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Zero Sum Climate Politics

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFebruary 11, 2012 8:00 PM


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The partisan climate debate seems to surprise those who don't normally swim in its treacherous waters. Joe Nocera, a NYT business columnist, appears taken aback by his experience this week, which he discusses today:

Here's the question on the table today: Can a person support the Keystone XL oil pipeline and still believe that global warming poses a serious threat? To my mind, the answer is yes. The crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, which the pipeline would transport to American refineries on the Gulf Coast, simply will not bring about global warming apocalypse. The seemingly inexorable rise in greenhouse gas emissions is the result of deeply ingrained human habits, which will not change if the pipeline is ultimately blocked. The benefits of the oil we stand to get from Canada, via Keystone, far outweigh the environmental risks. When I tried to make that case on Tuesday, however, I was cast as a global warming "denier." Joe Romm, who edits the Climate Progress blogsaid that I had joined "the climate ignorati." Robert Redford "” yes, that Robert Redford "” denounced my column in The Huffington Post. "Let's put the rhetoric aside, and simply focus on the facts," he wrote.

Let's put rhetoric aside. Heh. Such a quaint notion. Because if there's one thing that characterizes the public climate debate, it's rhetoric that turns facts upside down. On the other side of the spectrum, for example, you could get lost in the funhouse at Powerline, a politically conservative website that twisted a recent paper in Nature to declare of climate science: "And the house of cards starts to come down." In his Powerline post, Steven Hayward, a policy analyst for the libertarian/conservative American Enterprise Institute, writes:

It's fun watching these guys fall on their face in real time. The whole circus is falling apart much faster than I expected. I can tell you that around Washington the whole climate change angle is slowly being dropped from conversation about everything. It's almost like talking with normal people again.

Today, what passes for normal in the climate conversation is hyperbole and distortion.

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