Monday, March 12, 2012

Cuccinelli's Crusade Ends, but the War Over Climate Change Goes On

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli had no right to subpoena documents related to climate scientist Michael Mann's work while he was a professor at the University of Virginia. This ruling ends Cuccinelli's bizarre persecution of Mann for publishing scientific findings that violate Cuccinelli's political and religious beliefs. Kudos to the University of Virginia for refusing to go along with this witch hunt, and to the Virginia courts for supporting them.

This will not end the political battle over global warming science, though. Consider this bit of musing from Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe:
The Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that 'as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.' My point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.
No global warming alarmist, not even the most fanatical, thinks summer and winter will disappear. But Inhofe's thinking reveals something disturbing about this issue, and, more deeply, about the way people form beliefs and justify them to themselves. Inhofe has been persuaded that opposing climate change alarmism is the conservative position. He therefore sets about looking for evidence that supports this position wherever he can find it. As a religious man, he looks in the Bible. Where he finds many passages saying or implying that God runs the universe as he sees fit, and that there is something blasphemous about either questioning his decisions or thinking human effort can change them. Thus the original political idea becomes enmeshed with religion, emerging all the stronger. By this point Inhofe and millions like him are simply incapable of listening to arguments about the danger human activity poses for the planet. Their whole belief system -- America is good, our way of life is pleasing to God, our opponents are disrespecters of God and America, etc. -- is now mobilized around denying the threat of climate change. To argue with them is, to use a Biblical image, cursing the wind. A highly technical scientific question of great importance to all of us has been reduced to another shibboleth, another sign of party membership, another weapon in the culture wars.

This to me is the greatest danger in democratic politics, the way technical questions are turned into matters of party membership and belief, which brings all rational discussion of them to a halt. But then I suppose all political systems are subject to the same dynamic, and at least our right of free speech allows us to keep cursing the wind for as long as our voices hold out, hoping that sometime, somebody will actually listen.

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