The earth’s climate is shifting. Most generally, the planet is getting warmer. And while many factors contribute to the earth’s climate, the key factor in the warming trend is human industrial activity. The science on this is quite clear. But the United States is a major fossil fuel producing country with an industrial policy oriented around subsidies for the production of fossil fuels and the lavish consumption of energy. Facing up to science would challenge both powerful economic interests and the cultural identity of suburban conformists. So there’s enormous political resistance to it. In an ideal world, a national elite infused with a spirit of responsibility and ethics would push back against that resistance.
Unfortunately, Washington Post opinion section editor Fred Hiatt has not embodied that kind of spirit over the years. Over the course of 2009, he published no fewer than six separate columns from George Will spreading misinformation about climate science. This, recall, was during the year when there still seemed to be prospects for a bipartisan legislative solution to the climate problem. But Will, as the premiere conservative columnist for the premiere newspaper in the national capital, helped establish bogus science as a constitutive element of conservative ideology. Naturally, people complained about this but Hiatt stood foursquare behind Will’s right to misinform readers of The Washington Post. But yesterday, Hiatt seemed very upset at the social acceptability of this misinformation that he once helped promote:
The climate change denialism is a newer part of the catechism. Just a few years ago, leading Republicans — John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty among them — not only accepted global warming as real but supported some kind of market-based mechanism to raise the cost of burning fossil fuels.
Now polls show declining numbers of Republicans believing in climate change, and a minority of those believing humans are at fault, so the candidates are scrambling to disavow their past positions.
Palin, who as Alaska governor supported efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, in 2009 wrote in The Post, “But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can’t say with assurance that man’s activities cause weather changes.”
Better late than never, I say, but why didn’t Hiatt feel this way back when climate change was a live issue in American politics? Why wait until after this dogma has consolidated? For that matter, why did Hiatt publish the Palin op-ed in question if he knew it to be inaccurate?