George Will embraces Walter Russell Mead’s risible anti-science revisionism

Walter Russell Mead has fabricated an anti-scientific revisionist history of the environmental movement, which is why the pundit king of the ultraconservative anti-science climate disinformers, George Will, loves it.

First, though, my favorite line in today’s op-ed by Will begins

Mead, who says that he is a skeptic about climate policy rather than climate science….

That’s like saying you believe in the science that says cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, and cardiopulmonary disease, but you don’t believe in quitting smoking.  Mead certainly tries to create the impression that this is what he believes in his Orwellian post, “The Big Green Lie Exposed,” where he says:

The Big Green Lie is falling apart. And it’s not about Climategate and Glaciergate.  It’s not about the science….

The core green problem is about the credibility of its policy proposals and the viability of the political strategy the big green groups pushed to enact them….

The Big Green Lie (or Delusion, to be charitable) isn’t so much that climate change is happening and that it is very likely caused or at least exacerbated by human activity.  The Big Lie is that the green movement is a source of coherent or responsible counsel about what to do.

I have previously discussed why this formulation is Orwellian (see “The Atlantic’s Clive Crook needs to retract his libelous misinformation and apologize to Michael Mann“).

The harsh phrase “Big Lie” to smear the greens simply has no basis in fact or in history.  The term is very strong, as Wikipedia explains:

The Big Lie (German: GroŸe L¼ge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, for a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

But Mead’s usage doesn’t come close to the level of a “Big Lie,” assuming it is even a lie at all, which in fact it isn’t.   Every group thinks they are a source of coherent and responsible counsel about what to do about the policy issues they care about.  It is absurd to call that a “Big Lie.”  It renders the term meaningless.

What’s truly scary is that, according to Wikipedia, Mead is

the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College; he is recognized as one of the country’s leading students of American foreign policy.


If Mead is one of the country’s leading students (and teachers) of American foreign policy, no wonder Miss Teen South Carolina struggled to explain why a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map

Sorry, couldn’t resist — seemed only fair since Mead included a video of Bambi vs. Godzilla.  But I digress.

I can’t wait for Mead’s explanation of how the environmental community’s effort to pass a moderate, business-friendly climate bill based on principles developed by centrist economists and embraced by mainstream Republicans like Pres. George H. W. Bush to deal with the acid rain problem rises to the level of Hitler’s Big Lie.   [Note:  Even George W. Bush embraced a cap-and-trade for CO2 and other pollutants in the utility sector].  In fact, it was a perfectly reasonable, if inadequate, policy strategy to pursue.   Who could have imagined that the Republican Party would veer so sharply to the right that — two years after the Senate’s leading conservative advocate for climate action campaigned for president on a very similar policy — John McCain would spend the next 18 months demagoguing against even far weaker climate action?

In fact, though, this is about the science for Mead (and Will) — about defaming scientists and misrepresenting the science, which is what Will does for a living (see The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages).  Will writes:

Over time, Mead says, “experts lost their mystique”….

“An increasingly skeptical public started to notice that ‘experts’ weren’t angels descending immaculately from heaven bearing infallible revelations from God. They were fallible human beings with mortgages to pay and funds to raise. They disagreed with one another and they colluded with their friends and supporters like everyone else.”

And expertise was annoyingly changeable. Experts said margarine was the healthy alternative to butter — until they said its trans fats made it harmful.

Yes, because health research grew more sophisticated over time, we should abandon climate science.  Because scientists have mortgages, we should abandon decades of research into the impact of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.

And lest you think I’m being unfair to Mead — how I have longed to use the word “lest” — here is the full quote from Mead’s blog post that Will is citing, “The Greening of Godzilla“:

An increasingly skeptical public started to notice that ‘experts’ weren’t angels descending immaculately from heaven bearing infallible revelations from God.  They were fallible human beings with mortgages to pay and funds to raise.  They disagreed with one another and they colluded with their friends and supporters like everyone else. They often produced research that agreed with the views of those who funded their work (tobacco companies, builders of nuclear power plants, NGOs and foundations).

Yes, Mead is actually arguing that because some experts paid for by tobacco companies produced research that agreed with the views of the tobacco companies, that somehow this undermines the credibility of climate scientists.

Okay, I should have warned you to put your head in a vise.  The irony, which is totally lost on Mead, is that his piece — like Will’s — presents no scientific facts, cites no scientific literature, and quotes no climate scientists, but instead reproduces long-debunked talking points spun out by the climate disinformation campaign, a campaign that has its roots in (and borrowed the tactics of and in some cases the people of) the tobacco industry (see “Distorting science while invoking science” and “Must see Naomi Oreskes talk on Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscure the Truth about Climate Change“).

