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Environment

Climate Debate Has Gone MAD

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Remember the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)? To some, it justified the arms race between the U.S. and the old USSR. As Wikipedia explains:

The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) assumes that each side has enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the other side; and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate without fail with equal or greater force. The expected result is an immediate irreversible escalation of hostilities resulting in both combatants' mutual, total and assured destruction.

Fortunately, no nuclear-armed country has tested this doctrine by preemptively launching nuclear weapons against a nuclear-armed foe. The warring sides in the climate debate, however, are locked in a hostile embrace that threatens to destroy them both. There is one difference to this war, though, in that it is not a conventional clash of superpowers, but more an asymmetrical conflict. Think of it like the war in Afghanistan, where climate scientists and campaigners are the U.S. military presence and Marc Morano and his like-minded band of ideologues are the Taliban. Technically, the U.S. is waging a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, trying to win over the populace with a hearts & minds campaign while also taking out the hostiles. For various reasons, it's become a rather futile effort that military analysts can explain better than me. But here are some of the parallels with the climate war. The Taliban, like Morano, are fiercely puritanical. They are not averse to cleansing their own side. Morano has shown that in the Republican Presidential race, where he's gone after GOP candidates who once were in favor of taking action on climate change. Not coincidentally, global warming has become a litmus test for Republicans in this election year. The Taliban, like Morano, are excellent provocateurs. They don't have the manpower to go toe to toe, but they have successfully goaded the U.S. into committing what some experts have called "own goals." So it is with the climate movement, whose public spokespersons tend to fan the flames that perpetuate the fighting. Now before I go any further, let me state outright that I am not equating Marc Morano's tactics with those of the Taliban. The latter is comprised of a brutal, extremist culture that terrorizes its own people in horrific ways. Morano merely uses excessive rhetoric and hyperbolic language to advance his aims. He runs an operation that has a political aim: To delegitimize climate science. To do that, he and his allies engage in a propaganda war that goads his opponents and smears the reputations of individuals prominently associated with the climate change cause. His tactics, while ugly, can in no way whatsoever be compared to the actions of the Taliban. I'm merely saying that he is an insurgent who (with like-minded allies) has successfully forced the other side into a defensive crouch. The climate concerned community is fighting a battle on on his terms. Morano-inspired fighters, like the Taliban, have also convinced themselves (or pretend to) that they are winning the war against their foes. In today's NYT, there is a front page story that begins:

More Taliban insurgents are being killed or captured than ever before, yet when the captives are interrogated by the American military, they remain convinced that they are winning the war.

Similarly, Morano and his allies regularly charge that "the case for global warming has collapsed." In an interview last year, Morano said, "A to Z, the movement has collapsed." This talking point, which has no basis in reality, is endlessly repeated. I honestly don't think Morano believes it, but as he is a long-time political operator, he also knows that perception sometimes overtakes reality. So where does this leave the climate community? Well, like the U.S. military's rethinking of its strategy in Afghanistan, the climate-concerned community has to reassess how it can best achieve its aims. If it wants to win hearts & minds (broaden public understanding and support for its cause), then it should probably settle in for the long haul and rethink its communication strategy. But if the climate community prefers to expend most of its energy trying to defeat its most committed enemies, then it likely will stay on the current path of Mutually Assured Destruction. Somehow, I think that would suit Morano just fine. For he will have achieved his goal and then move on to his next battle.

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