At the moment, I am a solid 40-60 pounds overweight. Until I find a way to slim down, I imagine that diabetes and heart disease likely pose the greatest threats to my life.
My goal is to lose a good deal of weight, so the new greatest threat to my life can be The New York Times. Aside from a handful of thoughtful editorials I come across here and there, reading NYT is so maddening that stress-related ailments probably come in second place to my body mass index as far as lethal dangers go.
I just came across a real whopper, even by NYT’s standards. It focuses on a climate change survey.
The survey being reported on asks participants their opinions and feelings about several social and political issues. One question, which is the lead in the NYT story, is whether partakers worry about climate change “a great deal.” A graph displaying the results shows that the more educated Republicans and Democrats are, the more their answers diverge. 23% of the least educated Republicans say they are worried, while 45% of the least educated Democrats do. On the other end, 50% of highly educated Democrats worry about Climate Change, while only 8% of highly educated Republicans answered in the affirmative. On the low education end, the difference between Democrats and Republicans is 22%. On the high end, it’s 42%, a 20-point divergence.
Far more notable than the results is the fashion in which NYT decides to report them. The article’s headline is “The More Education Republicans Have, the Less They Tend to Believe in Climate Change.” This is incredibly dishonest. The story (educated Republicans’ lack of belief in climate change) is unrelated to the facts (educated Republicans are not terribly worried about climate change).
And it’s not just the headline. The article’s introductory paragraph is a textbook straw man (a gross misrepresentation of an opponent’s point of view). The author notes that the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that the Earth is “experiencing the warmest period in recorded history” and that “humans are the dominant cause” of this. What does the existence and cause of climate change have to do with people’s concerns about it?
The second paragraph, which contains the story’s thesis, reads: “Climate change divides Americans, but in an unlikely way: The more education that Democrats and Republicans have, the more their beliefs in climate change diverge” (the emphasis on diverge is the author’s, not mine). Again, rather than honestly reporting that Republicans and Democrats differ in terms of worry about climate change, the author writes his hallucinations about their beliefs in climate change. And, apparently, the editors didn’t notice or care.
This is the typical false dichotomy that many on the left present when debating (or refusing to debate) climate change and the policies that surround it. They permit two options:
Option A: You believe (1) that climate change is real and manmade, (2) that climate change will result in an inevitable apocalypse, (3) that fossil fuel use must be eliminated quickly to prevent Earth’s destruction, and (4) that international governmental cooperation is the best or only means to accomplish #3.
Option B: You (1) do not believe in science or (2) are greedy and have no concern for Earth, nature, or future generations.
I hope the absurdity here is explicit and needs no explanation. But just in case, here are a few other options at your disposal:
Option C: You believe (1) that climate change is real and manmade, (2) that climate change will cause some serious problems, but is not apocalyptic, (3) that cleaner forms of energy (including nuclear power and natural gas) should be used more regularly for the sake of the environment, and (4) that the free market combined with some governmental subsidies for research and development are the best way to accomplish #3.
Option D: You believe (1) that climate change is real and manmade, (2) that the problems caused by climate change will occur at a slow enough rate that mankind will be able to adapt as they occur, (3) that the benefits of plentiful, reliable, and cheap fossil fuels outweigh the risks they pose to the environment, and (4) that giving governments authority over the climate and energy industry will lead to far more problems than solutions.
Option E: [insert combination of Options A, B, C, D, and additional opinions here]
There are innumerable valid, intellectually honest, and ethically sound opinions one can have about climate policy from both sides of the discussion. Only those who are afraid to defend their positions are reduced to straw man arguments.
False dichotomy and straw man are not the only argumentative fallacies that pollute the topic of climate change. Ad hominem is everywhere too.
The New York Times article does not mention compassion or greed, but the comments section beneath the article on NYT’s Facebook page does. Here are the top two comments:
“Correction: The more education Republicans have, the more they’re willing to lie for short term economic gain. If there were a test that could measure selfishness, you could sort people into Republican and Democrat with 99% accuracy.”
“Maybe better educated Republicans are wealthier and more likely to invest in energy or other companies that would have to spend money to address carbon emissions and the like. So they are more likely to be in denial of climate change since they believe it would affect their pocketbook”
When Option A individuals discuss climate change and are confronted with opposing views, a last resort is often to point to poor communities living in coastal areas (such as fishing villages) that they say are at greater risk to be affected by rising tides and other effects of climate change. This is an appeal to compassion intended to persuade one’s opponent into changing their position out of concern for others.
Aside from the unproven claim that these people will be affected by climate change, and aside from the implicit presumption that they will be unable to adapt to environmental changes, this is a dishonest point too. No one is consistently willing to change their ways or sacrifice their livelihood to save people.
Hypotheticals are not always the most intellectually valid modes of explanation, but I’ll use one for argument’s sake:
Let’s say that 97% of scientists agreed that if homosexual intercourse were banned, deaths via the AIDS virus would decrease by 99%. Would the same people who are willing to upend the energy and industrial sectors of the global economy to save a few fishing villages be willing to ban gay sex to put an end to AIDS?
My guess would be “no.”
Those whose position on climate change is in line with Options B, C, D, and E must not fall for emotion-based arguments. You may be called a shill for the oil companies, a greedy pig, a corporate bootlicker, and far worse for standing your ground. But the pursuit of Veritas, peace, freedom, and prosperity is worth the hatred you’ll encounter along the way. Besides, slander and polemic aren’t half as dangerous as obesity.
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