Dissent Of The Day

[Patrick Appel]

In response to Peter Suderman's post yesterday, a reader writes:

That global warming and global environmentalism both inspire fear, and fear can result in antipolitics, is quite clear, but the analogy between this war on terror and the war on global warming breaks apart at a fundamental level.  The war on terror has been characterized by affirmative misrepresentation of facts to achieve political ends while the war on global warming is characterized by a struggle to bring facts to human consciousness, which will have political consequences.

To be sure, the economic and environmental outcomes of global warming are unknown.  All we can do is predict, and certain predictions clearly will have no basis in what is presently known.  The seeds of antipolitical outcomes exist.  Theories wildly divergent from what we know could take hold.  But the debate about global warming can always come back to the science.  Predicted outcomes can be measured over time.  Because we are dealing with outcomes that will be unknown for years to come, we might well take leaps of what can only be called faith, not science, and we might leap the wrong way.  But at all times, the science will be in evidence, and open to scrutiny by all, and all parties will be free to point out what is unknown, where the leaps are unreasonable, and why we ought to be going in another direction.  This is what politics in a democracy ought to be. 

But the war on terror has been carried on largely in the dark. Everything is a national secret.  All decisions reside in the halls of the Oval Office.  Nothing is open to the public.  And we know today that the facts have been wildly and consciously distorted.  The war on terror has by its nature been antipolitical because it has been anti process.  Fear is a purpose not a result.   

These distinctions matter to me.  I can accept a political debate which says (1) here is the best science can offer today about the long term effects of global warming,  (2) here are a series of possible actions we can take that might avoid some of these predictions, and (3) the best we can predict, the economic effects of the different alternatives are as follows…  Now choose, or choose to do nothing, always an option.  I cannot accept a situation in which the National Academy of Scientists says (1) we will not show you the underlying data, but it says the effects of global warming are as follows, and (2) as a consequence we will be taking the following actions on your behalf.   Fear resides in both wars, but the procedural differences which war is essentially antipolitical.