Robert Samuelson on the Great Global Warming "Denial Machine"


Washington Post and Newsweek columnist Robert Samuelson takes on Newsweek's cover story attacking the evil global warming denial conspiracy. Samuelson scolds Newsweek:

We in the news business often enlist in moral crusades. Global warming is among the latest. Unfortunately, self-righteous indignation can undermine good journalism. Last week's NEWSWEEK's cover story on global warming is a sobering reminder. It's an object lesson of how viewing the world as "good guys vs. bad guys" can lead to a vast oversimplification of a messy story. Global warming has clearly occurred; the hard question is what to do about it.

If you missed NEWSWEEK's story, here's the gist. A "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change." This "denial machine" has obstructed action against global warming and is still "running at full throttle." The story's thrust: discredit the "denial machine," and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading….

NEWSWEEK's "denial machine" is a peripheral and highly contrived story. NEWSWEEK implied, for example, that ExxonMobil used a think tank to pay academics to criticize global-warming science. Actually, this accusation was long ago discredited, and NEWSWEEK shouldn't have lent it respectability. (The company says it knew nothing of the global-warming grant, which involved issues of climate modeling. And its 2006 contribution to the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, was small: $240,000 out of a $28 million budget.) [AEI defends itself here.]

The alleged cabal's influence does not seem impressive.

Samuelson also makes some pretty sobering observations about the political possibility of dealing with man-made global warming. To wit:

Democracies don't easily adopt painful measures in the present to avert possible future problems…One way or another, our assaults against global warming are likely to be symbolic, ineffective or both.

Samuelson does suggest a gasoline tax as a start. It should be noted that when oil prices soared during the OPEC-induced oil crisis, U.S. oil consumption dropped by 13 percent between 1973 and 1983. In other words, people will conserve when energy becomes more costly. My own proposal for beginning to deal with climate change is a gradually rising tax on carbon-based fuels. I discuss the magnitude of the future energy challenge here and here and here.

Whole Samuelson column here.

Disclosure: To many political environmentalists I am considered to have been a cog in the global warming "denial machine." My side of the story here.