From the assassination of JFK to 9/11, conspiracy theories are almost always regarded as nutty paranoid fantasies imagined by those hopelessly out-of-touch with reality; unworthy of serious debate....unless, of course, we're talking about the global warming "conspiracy" theories circulating around right-wing America.No sooner did the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hit the news, calling on the world's leading industrial nations - especially the U.S. and China - to curb greenhouse gas emissions now, while something can still be done (on the relative cheap to boot!), that all the "junk-science" detectors come out of the woodwork to warn all of us poor idiots to beware of the "global warming conspiracy."
Two of the more prominent examples include CNN's Glenn Beck, who recently did an hour-long segment called "Exposed: The Climate of Fear," in which he predictably evoked Hitler and Nazism to smear anyone concerned about the environment. (For civics sake, enough with the Hitler references already!)
On the other side of the political spectrum, we have Alexander Cockburn offering a "leftist" contrarian climate change argument, disputing the existence of any link between CO2 emissions and rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
For the record, I didn't see, nor do I intend to see, "Inconvenient Truth." I was never subjected to any "save the earth" curriculum that my kids now receive. I do not belong to any environmental organization and, frankly, the upper-class, granola-bar-eating, healthier-than-thou, eco-fundamentalism characteristic of some "liberals" is about as attractive to me as growing up female under the Taliban.
I'm not a scientist - just like most people reading this right now. But like Bertrand Russell said: "Clearly, if you are going to believe anything outside your own experience, you should have some reason for believing it. Usually, the reason is authority... . It is true that most of us must inevitably depend upon (authority) for most of our knowledge." When it comes to global warming I make Pascal's Wager and put it on. It's better to believe the warnings of global warming scientists and adhere to the "precautionary principle" than not believe and suffer the consequences.
I'll put my money on the IPCC - the most authoritative body of climate scientists in the world, whose work is peer reviewed; unlike the mutterings of nonscientist ideologues who dismiss the work of real scientists who, we're told, secretly want to destroy capitalism, halt technological progress and keep the poor, poor. Apparently, with the global warming conspiracy crowd, climate science is filled with a bunch of Unabombers; a collection of Ted Kaczynskis. But instead of getting the koo-koo treatment, they get prime time?
And I don't buy the they're-in-it-for-the-government-money argument, either. Everyone knows that the real research money is in defense. And it's just absurd to think that corporations and governments want to give millions of dollars to scientists whose research indicates our entire way of living is a global threat.
But, when it comes down to it: "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it," as Max Planck wrote in his autobiography.
So I don't care to argue much about global warming. I mean, John Maynard Keynes had a point - in the long run, we're all dead. But for me and my kids, when the climate change contrarians are dead, it's us who'll be caught up in the "long run." That's why recent polls have shown that young Americans - the long runners - are particularly sensitive to environmental issues, with 77 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying they favor the U.S. signing an international treaty requiring less emissions from power plants and cars, compared to just 48 percent of those 65 and older, as Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton discuss in their book "The Foreign Policy Dis*Connect."
What we've gotta do, young America, is take over the environmental conversation and policy in this country. Matter of fact, the environmental opinions of anyone whose average life expectancy comes in, say, the next 20 years or so, should be considered irrelevant.
I remember being admonished sometimes by older folks to "mind my business when grown folks are talking." Well, on global warming and the environment, here's where we flip the script. This is the one conversation where we need to say: mind your business when young folks are talking.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com.
© 2007 The Cape Cod Times