George Will’s ‘Global Cooling’ Column Is Almost Old Enough To Vote

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"George Will’s ‘Global Cooling’ Column Is Almost Old Enough To Vote"

George Will’s Recycled Global Warming Columns

  • Chicken Littles: The Persistence of Eco-Pessimism [5/31/1992]
  • Al Gore’s Green Guilt [9/3/1992]
  • More Government By Therapy [12/11/1997]
  • Ever the Global Gloomster [11/18/1999]
  • Global Warming? Hot Air. [12/23/2004]
  • Let Cooler Heads Prevail: The Media Heat Up Over Global Warming [4/2/2006]
  • Warming to a Candidacy? [6/11/2006]
  • Fuzzy Climate Math [4/12/2007]
  • March of the Polar Bears [5/22/2008]
  • Carbon’s Power Brokers [6/1/2008]
  • Dark Green Doomsayers [2/15/2009]

George F. Will has been recycling error-filled columns challenging the existence of manmade global warming since 1992, for publication and distribution by the Washington Post. Despite the evident mendacity of these columns, the editors of the Washington Post are standing behind their conservative columnist, who is syndicated in more than 450 newspapers nationwide. The Wonk Room already noted Will’s recycling goes back to 2004 — but we hadn’t looked back far enough.

A comparison between 2009’s “Dark Green Doomsaying” column and 1992’s “Chicken Littles” reveals that Will is repeating content that was first published when Boyz II Men and Sir Mix-a-Lot ruled the charts. Since then, of course, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published three new assessment reports of the science of manmade climate change based on thousands of new scientific papers. Each IPCC report has been more certain than the last — by 2007 they found a 90 percent chance that the “unequivocal” warming was “due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Once the recycled content is removed from his latest column, one is left only with Will’s dismissal of long-term worst-case scenarios for California’s climate, a factoid from a John Tierney blog post, and three stories recently promoted by the Drudge Report (here, here, and here). These few additions introduce new errors.

Will’s self-plagiarism raises many questions. What, exactly, is the Washington Post paying George F. Will to do? Do Fred Hiatt, Autumn Brewington, and Alan Shearer consider zombie talking points from the era of grunge to be respectable work? Is it time for Will to retire, and allow the valuable column inches to be occupied by someone willing to devise original content for the Post? If an error is uncorrected for more nearly seventeen years, do the Post’s editors stop caring?

Below is a comparison of the text of “Dark Green Doomsayers” [2009] and “Chicken Littles” [1992]:

Murphy’s Law

Source: Daniel E. Koshland, Jr.’s “The Attractiveness of Gloom” [Science, 1/17/1992]

1992:

A recent Science magazine editorial, “The Attractiveness of Gloom,” satirically offered a new version of Murphy’s Law: “Things are worse than they can possibly be.”

2009:

A corollary of Murphy’s Law (“If something can go wrong, it will”) is: “Things are worse than they can possibly be.”

Global Cooling

Source: Possibly researchers with the Global Climate Coalition, whose Dixy Lee Ray claimed: “Fifteen years ago, the people who are now warning us about global warming were warning us about global cooling — a new ice age.” [GCC, 2/19/1992]. This canard was fact-checked in 2008.

1992:

So before we are stampeded into growth-inhibiting actions to combat global warming, we should recall that less than 20 years ago — not long in a planet’s life — the politically correct panic concerned global cooling. Then there were “many signs pointing to the possibility that the Earth may be heading for another ice age” (The New York Times, Aug. 14, 1975), heading “toward extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976), and facing “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) and “the approach of a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” (Science, March 1, 1975).

It was then said that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975) and that “the world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Newsweek reported (April 28, 1975) “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down” and meteorologists “are almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.” The Christian Science Monitor reported (Aug. 27, 1974) that armadillos had left Nebraska, retreating south, and heat-loving snails had retreated from central European forests, and “the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers “have begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter.”

2009:

Chu likes predictions, so here is another: Nine decades hence, our great-great-grandchildren will add the disappearance of California artichokes to the list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen. Global cooling recently joined that lengthening list.

In the 1970s, “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950″ (New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). “The world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from Central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

Easterbrook’s Law of Doomsaying

Source: Gregg Easterbrook’s “Healing the Planet: Strategies for Solving the Environmental Crisis” [Washington Monthly, 11/1992]

1992:

Nowadays Newsweek’s Gregg Easterbrook, writing in Washington Monthly, offers his “Law of Doomsaying”: Predict catastrophe no later than 10 years hence but no sooner than five years away — soon enough to terrify but far enough off that people will forget if you are wrong.

2009:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, an atomic physicist, seems to embrace that corollary but ignores Gregg Easterbrook’s “Law of Doomsaying”: Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.

Ehrlich v. Simon

Source: John Tierney’s “Betting on the Planet” [New York Times Magazine, 12/2/1990]

1992:

Easterbrook has not forgotten Stanford’s infallibly wrong Paul Ehrlich, who in 1968 said, “The battle to feed humanity is already lost … we will not be able to prevent large-scale famines in the next decade.” Since 1968 world grain production has increased 60 percent. For 30 years world excess food stocks relative to consumption have grown faster than population. In 1980 Ehrlich bet economist Julian Simon $ 1,000 that in a decade the prices of five resources (copper, chrome, nickel, tin, tungsten) would rise. The prices of all five fell. Ehrlich paid.

2009:

Speaking of experts, in 1980 Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford scientist and environmental Cassandra who predicted calamitous food shortages by 1990, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon. When Ehrlich predicted the imminent exhaustion of many nonrenewable natural resources, Simon challenged him: Pick a “basket” of any five such commodities, and I will wager that in a decade the price of the basket will decline, indicating decreased scarcity. Ehrlich picked five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — that he predicted would become more expensive. Not only did the price of the basket decline, the price of all five declined.

Will also repeated content introduced in his 1999 and 2004 columns:

Optimal Conditions

Source: Robert Mendelsohn’s “The Greening of Global Warming” [American Enterprise Institute, 1999]

1999:

Consider a booklet published by the American Enterprise Institute, “The Greening of Global Warming” by Robert Mendelsohn of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. . . . “There is,” Mendelsohn writes, “an unstated myth in ecology that natural conditions must be optimal. That is, we must be at the top of the hill now.”

2009:

An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal.

Montaigne’s Axiom

Source: Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear” [2004]

2004:

One of the good guys in “State of Fear” cites Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.”

2009:

Credentialed intellectuals, too — actually, especially — illustrate Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.”


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