Sunday, June 11, 2006

In which I slap my head while reading George Will

George Will writes of Al Gore's ABC interview:
Minutes after Gore said that "the debate in the science community is over," he said "there is a debate between the American ice science community and ice scientists elsewhere" about whether the less-than-extremely-remote danger is a rise in sea level of a few inches or 20 feet . And he said scientists "don't know what is happening" in west Antarctica or Greenland. So when Gore says the scientific debate is "over," he must mean merely that there is consensus that we are in a period of warming.
No, he means that the debate over the warming, its causes, and its magnitude, are over. The debate over consequences is ongoing, though that too is a debate within some bounds. As I say, the amount of warming is fairly well agreed upon. What that change will do to Antarctic ice is a far cry from the level of debate Will implies in the next paragraph:

This is not where debate ends but where it begins, given that at any moment in its 4.5 billion years, the planet has been cooling or warming. The serious debate is about two other matters: the contribution of human activity to the current episode of warming and the degree to which this or that remedial measure (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol) would make a difference commensurate with its costs.
Again, no. Those issues are not what the debate is about any more. We know how much human activities contribute to the warming, and by understanding that, we understand how additional human activities would reduce that warming. We need to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.

The debate is how to do that, and we can't have that vital debate so long as influential columnists like George Will use some of the most valuable real estate in the opinion-making world to promote bogus questions. That's why Gore made a movie and is out promoting it. It gets him past the pseudo-intellectual gatekeepers of the Post's opinion pages and into the intellectual sphere of the public.