Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Climate Change

The anti-science crusaders of the Republican right are at it again. Matt Drudge is gloating that a winter storm watch has been declared for the District of Columbia for Wednesday, when Al Gore is due to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on global warming. A Repub legislator has told him via e-mail "I can't imagine the Democrats would want to showcase Mr. Gore and his new findings on global warming as a winter storm rages outside. And if the ice really piles up, it will not be safe to travel."

And don't leave Rush Limbaugh out. He mentioned (uncharacteristically, accurately) on Monday a recent survey taken by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press in which "Thirty of the American people list global warming as the top priority, and it's at the bottom of the list."

But it shouldn't be surprising that people are not exorcised about global warming, a long-term problem, in mid-winter. And Americans are bearing the brunt of our involvement in two wars; ongoing fear of a terrorist attack; growing numbers of people without health insurance; President Obama's stress on lobbying reform and the impact of private money on public policy; a financial crisis in which major companies are closing or announcing major layoffs; an increasing number of citizens falling into poverty; and an immigration policy and a (free, unfair) trade policy exacerbating the economic decline. All this is unsurprising after eight years of GOP rule characterized by incompetence, dishonest, and political extremism.

Still, the percentage of respondents in the Pew survey rating global warming a "top priority" disturbingly dropped five percentage points (from 35%) since the same survey taken a year earlier. It is probably due in part to the Repub spin machine, which exploits images of winter storms locally and generalizes to a global conclusion. Or as Salon's Alex Koppleman more clearly and colorfully explains,

focusing on a single anecdotal data point in this way is a really, really bad way to do science, or to make any sort of generalized observation at all. If you're playing Russian Roulette and on your first turn you happen not to die, this does not mean putting a loaded gun to your head and squeezing the trigger is a good idea. If you're visiting Seattle for a week and on your first day there it happens to be sunny, you should not throw out your raincoat and umbrella.

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