Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
The Weekly Standard is a neoconservative magazine. Nothing wrong in that. When neoconservatism first emerged as an intellectual movement 35 years ago, it made a great and lasting contribution to conservative thought. Some of its ideas, like the wholesale export of democracy, were discredited by the aftermath of the Iraq war, so that although it remains a fruitful strain in conservative thought today, its high times are over, as a glance at Commentary, its flagship publication, shows. Once exciting, filled with stimulating articles and a brilliant correspondence section, it is now a dismal read, insubstantial and boring. The Weekly Standard, by choosing a weekly format, hobbled itself from the start, because no political/cultural magazine with pretensions to seriousness, can fill its pages consistently, every week, with first-rate articles. As a result, the magazine seems to exist solely for its two or three editorials, and the rest of it, aside from gallant attempts in its longer feature articles, is largely trivial.
One of two feature articles in the January 13 issue is a very curious and revealing piece because it unwittingly tells us much about the ignorance and confusion in neoconservative thought about Greenism. We have commented before in these pages on conservative ignorance about the subject but that is uncomplicated, a consequence of conservative overconcentration on Washington politics and general ignorance of cultural trends seemingly fixed on the countryside. This essay, however, is another matter entirely, much more depressing than conservative ignorance.
It is about Richard Lindzen, a climate scientist at MIT (now emeritus) and a prominent critic of the climate change crusade. After introducing him, outlining his career and establishing his bona fides as a climate scientist, the writer comes to the point. Although Professor Lindzen has made significant contributions to the International Panel on Climate Change, since 2001, however,
. . . he's grown increasingly distant from prevalent (he would say "hysterical") climate science, and he is voluminously on record disputing the predictions of catastrophe. [Note the scare quotes around "hysterical."]
The writer explains the greenhouse effect (atmospheric CO2 preventing escape of heat from the earth), pointing out that Professor Lindzen "doesn't deny that the climate has changed or that the planet has warmed," but the increase is very small, and Lindzen thinks that's the real issue. He accepts man's role in climate change, but thinks it negligible; most of the change is due to "natural variability." The writer then moves on to the scary predictions of future calamity following from climate change, and Lindzen counters that by arguing that the climate models are inaccurate, noting that they failed to predict the current climate state, which for the last fifteen years has shown no warming. If he is correct that climate change is nothing to worry about, why do "so many climate scientists, many with resumes just as impressive as his, preach imminent doom?" Professor Lindzen's answer is that almost all research money comes from government, and "generating fear . . . is now the best way to ensure that policy makers keep the spigot open."
The writer contends that climate change warriors prefer to ignore the professor, attacking instead "straw men, less credible skeptics," like a believer in "God's intelligent design," the Heartland Institute (which likened climate "alarmists" to the Unabomber) and Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma (a major energy-producing state)." Nevertheless, he has his critics, and the writer quotes some vituperative remarks. He then goes on to point out that there is a conservative/liberal divide on the issue, with the former skeptical and the latter believers, adding, but that "doesn't tell us who has the science right," and then he stands up for skepticism as "essential to science." Finally, when a critic compares Professor Lindzen to scientists who couldn't accept continental drift when it was first proposed, the writer shows up the critic: one man stated the theory and he was ridiculed. He had "challenged the earth science 'consensus' of his day. And in the end, his view prevailed."
What's curious about this article is its ambiguity, its uneasiness. Let us count the ways. The point of the piece is to make a case for Professor Lindzen's argument that climate change is mainly natural variability and not a threat. The writer does not exactly endorse it, but he gives it a sympathetic hearing. On the other hand, it is clear that he does not support wholesale opposition to climate change crusaders. His language is revealing: note the scare quotes around "hysteria" and "alarmists," thus casting doubt on the thoughts. Why does he scorn the Heartland Institute because it compares "alarmists" to the Unabomber, when their aims are similar? And why does he point out that Senator Inhofe represents "a major energy-producing state" an unworthy ad hominem suggestion? Why does he raise the political issue, making the point that Professor Lindzen and other skeptics are conservatives while climate change crusaders are "liberal Democrats"? Although he retreats from the implication of ideological motivation by saying that "doesn't tell us who has the science right," why raise the issue at all? Why does he rest content with the argument that scientists who support climate change hysteria are only in it for research grants?
We think the truth of this very odd performance lies in the relationship between neoconservatives and conservatives. Too often, neoconservatives are disdainful of conservatives, thinking them stubborn and recalcitrant, out of touch with the needs and desires of most Americans, in a word, reactionaries. It is one of their weaknesses that neoconservatives, generally more worldly and sophisticated than most conservatives, are a bit snobbish about their erstwhile allies, and that shows up here in the dismissal of the Heartland Institute and the Senator (as well as a skeptic who bases his criticism on God's providence), and of course in the ambiguity of scare quotes. The writer doesn't want to be identified with such uncouth figures!
Interestingly, Professor Lindzen, unlike the author, who has no inkling of what lies behind the climate controversy, has a sure grasp of the major consequence of Greenism:
It would appear that the privileged members of the global society regard as dogma that the rest of humanity is a blight on the planet, and all effort should be devoted to preventing their economic improvement and development.
The writer does not quote the above (perhaps he's unaware of it). He sees the issue solely as an argument about the science involved, but Greenism (which uses climate change as the chief weapon in its armory) is an ideologically driven fantasy that intends to impoverish all of us as a way to achieve a so-called simple life in a pastoral utopia surrounded by wilderness.
While the scientists on the government payroll may be corrupted by research grants, what drives Greenism is the utopian project. Professor Lindzen had it right when he said what we just quoted, but you'd never know it from the account in the Weekly Standard, which is only an uneasy attempt to align (sort of) neoconservatives with a skeptical scientist while carefully avoiding any contact with other dissenters who do not come up to neoconservative standards of sophistication. *