In “Reformed Climate Deniers Don’t Deserve Redemption,” author Dave Leviton argues that Republican pollster Frank Luntz had no business testifying before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. Because Luntz is a skeptic? No, because Luntz used to promote skeptical views and has not yet confessed his guilt for having “helped to break the world.”
I have no idea whether Luntz has or has not issued anything like a public apology for not previously believing what he apparently believes now. The riff about helping “break the world” is a bit much. No material force has done more than affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels to improve human health and welfare over the past century and more. And nothing has done more than so-called carbon pollution to boost the bio-productivity of the Earth’s greenery.
Besides, it’s not Frank Luntz’s fault that people emitted more carbon dioxide since climate treaty talks began in 1992 than they did in the preceding two-plus centuries. The reason is much more fundamental. As economist Bjorn Lomborg recently put it: “Policies to cut carbon are incredibly expensive. Just the annual cost of the climate promises in the proposed Green New Deal could cost more than $2 trillion, or $6,400 per person.”
The South Park episode “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow” humorously skewers the climate blame game. As the story begins, fourth grader Eric Cartman persuades classmate Stan Marsh to go for a joy ride in a speedboat under the false pretense that the boat belongs to Eric’s uncle. The boys crash the boat into the world’s largest beaver dam, flooding the city of Beaverton, whose residents take refuge on the rooftops of their homes.
While watching scenes of the disaster on TV, Stan’s parents, Sharon and Randy, dispute who is to blame—Beaverton’s mayor or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Feeling guilty, Stan asks what’s being done to rescue the flood victims. Randy replies: “That’s not important right now, son. What’s important is figuring out whose fault this is.” Meanwhile outside, two men on the street insist it must be George W. Bush’s fault, while another claims Al Qaeda did it. A bit later Colorado scientists announce they have found the real culprit: global warming. Instead of arriving the day after tomorrow, as previously thought, global warming will strike two days before the day after tomorrow—today! There is panic in the streets, in South Park and across the nation.
As the episode ends, the U.S. Army rescues the Beaverton flood victims and ends the global warming panic—but only by faulting a new bogeyman: pink, six-legged, crab people. Unable to live with the guilt any longer, Stan confesses to the people of South Park: “I broke the dam.” One of the adults translates: “Don’t you see what this child is saying … we all broke the dam.” Another adult steps forward and says, “I broke the dam,” then another, and so on, producing a veritable consensus of collective guilt.
What insights does this satire impart? The “climate crisis” incites and legitimates moralizing—the vilification of others, of course, but also confessions of collective guilt that, paradoxically, are taken as a sign of moral superiority. As it happens, moreover, expiating collective guilt is cheap and easy. One need merely declare: “I recycle,” “I voted for Obama,” or “I have always believed in the climate crisis.”