The Climate Change Front
Salon's Daniel D'Addario has seen Bill Nye debate (video below) U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Meet The Press about climate change. And he has seen Nye debate Ken Ham, creator (in more than six 24-hour days) of the Creation Museum in Kentucky about the origins of the world. And he, like God before the Great Flood, is not pleased .
D'Addario concedes Nye, The Science Guy, "certainly knows more about science than the layman, or than his debate opponents" but realizes he is not as prone to be taken as seriously as a scientist (Nye is by training an engineer) or a politician. He argues
It’s not his fault, per se, that he carries baggage that makes him less likely to be taken seriously: Nye brings with him everywhere he goes memories of his stint as a children’s entertainer. It’s great grist for a sustained career in entertainment — exactly the sort of thing serious discussions about climate change should not be. Nye’s motives are clear and good. He has a gift for distilling information and presenting it to the public, as he did for so long on PBS. But climate change isn’t a baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano. It is, unfortunately, an issue that media outlets like NBC News have, in the name of objectivity, decided to frame as a matter open to discussion. That alone is bad. That the representative of the scientific community is easily dismissed as just another media-hungry performer — “Dancing with the Stars” is, at this point, a punchline if not the entire joke — by his ideological opponents is horrific.
Nye was not the right person to debate Ham, given that the latter's argument had little to do with science but can be distilled into: We have it on good authority the world was created in six days: God says so, in a book that has stood the test of time. A competent ethicist would have effectively refuted Ham, and the extremely competent Arthur Caplan would have eaten him up and spit him out.
Representative Blackburn and her fellow travelers (generational alert: "fellow travelers" was to Joe McCarthy what "pals around with" is to Sarah Palin) present a different sort of challenge. With few facts and little reason to doubt the largely human origin of climate change, Blackburn nevertheless fought Nye almost to a draw. Limitation of a "debate" to 13 minutes obviously plays into the hands of most conservatives, especially on an issue of scientific substance. But of equal importance is that Blackburn is a successful politician, which confirms that she is able to make statements which, even if they are not valid, appeal to her audience, a skill the Tennessee congresswoman is blessed with.
those best-positioned to educate the public are those who are already famous, and who summarily have baggage and familiar foibles. It’s hard to imagine a person becoming a celebrity on the back of climate change advocacy, a figure who would lend to the non-debate the gravity it needs while getting the attention of the public.
So the individual who would best be able to convince people global land and sea temperatures are rising, that the greenhouse effect is real, and the nation must- and can- rise to the challenge is a successful person and thus someone with credibility ("already famous"). And he/she would do well to lack "baggage and familiar foibles." It would have to be someone with gravitas ("lend to the non-debate the gravity it needs") and know how to gain the attention of the public.
The latter attribute would suggest a politician, one not a gadfly, but successful, and knowledgeable regarding "how to gain the attention of the public." A thorough understanding of the science behind climate change is a "plus," as they say in job announcements.
Unfortunately, such knowledge is not often the resume of a politician. Al Gore may be an exception, though D'Addario claims "in publishing several books and appearing in the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore was too-easily framed as hungry for media love, for a second career, and, potentially, for a return to electoral politics."
A greater factor, though, was that the mainstream media (as Bob Somerby often has pointed out) has always been disdainful of Gore. This attitude is easier maintained because the latter lost his last election, and is hardly diminished because the former Tennessean won the national popular vote. And Florida. And yet lost. Still, an active politician might be perceived as having an ulterior motive, as D'Addario believes Gore is.
Our team needs someone with the political skills that go with having been successful in elective office, but not seen as lusting for higher office and who has somehow, through it all, picked up significant baggage; a need to understand the underlying science but broad in different venues. No one person could possibly fit the bill.
Au contraire, fellow liberals. Credibility can be earned in numerous ways, including
getting “tens of millions” of dollars for suicide prevention among members of the military, and for securing state matching programs for land and water conservation. He also helped arrange citizenship for the family of a Pakistani man killed in a hate crime in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Kate Zernike of The New York Times was writing about Rush Holt (D-NJ), who has announced he won't seek re-election later this year to the House of Representatives. The Good Rush
is perhaps most popularly known as the five-time “Jeopardy!” champion who later won a celebrity round against Watson, the IBM supercomputer. In and around Princeton, where he had been assistant director of the Plasma Physics Laboratory, bumper stickers on Priuses proudly proclaim “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist.”
He has consistently pushed for more money for scientific research, and better science education, securing $22 billion for research in the stimulus bill, and grants of $16,000 for students who prepare to teach math, science or foreign languages.
“I’m not sure we have anyone in the Congress with his level of deep understanding of what it is going to take for the American scientific enterprise to thrive in the future,” said Shirley M. Tilghman, a molecular biologist and former president of Princeton.
Arguing "It’s a problem without a clear solution,: D'Addario believes "If anyone could innovate a way to make the message of climate change compelling to the vast American public without resorting to wacky gimmicks or to made-for-TV bickering, it’s" Bill Nye. Perhaps Nye would be singularly innovative but there may be no one better able to expose climate change denialists better than the soon-to-be ex congressman from New Jersey.