Cooling to the global warming debate

Clive Crook

KAI RYSSDAL: Ya gotta hand it to Al Gore. Whether you think he's going to run again in 2008 or not, he has laid some nice groundwork. He's just come out with a new movie on global warming that's getting all kinds of press and generally decent reviews, too. "An Inconvenient Truth," it's called. There are those who will argue about global warming. Whether humans are responsible. Even whether it's happening. But the whole debate just makes commentator Clive Crook tune out.


CLIVE CROOK: Global warming activists talk as though our cities could beinundated any day. They say that every episode of extreme weather canbe traced to your neighbor's SUV and America's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

Over in the opposite corner, climate-change inactivists see Kyoto asan anticapitalist plot. They dismiss the science. What we have on perhaps the most important issue I can think of is a dialogue of the deaf.

In the propaganda war, the activists are doing well. Al Gore's new movie is getting rave reviews and tons of publicity.

The other side's response has been feeble. One think tank ran ads thatsaid of greenhouse gases, "Some call it pollution, we call it life."Whoever dreamed up that one just boosted Al Gore's revenues.

But I don't give Gore's movie a rave. It's alarmist. That was the idea: To terrify people.But let's not be terrified. Climate change is not that kind of risk.

The planet is warming and this is going to cause problems. But the imminent catastrophes that the activists point to, like a dramatic rise in sealevel, maybe next week, are scare stories.

A dangerous rise in sea level is an extremely low order of risk fordecades. A panic response to that threat could be fantastically costlyand it might have little effect anyway.

Better to frame wise policy than sow panic. We need an effectivelong-term plan to curb global emissions of greenhouse gases. That willrequire an expansion of nuclear power, by the way.

We also need policies to help us adapt to a warmer planet. That'sgoing to happen regardless, something else the activists won't discuss.

Washington needs to act. Gore is right about that. But what needs thinkingthrough is, once you have got people scared, how do you get from there to good policy?That is the inconvenient truth of the matter.

RYSSDAL: Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic. He's also a columnist for the National Journal.

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