Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chris Hayes survives beat-down from Jonathan Chait

Chris Hays appears in Years of Living Dangerously, Showtime's great series on Global Warming. Hayes has called Global Warming the most important issue of our time and has done a great deal of research on it, so he knows what he's talking about.

Jonathan Chait knows very little about Global Warming, which he appears to regard as about as important as a smudge on your newspaper. Nevertheless, he takes Hayes to task in a New York Magazine piece entitled, "Chris Hayes is not making sense on Keystone". Chait has two basic complaints to make about Hays's latest article in the Nation: Keystone's total load of carbon, he says, is only one-tenth as much as its opponents believe, and President Obama has comparable options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Chait's problem is simple. He doesn't believe Global Warming is a crucial issue. For him, the Alberta tar sands become harmless if they release "only" 22 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Chait wants to support Obama's nonsensical, "all of the above" energy policy. But he and Obama somehow believe that increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is ok if it only increases "a little bit." This is nonsense.

The president should be fighting against every gram of carbon injected into the already dangerously loaded atmosphere. "All of the above" is a great energy policy if it means stopping tar-sand development, imposing a carbon tax, raising emission standards, and making polluters pay for the damage they are doing to the environment instead of forcing our children and grandchildren to pay for it.

I said Chait knows very little about Global Warming because he takes his 22 billion tons figure from an article in Scientific American that he has clearly not read. Taking only the parts of scientific studies that support your viewpoint is called cherry-picking. That's obviously what Chait has done, because that same article includes a quote from James Hansen (a scientist, not a journalist) who says:
Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don't understand the situation or that they just don't give a damn.
Read the article, Jonathan, don't just steal favorable statistics from it.

Chait is generally considered a liberal, but in this article he adopts the tactics favored by the extreme right: denial, cherry-picking data, and attacking the messenger. He wants the reader to believe that Global Warming isn't as bad as we thought it was, writing:
First, the environmental impact of Keystone is far smaller than Hayes implies...And second, the practical alternative, far from being nonexistent, is actually quite potent.
Chait needs to do a bit more reading in the literature before he sets himself up as an expert. The opinion among scientists is that the situation is worse, not better, because the US and other governments are dragging their feet and failing to take the drastic measures necessary to avert catastrophe. The steps that Obama is taking are fine, and he deserves our gratitude for taking them, but they fall far short of what the world needs, not in the distant future, but right now.

Obama's actions come after two decades of inaction on climate change, and time is our enemy. His two predecessors did almost nothing to combat the problem. The Bush administration and his cronies assured us that the problem was not real, that scientists were lying to us, and anyway global warming was good for business. In other words, they intentionally made the problem worse for their own private gain. So Obama needs to see this as an issue on which compromise has already been tried with terrible results. The free market has had its chance and failed utterly.

Obama needs to take the same stance he did on raising the debt limit: no debate, no compromise, no games. Chait, as Obama's media surrogate, needs to urge Obama to heed the warnings of reputable scientists. Instead, he attacks Hayes, a journalist like himself, for faulty reasoning.

Do not attack journalists, Jonathan. Attack the scientists who are pimping themselves to the energy industry. Attack the Kochs, who are saturating the media with misleading advertisements using the same arguments that you are using. You have a platform. Use it for the good of humankind.

Give a damn.

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