Then Mead really gets going:

More, on issues the public follows closely, the scientific consensus keeps changing.  Margarine was introduced as the healthy alternative to butter; now experts tell us that the transfats in many types of margarine are the worst things you can eat.  Should you eat no fat or the right fat?  All carbs, no carbs or good carbs? How much vitamin E should you take?  How much sun should you get?  How much fish oil should you swallow?  How should you divide your time between aerobic and non-aerobic exercise?  On these and many other subjects, expert opinion keeps changing.  Perhaps the current consensus will last; quite possibly, it won’t “” but the experts can’t tell you what will happen.

Oh, those flip-flopping scientists.  It’s a wonder they can dress themselves, let alone put 12 men on the moon and get them back, eliminate the scourge of smallpox, and allow Mead to communicate his nonsense to millions through tiny devices that have more power than all the Apollo missions combined.  How did they do it?  Just dumb luck I guess.

If Mead really believes that science is not a progression towards a better and better understanding of our natural world — and you’ll note that all of the examples he cites here are medical in nature — then I can’t imagine why he goes to doctors or ever takes any medicine recommended by them on the basis of medical trials.  He’d be better off seeing a voodoo doctor if he really believed this anti-scientific nonsense.

What he seems painfully unaware of is that climate science is not built around one or two studies or one or two sets of facts (see “10 indicators of a human fingerprint on climate change“).  That’s why the U.S. National Academy of Sciences labels as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

Again, a AAAS presentation this year on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge” concluded:  New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.”  This ain’t margarine.

But hey, doctors can’t tell me how much time I should be spending doing treadmill versus Pilates, so let’s just abandon the scientific method entirely and look at entrails to figure out what we should do next.

Finally, we get back to the beginning of all this, Mead’s historical revisionism:

The greens have forgotten where they come from.  Modern environmentalism was born in the reaction against Big Science, Big Government and Experts.

No, Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and one of the country’s leading students of American foreign policy, modern environmentalism was not born in reaction against big science.  Indeed, one of the leading figures who helped spawn of the modern environmental movement — whose book, Silent Spring, you cite — was a scientist, Rachel Carson.

“Modern environmentalism” — whose greatest early triumphs are widely seen as including the Clean Air Act in 1963 (and subsequent amendments), the EPA in 1970 (yes, under Nixon), and the Clean Water Act in 1972 (also under Nixon) — was built around science and experts informing and enabling government policy to protect and improve key aspects of our environment, to ensure things like clean air and clean water for our children.

Modern environmentalism was born in reaction against the unintended consequences of industrialization, which, yes, occasionally back then and to this day sometimes include government entities like the Army Corps of Engineers.   In his essay dissing the environmentalist pursuit of science-based action on climate change, Mead actually writes:

The score so far:  Complexity and unexpected consequences 1000, experts zip.

Note to Mead:  Human-caused global warming is one of the unexpected consequences of industrialization — or at least it’s unexpected for people who don’t follow scientific experts.

Ironically, and apparently unbeknownst to Mead, a large part of the environmental movement today views industry as the solution to global warming.  So it was willing to embrace a business-friendly, market-oriented strategy that many Republicans once considered — and indeed lots of rational centrists around the world still think — is the most economically efficient way to reduce pollution.  But now Mead — trumpeted by Will — condemns that strategy as the Big Lie.

Walter Russell Mead simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.  That, of course, is precisely why someone who stands against science and any rational action on climate and clean energy built an entire column around him.

25 Responses to George Will embraces Walter Russell Mead’s risible anti-science revisionism

  1. Nick says:

    Yep. Will has nothing to say,again,so he quotes another headless hero. Maybe,if he likes to quote Mead,he could ask the great man how humans can do ‘non-aerobic exercise’? Standards for tabloid opinion are ridiculously low.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    My favorite environmental victory — was getting lead out of gasoline and paint. Scientists, doctors, and public health experts revealed the problem, economists and politicians devised the policies, and finally engineers and industries built the products that replaced lead. Case closed.

    But the case took decades of constant, bitter struggle, and lead was only one problem. Environmentalists will always be behind the eight-ball, because the science of the problems constantly evolves, and so does the technology (and economics) of the solutions.

    And environmentalists are a favorite, easy, soft target. Everybody loves to attack them. (Just listen to the George Carlin rant. Yikes.) That’s OK, because we do it for love. We want all children — even those of polluters and deniers, of the Meads and the Wills — to enjoy clean air and water, and climate security.

