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.