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.