  3. mike roddy says:

    The GOP has had their butts handed to them lately by any factual standard, so they’ve returned to bashing Greens and Government. This is a suicide mission, because Green is mainstream.

  4. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Watch out. The right wing is definitely in message shift mode. They’ve gone from it’s “not happening” to, “well, it probably is happening and it might even be us.”

    It’s going to be important to highlight (i.e., hammer them at every turn) the fact that they got it so wrong. They got it wrong – utterly and completely wrong – and now they think they have the right ideas on how to with the issue? The right wing has absolutely NO credibility left.

  5. caerbannog says:

    Just a bit off-topic, but here’s Arizona GOP congressional candidate Ruth McClung demonstrating her scientific prowess to the Arizona Republic (linky )

    Just a warning to those of you out there with hot coffee: The following material rates an 11 out of 11 on the Beverage-Through-The-Nose-O-Meter (yes, mine goes to 11).

    Q: Climate change has existed throughout history. We have seen through archeological evidence that temperature swings are natural. The question that remains; “Is man causing large perturbations in the climate?”

    A: After researching the causes of temperature fluctuations on earth, I found the largest factor to be the sun. The earth’s orbit changes. Also the earth’s spin and axis change over time. When areas of the earth are closer to the sun, the temperature is hotter and when they are further away, cooler. The sun also has more activity at times and less at other times. They have been able to map out large changes in the earth’s temperature over time to the sun. Times with no polar ice caps have corresponded to times when we were closer to the sun. Ice ages have corresponded to times when we were further from the sun.

    McClung has a BS in Physics from the University of Arizona, and her current occupation is listed as “engineer/physicist”. So this level of ignorance on her part is absolutely inexcusable. She deserves a good helping of public embarrassment — starting with, perhaps, a CP blog-post mocking her ignorance.

  6. caerbannog says:

    Oops — munged up the editing a bit in my previous post:

    The question was: “To what extent, if any, does global warming pose a threat to lives, property and the economy?”

    The part that I originally marked as the question was actually part of the candidate’s answer. (Note to myself: The preview button is there for a reason!)

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    This just in: George Will and the other high-profile deniers are STILL lying sacks of [expletive], and must be opposed with a loud, clear voice at every turn.

  8. darth says:

    This essay got me so upset I posted a comment over at the Mead article site with a couple links back to articles here. My apologies in advance Joe if you get some trolls because of that. I just had to write something.

  9. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    Thanks for a really great response to that disgusting nonsense I read in today’s paper. I don’t know why news papers continue to give Will so much voice.

  10. Peter says:

    Climate change no matter how empirically proven is still tied to other environmental organizations- who the far right has called ‘liberal’ or leftist socialist.

    The GOP has tied AGW -along with health care, Gay Marriage/rights. abortion & race together as a political crusade against the ‘anti American far left’.

  11. Jim Groom says:

    George’s little tie is just a little too tight and it certainly effects the blood flow to his brain. Being the right wing means never having to say you’re sorry. His readers probably are eating up his latest offering…that’s no surprise.

  12. Jim Eaton says:

    Good analysis, Joe.

    When we organized the California Wilderness Coalition back in 1976, most of us were geology graduates. The Wildlands Project was a melding of activists (many of us with science backgrounds) and conservation biologists. Most large conservation organizations have PhD scientists on their staffs.

    The idea that “modern environmentalism” is a reaction against “big science” is laughable. A reaction against “scientists” on the payroll of big tobacco and big oil, perhaps, but not against hard-working, independent scientists.

  13. Scott says:

    Chances are Frank Luntz has written another memo that hasn’t come to light yet.

  14. notjonathon says:

    Note to Post: If George Will writes a column, it’s a lie.

    “We are so screwed.”

  15. John Mason says:

    Caerbannog #5,

    Thanks for the timely warning – I did put my mug of coffee down before reading on, thankfully!

    Extraordinary. Just extraordinary.

    Cheers – John

  16. Whatshisname says:

    In your scorebook please note that “The Mendoza Line” has been replaced by “The George Will Line.”
    Also, now playing Right Field is Niribu. That’s Niribu in Right Field in place of HAARP.

  17. Is that deadwood of an opinion piece writer (describing him as a journalist would be stretching reality) suffering from an outbreak of bark beetle infestation, I wonder? This is a likely explanation of the apparent lack of sap to the brain that would produce such shallow thinking.

