It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Monday, March 10, 2008

Letter to NPR

Regarding this, otherwise somewhat reassuring, report today on the Southern Baptist leadership attempting to steer the church to a responsible position on climate change, I sent the following to NPR.
Et tu, NPR?

In an otherwise encouraging report Monday about leaders of the Southern Baptist Church rethinking their position on climate change, your reported Barbara Bradley Haggerty describes the position of Pastor Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as follows:

"He says he is merely trying to take a stand between denying global warming and channeling Al Gore."

Now did the gentleman actually say such a thing? It's hard to believe. First of all, it's unlikely that a leading light of a church would confrontationally scorn an individual by name in a context like this, leaving aside the connections of the Gore family and the Baptist Church. But "channeling"? From a staid Southern Baptist? That is well-nigh unbelievable.

So what did Dr. Page actually say? Well, immediately following the journalists paraphrase we have the following directly from himself.

" I think it is time to take a stand for responsible, biblical stewardship of our environment regardless of extremes on either side" is what Dr. Page actually says on tape. This is the sole evidence offered in evidence of Ms Haggerty's snide summary.

One comes away with the impression that Ms. Bradley is so convinced that Mr. Gore represents an extreme position that she does not expect a significant fraction of the audience to disagree, and that Dr. Page is of the same opinion.

Of course if Dr. Page said so, that is big news and I would expect you to quote him directly. On the other hand, if the reference to Gore as a stand-in for extremism is due to your reporter, one hardly knows where to begin to address this outrage. At the very least I would remind Ms Bradley that the Nobel committee had a rather different idea of Mr. Gore's position in the spectrum of opinion.

Gore has been spending years trying to bridge the gap between the scientific community's informed sense of urgency and the public's ill-informed sense of indifference. This casual insult by Ms Haggerty to a man who is trying to bring the discussion into line with the evidence, can only cause further damage to the already tortured public discourse on this matter. The denial extremists can handle themselves well enough, and I would thank NPR not to do their job for them. The substantial anger and frustration I feel about this dreadfully misplaced and ill-considered comment serves little purpose, so I will refrain from dwelling on it.

Still, I insist that unless Dr. Page mentioned Mr. Gore by name as an extremist, both Mr. Gore and Dr. Page are owed an apology and the rest of us are owed a retraction.
Those suggesting that the press isn't explicitly misrepresenting the situation in the US, to great cost to us all, are welcome to explain this bizarre presentation on NPR. Others are invited to join me in commenting at atc at npr dot org

Update: Well, I managed to hear the listener feedback section today and ATC didn't run the above. Maybe for the best. It's a bit complicated. I hope they managed to understand it though.

Implying that Gore is an extremist is not doing anybody except the hard-core deniers any favors.


Ian said...

"the gap between the scientific community's informed sense of urgency and the public's ill-informed sense of indifference"
- beautifully phrased.

Dano said...

NPR's gotten to be hit-and-miss since the Repubs put their man in at the top. These days, you have to take the good with the bad, and the bad is much more frequent.



jules said...

"Implying that Gore is an extremist is not doing anybody except the hard-core deniers any favors."

I can't see in what way Al Gore isn't an extremist. Aren't we supposed to believe that he lives and breathes global warming every minute of his waking life, that this is his mission in life, his one and only mission? What is non-extreme about that? From his film I thought he had a Moses complex, but worse, there were cultish overtones. All the world's evils are put down to there being too much CO2 in the atmosphere. He used certain imagery (cuddly polar bears, evil black rats) to sway emotions to make sure we believed it. And some how, because he saw that CO2 curve, and became a believer, and because all evil is caused by that curve the whole thing revolves around him. At the end of the film, the new law rolls on the screen like the Jewish law written on those tablets of stone. He might not have said it but it would be no surprise to me if the Baptist minister did not want his people to become as extremist as AL Gore and perhaps the journalist caught the mood pretty well.

Michael Tobis said...

Eli's concern about the Overton Window is exactly what is at stake here. If we define Gore's position as extremist, we guarantee that less than what he wants will be achieved. If what he wants is in fact the bare minimum change that we need our prognosis is very grim.

What Gore thinks we should do about our circumstance, primarily, is write regulations encouraging alternative behavior by corporations, a view I share and which I consider appropriate and centrist.

Gore does not consider this an occasion to reinvent society, as the real extremists do, nor does he claim that people who don't understand the situation are immoral, nor does he advance unrealistic reconfigurations of how we live, nor does he eschew technologies like CCS that favor the owners of fossil reswerves.

As for the scroll of suggestions or commandments at the end of the movie, I don't know that he's responsible for it. I could see how it might rub you the wrong way, but on the other hand, what I hear from people who take the problem seriously (in a city where a car is a necessity rather than a luxury) is "what can I do, myself"?

My barber tells me her son obsessively unplugs the microwave to save the electric power (I guess baout 10 mW) that lights up the LED clock.

I think this unplug-the-microwave approach is a crazy waste of effort, and that only politics can resolve our problems. Gore said as much in his Nobel acceptance speech, and I highlight that very statement on this blog, specifically as an antidote to the idea that it is necessary and sufficient to be uncomfortable to save the world.

Note that most people don't have the time or intellectual capacity for assessing evidence and you must proceed by assertion and argument from authority. (If they did we would not be having problems keeping evolution in the school curriculum.)

Given that most people in democracies must be informed of the scope and outlines of the problem, that very few of them are qualified for or interested in examining evidence, and that very many of them have been misinformed by an egregious campaign of misinformation, how would you proceed in producing an exposition of the facts?

If the movie were all you had seen of Gore you might mistake his dedication for obsession. In fact as a senator he was talented and broadminded, (I watched a random hearing on television wherein he demonstrated a deep understanding of communication policy for instance.) He really was instrumental in providing funding and regulation moving the internet out of academic circles and into commercial use.

Gore's current book, "Assault on Reason" isn't about climate at all, but is rather a description of how political discourse has been debased to the point it is. You can consider this background for the structure of his slide show. I have a lot of trouble envisioning the author of this book (which if anything errs on the side of convention) as an extremist.

Marion Delgado said...

Barbara Hagerty is a notorious member of the "World Journalism Institute," whose mission is to fight the culture wars for the religious right in as many mainstream venues as possible.

In addition to the nonsense Media Matters for America is citing her for, she became semi-famous for attempting to say in 2004 that Catholics refused to vote for Kerry. Problem was, she tried to ask only Republican Catholics.