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Environment

Is there a Green Scare?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 21, 2012 11:46 PM

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Before I get to that question, ask yourself this: What does the climate debate have to do with WMD's (weapons of mass destruction) and the Iraq war? Tom Fuller offers an answer on this recent thread:

One of the saddest consequences of 9/11 was the wholesale manipulation of both the media and public opinion to generate support for a war of choice in Iraq. What's even sadder is the fact that the climate consensus adopted the same strategy wholesale.

A lively exchange then ensued, revisiting the Bush Administration's rationale for deposing Saddam Hussein. One commenter said:

Now, I don't think WMD's were the best justification for the war in Iraq. I rather much prefer the idea that we were bringing democracy and freedom to a part of the world that knew it not (trite, I know, but I'm from the south). That bringing these things to the middle east would benefit us in the long term. This kind of thinking requires vision; I suppose Bush chose to sell a simpler "˜narrative' instead.

This led me to wonder about another possible climate parallel: The use of a simpler (and similarly fear-inducing) narrative (climate doom) to make a case for action on global warming. This is, in fact, the dominant narrative favored by climate activists, but it hasn't fared as well as the selling of the Iraq war. Some are now trying a different tack. On that thread, I noted that climate skeptics who normally disapprove of rhetoric that made selective use of facts or pushed a simplistic story to advance a climate agenda didn't seem all that bothered when the same tactics were used to sell the Iraq war. A few people still clung to the notion that "there is no evidence" for deception by the Bush Administration in the way it made its case for war with Iraq. To which I replied:

Yes, I suppose cherrypicking intelligence, reliance on dubious sources (aka curveball), a certain slide presentation before the UN (which the presenter later said would be a permanent blot on his record) had nothing to do with it.

I'm kinda surprised that no climate skeptics immediately seized on an obvious parallel I was handing to them, gift-wrapped. Instead, focus remained on Iraq and conjecture by some about why Bush went down the path he did and the relative merits of it:

However, on spinning the web of "truths" to infer a direct link between Iraq and and 9/11 to the American public"¦I think they [the Bush Administration] went way over the top, and did it because they needed more support for the effort"¦ Still, was that "good politics" or "deception"?

In response, I said:

I guess that question depends on the context. Clearly it's not okay for climate advocates to use such a strategy. Right? But to make a case for war"¦

Meanwhile, on the same thread, one reader picked up on the assertion (made by me) that the media failed abysmally during the pre-Iraq war debate, and argued:

The media has similar failures in the US's involvement in South America over the past 50 years. The media was late on Vietnam. The truth is that the military, the administration, and the powers that be can never be honest about why we go to war and what interests we are protecting. If they did, they'd never generate enough support and risk undermining the effort. The goal is to develop a feasible narrative that will hold long enough to finish the job.

To which another commenter, noting the complex, incremental nature of geopolitics, responded:

The media generally doesn't very do well with "˜slow motion' changes.

Well, that calls for another climate parallel--this one of media coverage of climate change and the difficulty journalists have with a slow-moving phenomena. This theme of the media's role during emotionally charged periods in American history spurred some additional exchanges on that thread. Regarding episodes of U.S. military intervention in the last hundred years, a reader noted (my emphasis):

What stands out in each instance, but never stands the test of time, is the narrative sold by the administration (although Congress must declare war, it is the Commander in chief and the Pentagon who drive the agenda). Vietnam and our multiple manipulations of South America were part of the red-scare, Iraq was terrorist scare, etc. Not only do they find ways to entice our fears, they also find ways to gin up our feelings of comradeship and nationalism.

This got me wondering if there was another potential climate/environmental parallel: That of a green scare. No doubt, a strong case can be made that the environmental community has been promoting a catastrophic narrative since the 1960s. Think overpopulation, species extinction, and now global warming, to cite just a few examples. The question, in my mind, is not whether the various environmental issues over the last 40 years have been legitimate concerns, but whether the projected dire outcomes attributed to them were/are based on reasoned, scientific evidence, or hyperbole and selective data. My sense, as a long-time observer of these debates, is that the answer is a combination of both, but that science and hype have gone hand in hand. Climate change is a good example. The basic science behind it is not in question, as far as I'm concerned, but some aspects, such as climate sensitivity and feedbacks and the projected impacts, are still hotly debated. These outstanding questions don't make climate change to be a less worrisome issue, but because it is a slow-moving event that can't be felt at an individually discernible level, many climate activists have ratcheted up the rhetoric to make their case for action. But climate change doesn't strike people as an immediate existential threat, the way images of mushroom clouds do. That's where the parallels between WMD's and the climate debate end. So if there is a green scare, 1) it's lost its bite after 40 years, and 2) it doesn't work as well with unclear threats that are distant in time.

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