Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.But here's the thing: Conservatives and some Libertarians actually believe this conspiracy theory. Even serious academic ones. They are like the Vulcans of the Bush administration who thought invading Iraq and establishing a seed of Democracy in a predominantly Islamic country would be the key to solving middle east problems. It wasn't just politics as usual. The WMD thing might have been oversold for political reasons, but in their hearts they thought they were doing the right thing. I thought they were crazy, but I think it can be hard to get anywhere in these debates if we always think the problem is bad incentives rather than bad ideas.
Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.
Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.
Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?
Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.
Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.
Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.
Another case in point: Here Krugman is debating John Taylor. John Taylor thinks the financial crisis and global recession were due to Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson scaring the public and the financial industry by going to congress and asking for the TARP funds. Taylor thinks government caused the crisis by overreacting. This view seems little short of bats insane to my eyes, but I do believe that John Taylor believes that what he is saying is true.
Sometimes I think both sides attribute much more to bad motives or political economy than is reality. The climate scientists are not corrupt as many Republicans believe. Nor are many of the Republicans fighting against climate change policy. They just have strong and perhaps ill considered beliefs.
In reality I think political conflict stems mainly from differing worldviews and ideologies. Paul Krugman's intellectual arguments are quite strong. But I think he'd be more persuasive if he refrained from accusing the other side of bad motives.