive to all its daily and archived puzzles for $6.95/mo; currently multiplied by 400,000 and growing apace.

        Come to think of it, maybe people don’t do the word ones anymore, just the Ken Ken sort. With math/logic puzzles, you can escape meaning almost entirely.

  7. It isn’t hard to see what’s going on with the ‘climate change’ debate and much else. It is only distressing to see the irrelevant fury and insults that get thrown around. I hazard a guess that very few of the passionate activists or denialists have any real grasp of, or interest in the underlying science. Anyone mouthing certainties either that ‘climate change’ is or is not definitely going to be a significant problem for our grandchildren marks themselves out at best as not very bright.

    Underneath it all is a crude conflict that over-simplistically can be thought off as’ ‘Left’ v. ‘Right’. Leftists hold top of mind that we are a social animal and have ‘obligations’ to each other. Rightists hold that we are individuals and have ‘rights’. Anyone vaguely honest holds to both views but when we are yelling at each other we get polarised. We all know there are complex unresolved issues and no perfect answers.

    Leftists naturally gravitate to issues and arguments that support a need for collective action. Rightists are naturally resistant, as collective action inevitably requires some sacrifice of individual rights and freedom.

    Any expectation in these debates that our opponents will suddenly give in, acknowledging our brilliance and their stupidity, is crazily unrealistic.

    My personal view in all of this is that a general move ‘left’ is inevitable and unstoppable. More and more of us are living in cities. Our various connections and dependencies on our neighbours are increasingly complex. Global warming may well be a false alarm or even a hoax, but there are potentially existential threats ‘out there’, to which one day we will need to respond with a collective global response.

    • Global warming may well be a false alarm or even a hoax, but there are potentially existential threats ‘out there’, to which one day we will need to respond with a collective global response.

      I should hope that some of us will be permitted the option to die screaming instead. A bit of dignity in my final moments is all I ask.

  8. Antibiotic resistant plague might well be the greatest threat. Lefty ethics, obligations to fellow patients etc., would encourage you to die quietly and not make a fuss. Righty ethics would support your free speech right to scream the house down.

    • Yes the majority of the screaming in our society does not come from the right… funny, that.

      Will Smith discovered the need for global action when aliens started destroying cities… a crisis that eliminates the problem with urban living creating leftists while enforcing the need to cooperate to survive a global crisis. I suspect the ethics of that are tangled, to say the least.

      But hey! The answer to our problem was a sort of virus (computer virus) so we turned our crises against each other!

      • Will Smith discovered the need for global action when aliens started destroying cities

        But the aliens had the very best design in an airport terminal to support their tourist invasion. Dealing with the illegal terrorists who did get past the TSAs – probably due to Lefty’s Let-‘Em-All-In propaganda – was the reasonable trade-off, no?

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