Global Warming and the Media’s Infantilizing Questions About It

By David Marshall Published on September 1, 2023

“Raise your hand if you think human activity is causing global warming.”

So asked Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum at the first Republican presidential debate.

Ron DeSantis was criticized afterwards for refusing to answer that question, and also for looking at another debater before answering another simplistic query about pardoning Donald Trump. (Before he has been convicted of anything.)

Conservative radio host Michael Medved mockingly paraphrased DeSantis’ complaint in a pointedly whiny voice. Medved then noted that human contribution to global warming is even admitted by Bjorn Lomborg, author of  The Skeptical Environmentalist. Why couldn’t DeSantis be as frank?

NPR said DeSantis “sidestepped the question altogether.”

DeSantis Was Right to Reject the Query

But DeSantis was right to bat that question down: His only error lay in not smacking it hard enough. The challenge was posed in a scandalous manner, loaded with false premises reflecting the gullibility of the American establishment and its failure to call the Green Left to account for its wrongs.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Baier: More than a thousand people are still unaccounted for in Maui after the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. Hawaii’s governor and White House officials said that climate change amplified the cost of human error.

MacCallum: And a tropical storm hit California for the first time in 84 years. The ocean hit 101 degrees off the coast of Florida. And in the last month, the heat wave in the Southwest broke records nearly 50 years old.

Fox then showed a clip of a student named Alexander Diaz, who asked “How would you . . . calm (the fears of young people) that the Republican Party doesn’t care about climate change?” MacCallum then demanded candidates to raise their hands if they believe human behavior “is causing climate change.” Which led to this mini-debate:

DeSantis: Look, we’re not schoolchildren. Let’s have the debate. I mean, I’m happy to take it to start. Alexander —

Baier: So do you want to raise your hand —

DeSantis: I don’t think that’s the way to do it.

Indeed it was not. In fact, the Press should be asking Democrats about Maui and the dangers of left-wing environmental policies. And conservative commentators like Medved should be less gullible.

First of all, as a teacher, I don’t think an examiner should squeeze a question one can answer many ways into a “true” or “false” format.

“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

“But I never . . . ”

“A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will do! What are you hiding?”

Baier and MacCallum Play Catch-22

What the moderators’ question hid, first of all, were the true causes of the Maui fire.

In fact that disaster seems to have had nothing to do with anthropogenic global warming (AGW.) As atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass explains, nature set Maui up not with the small hurricane that passed far to the south (and which also had little to do with AGW), but with a high-pressure system to the north. Strong, dry winds descended from the mountains, were blocked by stationary air above, and channeled towards the town of Lahaina. While facts are still emerging, human factors may include inflammatory invasive grasses, too few weather stations, poor maintenance of the grid, and a fire crew that was allegedly pulled off too soon to attend to other fires (though that is now disputed).

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If global warming had any effect, it was by spooking left-wing politicians who run Hawaii into poor management. Some argue that Hawaiian Electric Company spent large sums on pursuing Green alternative energies — money that could have gone to instituting safety measures. That remains in dispute, but that climate mitigation carries high costs, which are born by motorists, consumers, and farmers in Third World countries, is generally left out of the debate.

The moderators missed other points, too. No, that was not the first tropical storm to strike California in 84 years: during the 1960s and 1970s alone, four came ashore. And every summer, and winter, records are broken somewhere. It is bad journalism to rely on anecdotal evidence, and irresponsible education (as DeSantis could have said) to spook inexperienced young people into terror.

Infantilizing a Complex Scientific Question

A “true/false” or even multiple-choice question was also inappropriate because, as DeSantis pointed out, it infantilizes an immensely complex scientific question.

AGW makes four distinct claims (resembling Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths in format):

  1. The world’s atmosphere (and ocean) has warmed over the past century.
  2. Human activity has caused that warming.
  3. This change presents serious dangers.
  4. Certain steps must be taken to reverse or slow global warming.

Because the media is lazy, and too many educators indoctrinate rather than teach on climate change, Americans tend to conflate these issues. If you answer “yes” to (2), the question Baier and MacCallum asked, most listeners would take the rest as a package deal.

And the truth about these claims is complicated:

(1) Yes, the atmosphere has warmed. In 8th grade, I lived in the Mendenhall Valley north of Juneau, Alaska. Media reports describe how the glacier has receded in recent years. But the land on which our house was located in the 1970s had been covered by ice a century or so earlier. Glaciers have been melting and retreating since at least the mid-19th Century.

(2) Human activity is partly but not entirely responsible. Anyone who thinks they can pin this down exactly is engaging in propaganda not science. There are too many variables. Surely Ebenezer Scrooge did not cause glaciers to melt in Alaska by letting Bob Cratchit put an extra coal on their office fire. Much of the warming came when industrial activity was a tiny percent of what it is now, doubtless due to constantly fluctuating natural cycles.

(3) Should young people stay awake at night worrying? Not about climate change. The Green lobby is scaring kids with simplistic propaganda. Al Gore’s infamously misleading “An Inconvenient Truth,” which was shown at public schools where I used to sub, is just one example.

We hear much about heat waves, such as those that struck various portions of the globe this summer. But far more people die of the cold. Why is that fact not mentioned in presidential debates? Because the positive effects of global warming are themselves “inconvenient truths.”

So the moderators’ question was a Catch-22. Hands down, and you offend Republicans who know there has been warming, partly related to human activity. Hands up, and you irritate those who suspect the dangers are exaggerated and fear that as with Omicron, the cure may prove worse than the disease.

Still, it is not nice to mess with Mother Nature. Some effects of AGW will likely hurt. It would be best to dial it back — without panicking. If you merely wish to scare children, tell them ghost stories, or (in place of Gender Queer or other bulwarks in the progressive curriculum) read them Hunter Biden’s autobiography.

(4) How should we dial back global warming? Not at the cost of millions of lives in Third World countries, safety in the U.S., or by banning gasoline, please.

In C.S. Lewis’ story, The Magician’s Nephew, the lion Aslan commissions Digory Kirke to fetch a magical fruit from a distant garden by saying: “As Adam’s race has done the harm, Adam’s race shall help to heal it.”

An Open-ended “Essay” Question Would Leave Room for Nuance

If science and technology are to blame for Climate Change, perhaps they can also solve the problem.

But those are the kind of open-ended “essay” questions that we should ask presidential candidates. “How serious do you think AGW is?” “What should we do about it?”

Begging the question and setting up candidates, as Fox did, poorly serves the American people. DeSantis was right to reject that poorly-worded and rather childish query. Hawaii is run by Democrats. It is time the Press started asking the party in power more tough questions. But those questions should leave room for nuance. It is time we stopped treating complex and difficult problems as if they all had simple, up-or-down answers.

 

David Marshall, an educator and writer, has a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is The Case for Aslan: Evidence for Jesus in the Land of Narnia. 

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