Stop the ark, I want to get off. Al Gore was Oprah's guest his week, and she sweetly referred to him as our "Noah" of global warming.
Far from Oprahland, on the other planet, matters aren't quite as congenial. Whatever the temperature of the Earth, the temperature of the rhetoric about the temperature of the Earth is rising.
With ever more frequency, we meet the phrase "global warming denier." This is the phrase of choice now applied to scientist or layperson who harbours some hesitation on aspects of global warming, who offers a variant theory of its causation, who questions the mix of causes or the full accuracy of the many "models" on which the projection of global warming effects are built. Ad hominem attacks on "skeptics" -- they are the subsidized minions of "big oil" -- are commonplace.
Global warming deniers. Deniers is the loaded term. How did we get from climate modelling to the Holocaust?
We don't computer-model the Holocaust, and it isn't a theory. It is base and vile to deploy the language of ostracism and vilification, rightly turned against bigots and anti-Semites who do deny the Holocaust, and turn all its horrible condemnatory force toward people who are questioning the rarefied complexities of the pioneer sciences of global warming.
On the outskirts of the debate (at least I hope these are the outskirts), we have this gem of warning for those who "deny" global warming: "When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full, worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards ['the deniers']-- some sort of climate Nuremberg."
The tone is insolent and ignorant, and, alas, the rhetoric is not accidental. It is a taste of the attempt to foreclose debate.
Two U.S. senators, just nodding off into the sleep of reason, recently fired off a letter to Exxon Mobil "requesting" it halt all funding and support to groups or individuals who (in the senators' opinion, mark) "contribute . . . to the global climate denial myth." It goes on with the request that Exxon "repudiate its climate change denial campaign." Britain's Royal Society had earlier, using the same language of "denial," sent out a similar minatory letter.
Slam Exxon all you want, but is it really necessary, or even tasteful, to attempt a grand smear-by-association by invoking the horrific associations of Holocaust denial when trying to slap down an opposing perspective? The discussion of global warming has about it far too much of angry righteousness, the tone of the exasperated evangelist in full fury against those who choose "not to believe." Altogether too much of the condescending vanity and ego of those who know they are saving the Earth.
What is the nature of a scientific debate that places dissenters from some aspects of a theory dealing with a future projection in the rhetorically vicious category of those, who against mountains of records and documentary proof, are "deniers" of the reality of a historical genocide?
The current theory of global warming has a veritable global industry of support and propagation. Its proponents are calling for massive and swift intervention in most of the world's economies, with concomitant political and social implications on a scale that is difficult to imagine.
Before those commitments are made, before the route to a solution is hammered in steel, it is surely the moment for the most diligent and neutral assessment of all the science, and the policy projections flowing from that science. It is emphatically time for the most scrupulous and disinterested inquiry to determine the solid core of what is really known about the subject, separated from the great clouds of speculation, advocacy, geopolitics and calculated alarmism that overhang and shadow that core.
And what is the likely characterization of someone who in the very spirit of science calls for disinterested analysis and scrupulous measurement of what, actually, we really do know? Why, "climate change denier," of course.
I know -- and it doesn't require a science textbook to learn it -- that the first sign of a weak argument is the attempt to shut down any argument. Extreme rhetoric is the front line in the defence of frail logic. I also know there is no science of the future: We may decorate reports with graphs and charts, and conjure pages of the most exquisite and arcane equations, but the very best we can offer on climate a hundred years from now is a series of sophisticated and ever-ramifying probabilities that are themselves subject to a myriad of unforeseeable contingencies.
Who will undertake the difficult task of sifting the real science from the alarmist advocacy, who will draw the boundaries between climate activism and cold analysis, who will present a statement of the case, as close as reason and science today can make it, to what we actually know and can reasonably project on the basis of what we know?
Rex Murphy is a commentator with CBC-TV's The National and host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup.