Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sandwich theory says I should say something nice about Dana Milbank and his global warming column

You're supposed to sandwich your critique with praise on either ends to make it more palatable.  So, I actually liked some of Milbank's previous attempts at humor back when he was doing video.

Now, I'll try to summarize the pain from reading through Milbank's I-blame-Algore-and-climatologists-for-denialist-lies:

Paragraph 1:  Al Gore's crusade is inconvenienced by the snow.

Par. 2, Par. 3, Par. 4, Par. 5:  quotes of wingnuts attacking global warming and Al Gore because of snow.

Par. 6:  first acknowledgment of science, that the snow isn't even mildly contrary evidence to climate change theory.  Newspaper readership drops off the further down you go in a column so putting truth after five paragraphs of misdirection isn't helpful.

Par. 7 and 8:  incoherence.  This stuff is bad enough to quote.  "some rough justice in the conservatives' cheap shots. In Washington's blizzards, the greens were hoisted by their own petard.

For years, climate-change activists have argued by anecdote to make their case. Gore, in his famous slide shows, ties human-caused global warming to increasing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought and the spread of mosquitoes, pine beetles and disease. It's not that Gore is wrong about these things. The problem is that his storm stories have conditioned people to expect an endless worldwide heat wave, when in fact the changes so far are subtle."

So it's not that Gore was wrong or misleading,* it's that somebody interpreted climate change to mean no more snow, and therefore Milbank finds that greens have hoisted themselves on petards.  That makes lots of sense.

I'll interrupt this nonsense for someone who handled the issue much better, Repower America and Jon Stewart:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

(Not sure if the video works here - if not, it's at the link.)  Skip to minute 3:30 for the good stuff and a minute later for a comparison about Al Gore that contrasts strongly with Milbank blaming Gore for people's misinterpretation.  Note that Stewart leads off, before the clips of denialists on Fox, with a comparison of them to children that keeps the denialists from getting free advertising.

Okay, back to nonsense. Paragraph 9:  Milbank uses Heritage Foundation as a source of what some enviro, any enviro anywhere, has said about the effects of climate, with the assumption that everything said was inaccurate.  The shrinking feral sheep thing, by the way, really is an effect of localized climate change.  And some (inconclusive) evidence ties climate change to more El Ninos, and El Nino is definitely the cause of the lack of snow in Vancouver and the likely cause of all the snow on the East Coast.  But yes, I will concede that some one or even more than one person out of 6 billion on the planet has indeed overstated the effects of climate change.

Continuing.  Paragraph 10:  filler.  Paragraph 11 and 12 are precious:  "Scientific arguments, too, are problematic. In a conference call arranged Thursday by the liberal Center for American Progress to refute the snow antics of Inhofe et al., the center's Joe Romm made the well-worn statements that 'the overwhelming weight of the scientific literature' points to human-caused warming and that doubters 'don't understand the science.'
The science is overwhelming -- but not definitive. Romm's claim was inadvertently shot down by his partner on the call, the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters, who confessed that "there's a huge amount of natural variability in the climate system" and not enough years of measurements to know exactly what's going on. 'Unfortunately we don't have that data so we are forced to make decisions based on inadequate data.' 

Sounds like Masters is just saying we can't nail down the exact connection between AGW and any one weather incident.  That doesn't contradict or shoot down climate science, which of course is about general climate and not specific weather incidents.  A little too complex for Milbank to understand, however.  I blame Masters for not gearing the info down sufficiently to Milbanks' level.

But wait, there's more!  Par. 13:  "....there were the hacked e-mails of a British research center that suggested the scientists were stacking the deck to overstate the threat. Now comes word of numerous errors in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years."

Funny how critiques of one scientist, Phil Jones, and his unsuccessful attempt to exclude two bad papers from consideration by the IPCC becomes "scientists" generally, as well as being magnified to being an overstatement of the threat.  The latest "numerous errors" are mostly poor citation jobs, not actually errors (or in the case of current damages from climate change and risks of Amazonian droughts, areas where the IPCC is likely correct but not completely proven).  Milbank couldn't be bothered with providing a link to back up his claims of numerous errors, which apparently reached him from through the ether.

Paragraphs 14 through 16:  standard Village conventional wisdom, which is to forget talking about climate change, and talk about clean energy jobs.  Milbank improves his batting average here from generally wrong to possibly right.  What he fails to understand is that it's a shame to have to downgrade emphasis of the main issue of climate change.  Maybe if people like him were more accurate, that wouldn't be necessary.  He also misses what effect hot weather has on short-term changes in political views, or the wisdom of Al Gore's suggestion to move the next major climate conference to summer in Mexico City.

In summary, I did enjoy some of the political humor videos that Milbank produced.

*I think Gore can be accused of some relatively minor cases of cherrypicking studies, but Milbank is attacking the generally true statements as being misinterpreted by somebody.  Not sure who, maybe it's Milbank.


  1. To be fair to the newscasters the Daily Show made fun of, it seems to have become standard operating practice to invoke global warming in *every* news story that involves climate in any way. These mentions have *always* been dumb, but worst of all in live tv shows trying to fill time. If it's okay to genuflect before AGW with a line like "and with global warming, this is likely to get worse!" when reporting on every actual or predicted heat wave or flood or drought anywhere in the world, it should be similarly okay to thumb one's nose at AGW with a line like "Hey, whatever happened to that global warming?" when reporting on cold snaps anywhere in the world.

    Or if the latter needs to go, the former should too.

  2. If someone wants to put together a similar series of stupid TV clips saying a heat wave proves Inhofe and Palin are idiots, they're free to do it. Let's see how easy it is to find that rather than assume it to be so.


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