Sunday, August 13, 2006

Krugman on Gore film

I think it's worth re-posting this Krugman piece.

May 26, 2006OP-ED COLUMNISTA Test of Our CharacterBy PAUL KRUGMAN
In his new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore suggests that there are three reasons it's hard to getaction on global warming. The first is boiled-frog syndrome: because the effects of greenhouse gases buildup gradually, at any given moment it's easier to do nothing. The second is the perception, nurtured by acareful disinformation campaign, that there's still a lot of uncertainty about whether man-made globalwarming is a serious problem. The third is the belief, again fostered by disinformation, that trying to curbglobal warming would have devastating economic effects.
I'd add a fourth reason, which I'll talk about in a minute. But first, let's notice that Mr. Gore couldn't haveasked for a better illustration of disinformation campaigns than the reaction of energy-industry lobbyistsand right-wing media organizations to his film.
The cover story in the current issue of National Review is titled "Scare of the Century." As evidence thatglobal warming isn't really happening, it offers the fact that some Antarctic ice sheets are getting thicker— a point also emphasized in a TV ad by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is partly financed bylarge oil companies, whose interests it reliably represents.
Curt Davis, a scientist whose work is cited both by the institute and by National Review, has alreadyprotested. "These television ads," he declared in a press release, "are a deliberate effort to confuse andmislead the public about the global warming debate." He points out that an initial increase in thethickness of Antarctica's interior ice sheets is a predicted consequence of a warming planet, so that hisresults actually support global warming rather than refuting it.
Even as the usual suspects describe well-founded concerns about global warming as hysteria, they issuehysterical warnings about the economic consequences of environmentalism. "Al Gore's global warmingmovie: could it destroy the economy?" Fox News asked.
Well, no, it couldn't. There's some dispute among economists over how forcefully we should act to curbgreenhouse gases, but there's broad consensus that even a very strong program to reduce emissions wouldhave only modest effects on economic growth. At worst, G.D.P. growth might be, say, one-tenth or twotenthsof a percentage point lower over the next 20 years. And while some industries would lose jobs,others would gain.
Actually, the right's panicky response to Mr. Gore's film is probably a good thing, because it reveals for allto see the dishonesty and fear-mongering on which the opposition to doing something about climatechange rests.
But "An Inconvenient Truth" isn't just about global warming, of course. It's also about Mr. Gore. And it is,implicitly, a cautionary tale about what's been wrong with our politics.
Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could bedenied the White House? Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him afigure of ridicule misses a key part of the story. Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr.Gore? Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, manyyears before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbersand serious analysis.
And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything butthe issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage (and about which his opponent was clearly both illinformed and dishonest).
I won't join the sudden surge of speculation about whether "An Inconvenient Truth" will make Mr. Gore apresidential contender. But the film does make a powerful case that Mr. Gore is the sort of person whoought to be running the country.
Since 2000, we've seen what happens when people who aren't interested in the facts, who believe whatthey want to believe, sit in the White House. Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq is a mess, New Orleansis a wreck. And, of course, we've done nothing about global warming.
But can the sort of person who would act on global warming get elected? Are we — by which I mean boththe public and the press — ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk aboutcomplicated issues and call for responsible policies? That's a test of national character. I wonder whetherwe'll pass.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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