By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An exam for Jeff Jacoby

In the spirit of the holidays, I’d rather not get into an argument with Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby over his column about global warming today. Instead, I’d like to pose three questions to him. I’m going to send him the link to this item and ask him to respond, either by e-mail or by posting to Media Nation.

Anyway, here we go:

1. You make much of the fact that scientific predictions about the climate have changed considerably over time. For instance, you note that climatologist Reid Bryson, in the mid-1970s, predicted catastrophic global cooling.

Question: Do you believe science, and our ability to measure climate change, have advanced over the past 32 years? And if you do, don’t think you anything a scientist wrote in 1974 is utterly irrelevant?

2. Two words never appear in your column: “carbon dioxide.” Yet according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the level of atmospheric CO2 has risen from 280 parts per million to 370 parts per million since the start of the Industrial Revolution. “The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere today, has not been exceeded in the last 420,000 years, and likely not in the last 20 million years,” according to the agency’s Web site.

Question: What evidence can you state for your apparent belief that rising CO2 levels have no effect on the climate?

3. Most serious people who’ve looked at global warming believe we need to undertake technological steps ranging from developing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind to building a safer generation of nuclear power plants. That was certainly one of the messages Al Gore puts forth in his film “An Inconvenient Truth.” In other words, though there may be a few alternative-lifestyle types who believe global warming can only be reversed by living like the Amish, most of us want to innovate our way out of this mess — a very American approach, I might add.

Question: How did global warming become part of the culture war? And why on earth have conservatives like you adopted the denial of global warming as a pet cause?

Please note that Questions 1 and 2 are very specific and call for specific answers. You may fulminate to your heart’s content in answering Question 3.

Update: David Bernstein observes that the administration of left-wing environmental extremist George W. Bush has concluded that global warming has endangered the polar bear.

Update II: Jacoby responds. Click here.

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  1. Anonymous

    Dan, your mistake is assuming that Jacoby is arguing in good faith. He isn’t, and he never does.

  2. Anonymous

    I stopped reading Jacoby years ago, after it became clear to me that he was something of a nut. (He’s an example of the fact that, apparently the Globe believes that even nuts deserve representation on their op-ed pages.)As far as the cooling experienced 1945-1972 (or so) that is fairly well understood: increased levels of sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere. Sulfate aerosols are also one product of combustion of fossil fuels, particularly coal used in coal-fired power plants. Sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere reflect sunlight back into space, which can offset to some extent the temperature increase due to the greenhouse effect induced by increases in the carbon dioxide levels, and could even lead to global cooling. The problem with sulfate aerosols is that they also lead to “acid rain” (sulfuric acid) After that phenomenon was noted, coal-fired power plants made efforts to reduce their emissions of sulfate aerosols. Acid rain declined, but so did the level of sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, in turn leading to increases in the CO2 induced greenhouse effect.–raj

  3. Citizen Charles Foster Kane

    Dan, while you’re very charitable in not wishing to get into an argument with Jeff Jacoby, I’ll be happy to get into an argument with Jeff Jacoby at any place, any time, on any subject. His column on global warming reads like a fifth grade science report with the only available research materials being press releases from Exxon funded think tanks and a 1950s edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.What do you think the Globe pays him to write what writes? And isn’t there another conservative columnist who could actually be thought provoking for 50% of what Jacoby gets paid? I’m serious. My greatest hope is that the rise of blogging won’t be to undercut traditional news reporting but to undermine the positions of the twice a week columnists in daily papers like Jacoby. Hell, run Cal Thomas or some other syndicated columnist. They’re just as easy to ignore and much cheaper.

  4. Rick in Duxbury

    “Do you believe science, and our ability to measure climate change, have advanced over the past 32 years? And if you do, don’t think you (sic)anything a scientist wrote in 1974 is utterly irrelevant?” Sure hope your family doctor doesn’t think that way. You would have to give up a few things, (e.g. aspirin) that were and are still valid. It’s also nice to see your readers (e.g. 6:10)who decry the motives of others, afraid to attach a name to their post. As to Jacoby himself, if CFK wants to take him out, personal ad hominems aren’t the way to do it. If his plan is to ignore those with whom he disagrees, his level of intellectual honesty speaks for itself.

  5. ben

    I assume your last question is rhetorical because its pretty obvious, though overly simplistic, that being pro-business and pro-environment are mutually exclusive to those for whom politics is primary.

  6. Steve

    I would think Jeff is too busy penning his annual column on “Hate Speech from the Left” to take your exam.In this column, in true Jacobian fashion, he will cite “hateful” comments from bloggers and obscure professors. He will not mention any rhetoric coming from people with actual power and influence on the right – like John Gibson, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, George Allen, Bill O’Reilly, etc. etc. etc.Jacoby seldom acknowleges facts or positions that run counter to his biases. He usually outright ignores them. Some might call that being a smart rhetorician. I call it intellectual dishonesty.

  7. Anonymous

    Steve,Kinda like using the “progressive” equivalent to “Little Green Footballs” for your source? Talk about heat without light.

  8. Stephen Stein

    Are you disputing their facts or just calling them names, Anon 1:47?”Talk about heat without light” pegs the irony meter.

  9. Anonymous

    No Stephen,Just observing the immutable fact that both LGF and the lefty blog cited both repeat facts out of context for their own agenda-driven purposes. The choir needs to be preached to? Where I come from, that doesn’t advance the conversation but rather creates, well, heat without light. Guess your meter is easily pegged.1:47

  10. Anonymous

    I can’t understand all you highfalutin’ whiny pinkos.

  11. Anonymous

    No one disputes global warming. The only question is whether we can actually do anything about it. When Al Gore starts taking a Prius to the premiere of his movies, (and someone actually shows me a guaranteed method to mitigate said climate change), I’ll hop on the bandwagon.

  12. Anonymous

    Agree with Anon 10:06. You guys are way too in love with the sound of your own keyboards.

  13. Anonymous

    Thanks, 9:13. Stop by again when you have less time…

  14. mike_b1

    “The whole aim of practical politics,” wrote H.L. Mencken in 1920, “is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Some things never change.He’s right, you know. Just look at all those voters who keep falling for GOP presidents with their tall tales about Russkies who want to nuke us and Saddam and WMD.

  15. Anonymous

    Mike,Check out Mencken’s Wikipedia entry. Today, he would be treated like Michael Richards or Mel Gibson.

  16. mike_b1

    Mencken held no cows sacred, that’s for sure.The reason I used that quote is because it’s the one Jacoby ended his piece with. Clearly, JJ missed the irony.

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