Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thinking About Al Gore

I've been thinking about Al Gore.

I didn't intend or want to, but recently I received an email from a right wing global warming denier linking to a tired old YouTube video mocking Mr. Gore. And frankly, I've noticed a recurring pattern that seems to hold in my own little slice of the left-right divide: The right wingers I know seem to think their grand war against the science of climate change is a war against Al Gore himself. The effect seems to extend beyond my immediate circle: Even now, it's not unusual to see unflattering photos of Gore in right wing articles about global warming.

As a consequence of the email, and my recognition of the pattern, I've been forced to think about Gore—something I haven't done for a long time.

But now he's back, like an old but not especially memorable song I can't get out of my head. Or more correctly, he's never been gone—at least in the right wing imagination. So I may as well note it's both funny and sad that the right seems to think ridiculing Al Gore is the ticket to undermining climate science. Apparently everybody knows Gore is its chief spokesman—isn't he? Not to mention its most prominent brain trust—isn't he? And Gore is so darned easy to make fun of.  Like shooting fish in a barrel. Ergo, climate science is a laugh, as silly as Gore himself. To a simple mind, it really is that simple.

The right just knows that climate science is a fraud, and has plenty of evidence to offer. A number of years ago a right wing acquaintance sought to disprove global warming by pointing out what a hypocrite Gore is: that his house is far too big and opulent, and it consumes an inordinate amount of electricity. Take that, science.

If you suppose the right wing battle with climate science has more to do with one individual's personal shortcomings (imagined or otherwise) than actual science, you'd be correct—but it's all the same on the right. It's easy to get confused when you don't understand what science is, or why you should want to. When you wouldn't recogize a peer-reviewed journal if it came up and introduced itself. No matter: we've got Al Gore to kick around. Still and always, it would seem.

So right wingers poke fun. They disparage. They revel in ad hominem attacks and mindless non sequiters. (Links provided for the convenience of right wing readers.)

Thing is, you almost never hear about Al Gore in the progressive or even mainstream media, and haven't for a good chunk of the past decade. We don't have any Al Gore statues in our Liberal-Atheist-Communist churches. We lefties don't all have Al Gore portraits over our mantels. Gore made his movie, collected his Acadamy Award and his Nobel Prize, and then sort of disappeared. He surfaced ever so briefly from time to time with news of his business ventures, such as his wannabe cable network Current TV, and his hiring and then firing of Keith Olbermann. Yawn.

But on the right, he's still larger than life. Admit it, Fox viewers and Limbaugh listeners: Al Gore is a good bet to come up whenever climate change is being discussed. This may be a common occurrence on the right, but I'm always caught off guard when a right wing dig at Al Gore appears out of nowhere.

Al Gore as climate bogeyman is emblematic of how the right thinks. Or doesn't. When I take the trouble to correspond with right wingers about the latest news in climate science, I always report on actual scientific endeavors and discoveries, either as described in serious mainstream media reports covering real science, or even summaries from the scientific literature. I sometimes recommend books written by top climate scientists.

But when I'm on the receiving end of climate "news" from right wingers, the "sources" are inevitably low quality outlets such as WND or The Daily Caller, spewing all manner of inane and even moronic drivel. Not surprisingly, there's never an actual scientist anywhere to be found—a fact that seems to trouble the sender not a bit. Not only are the persons who send me these things utterly unequipped to critique the mindless assertions they contain, but they are clueless about the distinction between right wing propaganda and principled journalism—never mind actual scientific literature. They assume a false equivalence that does not exist outside their stunted view of reality. All you can do is shake your head in despair at their continual flailing at strawmen—or worse.

Thus does the right continually and hopelessly misunderstand what are and are not authoritative sources of information. In one email discussion a right winger pointed me to a speech to shareholders by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as evidence against climate science! I'm sorry to say I'm not making this up.

But back to Al Gore. Don't get me wrong: I like Al Gore. Admire him, actually. During his time of prominence he performed a much needed service in explaining the reality of global warming to a lay audience. Not only was An Inconvenient Truth correct on the science, Gore was often way ahead of most of us as a prescient, articulate observer and reporter on important topics—particularly ecological ones. His 1992 book Earth in the Balance (still an excellent read) has chapters on climate change, from back when climate science was far less settled and discussed than today.

So I've got nothing against Al Gore. It's just that he—and the rest of us—have long moved on, even if the right wingers still haven't figured it out.

Update March 22, 2015: Al Gore recently surfaced as the subject of a feature in The New York Times. It's a good read. From the article: "Many members of the audience [at a presentation by Gore] were scientists who asked pointed questions, citing specific studies; Mr. Gore answered study with study, point for point. 'He knew more about the academic literature than any of the academics in the audience,' Mr. Kramer says. 'He basically out-nerded all the other nerds in the room.'"

Postscript: It's disconcerting that right wingers have such a hard time coming to grips with climate science, given there's so darned much of it out there. There's just no excuse, apart from blatant willful ignorance, for not availing oneself of the best authoritative sources of information. Here's my own attempt to enlighten on the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

Copyright (C) 2014 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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