  18. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks for the video clip of South Carolina’s valedictorian. You have great taste in humor, Joe, and I can’t stop laughing. I haven’t seen anyone become so trapped in a run-on sentence with no possible hope of escape since our last president. Not only was she beyond any deer in any headlights, but any deer could’ve finished the sentence more gracefully.

    Actually come to think of it George Will sounds like William F. Buckley and South Carolina’s valedictorian had a baby who wears a bow-tie and drones on incessantly about the history of parliamentary procedure and the fascinating evolution of baseball’s balk rule.

    Every sentence George Will utters sounds to me like the valedictorian’s only dripping with such effete, foppish arrogance he bamboozles the dumb into thinking he’s smart.

  19. Caerbannog #6.

    McClung BS in Physics describing herself as an engineer/physicist and having the blinkered opinion expressed here is no surprise. Those who have been exposed to LuboŠ Motl’s ideological based nonsense understand some physicists suffer from myopia and have a very week understanding of paleontological and anthropological history and how the first extends way back in time before the later and thus any global conditions must be put within a time context to account for land and ocean distribution besides earth’s rotational and orbital characteristics. That the natural world, biological as well as physical, is telling us that climates are on the move seems to escape them too.

    I too trained and worked as an engineer (aviation – RN UK) and studied the sciences but then I grew up enjoying university level education in maths and science as a mature graduating with an honors. Sure, I cannot yet follow all the statistical nuances of discussions at DeepClimate and Tamino’s (my stat’s is a bit rusty after severe cardiac trauma – but I am coming back) but I understand enough physics, chemistry and biology (avid reader of Dawkins et. al. and take an interest in conservation) to be able to spot the flaws in most delayers arguments.

  20. Paul Koberstein says:

    It wasn’t just political Washington that killed the climate bill; it was also George Will and the Washington Post.

    I think Miss South Carolina has a promising future as governor of Arizona.

  21. Chris Winter says:

    Mead blows his argument out of the water when he says,

    The Big Green Lie is falling apart. And it’s not about Climategate and Glaciergate. It’s not about the science….

    What else are “ClimateGate” (better known as SwiftHack) and “GlacierGate” about if not the science? When every right-wing prevaricator trumpets the content of those e-mails as proving that climate science is one big fraud, when the scientists involved get thousands of hostile e-mails in response, including death threats, it tells us that Mead’s examples are about nothing but the science.

    I keep wishing that some of these individuals would put together a coherent argument. Then at least I would know they understood the words they are using and have some grasp of recent history. As it is, I have to fall back on Wolfgang Pauli’s “This is not even wrong.”

    OT: Those interested in the frontiers of physics will enjoy the blog entitled “Not Even Wrong” and the book that goes with it. I’ll keep my links count here to one, but you can easily Google it.

  22. Will is using all the dog whistles.

    The thrust of his piece is doubts about what we should do about climate change and who should decide. He doesn’t want environmentalists to have any power.

    This is an experiment. We’ve never had to deal with a crisis like this before. We’re going to need innovation. Or maybe a miracle.
    (Bill Gates TED talk

    It’s up to us to prove climate change is a here and now problem and mitigation efforts can create jobs. AB32 might be a good demonstration if it survives. Prop 23, financed by Big Oil and Big Coal, is an attempt to thwart AB32.

  23. Mike says:

    Mead is correct that a global Cap & Trade scheme would be complicated. But would it be that much more complicated than the World Trade Organization?

  24. sailrick says:

    Democrats should be using the Republican idiocy on climate change in all their campaigns. It might be the one thing that could give them a boost in November. The public should be taught who Monckton really is for instance and used as an embarrassment for the GOP, as well as for Fox News and their ilk. There are other easy targets, Will, Steve Milloy (the fact that Fox features him as an expert when he is really a fossil fuel lobyyist, non scientist and PR man).
    Rep. Joe (apologise to BP) Barton of Texas is perhaps vulnerable to being pointed out as an example of the GOP idiocy on climate change -after his BP apology, if it were also widely known that he introduced Monckton to a House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing as “one of the most, if not the most knowledgeable people on the skeptic side”.

    Its time for attack mode.

  25. jimvj says:

    You wrote:
    “embraced by mainstream Republicans like Pres. George W. Bush to deal with the acid rain problem rises to the level of Hitler’s Big Lie…”

    It was George H. W. Bush, not the younger scrub who did addressed the acid rain problem.

    [JR: Good catch. Even better, it reminded me that I should have pointed out in the original post that even George W. Bush embraced a cap-and-trade for CO2 and other pollutants in the utility sector!]