“Do as I say or you are going to die” is a very persuasive argument. Generally made, emphatically, by robbers, the imperative has been taken up by politicians. Off the lips of the former, it’s an instrument of force; off the lips of the latter, of fraud. When highwaymen say words to this effect, they convey, particularly when backed by a killing instrument, the ne’er-do-well’s control of events. When politicians command you to adopt their policies or perish, it demonstrates the opposite: a lack of control, desperation even.One gets that vibe from reading Al Gore’s “Climate of Denial” in the new issue of Rolling Stone. Therein, the former vice president claims that “what hangs in the balance is the future of civilization,” the current course is “suicidal for global civilization,” and global warming will swallow coastlines through flooding. “Should we care about the loss of Spain, France, Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, Tunisia?” Gore asks. “Look at what they say is in store for Mexico. Should we notice? Should we care?” Put more bluntly: Do as I say or you are going to die.
Why has Gore adopted the rhetoric of desperation?
Global warming is a losing issue. The failure of the UN’s climate conference in Bonn earlier this month shows waning appetite for the issue on an international scale. A new survey commissioned by Yale and George Mason Universities finds that less than half of Americans believe that human activities contribute to planetary warming and just 39 percent agreed that “most scientists think global warming is happening.” Pew’s annual “top policy priorities” poll ranks global warming 21st out of 22 issues in importance, beating out obesity but trailing such off-the-radar topics as transportation and lobbyists. When unemployment rates exceed nine percent and national debt approaches annual GDP, citizens tend to focus on concrete rather than amorphous issues. In hard times, we want the news, not the weather.
Al Gore blames another culprit for his cause’s demise, namely, free speech. The Nobel Prize winner writes in Rolling Stone that “the ‘conversation of democracy’ has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired.” It’s not just that the public square has become a dangerous place for global warming, but that skeptics of anthropocentric global warming have put their money where their mouths are. “Polluters and Ideologues are trampling all over the ‘rules’ of democratic discourse,” Gore complains. “They are financing pseudoscientists whose job is to manufacture doubt about what is true and what is false; buying elected officials wholesale with bribes that the politicians themselves have made ‘legal’ and can now be made in secret; spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on misleading advertisements in the mass media; hiring four anti-climate lobbyists for every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.”
Gore’s opponents are doing what his backers do. No fair!
Gore wraps his position in reason while arguing like a true believer. Adversaries aren’t to be argued with but to be denigrated as “pseudoscientists,” “deniers,” and “special interests.” He writes, “In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.” He cites the fact that people don’t believe as he does as proof of the epidemic of unreasonableness, a comforting idea but one designed to stop rather than advance the debate. Gore isn’t open to the possibility that he is wrong. So, what’s the use with continuing the conversation?
But people, for reasons sound and unsound, increasingly reject the idea that SUVs are a sign of the apocalypse. The anecdotal reminder of the mildness of this summer or the harshness of last winter, the poor example environmentalist heavies set by leaving Sasquatch’s carbon footprint while imploring the rest of us to leave Tiny Tim’s, and the science suggesting that the fiery ball 93 million miles away has more to do with heating the Earth than that Escalade in the next driveway all serve to cast doubt upon the theories Gore has peddled for the last two decades.
Global warming has had a better run than overpopulation, acid rain, or the ozone layer as an environmentalist scare story. But clearly it has enjoyed better days. Gore’s slide shows and lispy monotone tear-jerkers about the plight of the polar bear don’t have the effect on audiences that they once did. But there is one argument that always seems to seize attention: Do as I say or you are going to die.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Uplifted America, forthcoming this fall by ISI Books. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.