First, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. And then I checked the date at the top of the screen to make sure I hadn’t stumbled across a leftover April Fool’s joke.
But the date read “July 15, 2010”. And the headline of the National Post’s lead opinion piece still read forthrightly:
Bad science: Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause
The piece itself, by longtime Post columnist Jonathan Kay, is as forthright an excoriation of “climate-change deniers” (his term) as I’ve read anywhere. And, unlike previous (and very occasional) token AGW commentators, Kay is a National Post insider, who happens to be comment pages editor. Indeed, there are intriguing indications that the Post’s treatment of the climate change issue may be undergoing a shift, although it’s too early to say how far it will go.
Kay’s astonishing piece points to the recent PNAS study by Anderegg et al as support for the proposition that a “tiny 2-3% sliver of fringe opinion” has somehow been “reinvented as a perpetually ‘growing’ share of the scientific community”. Ironically (and it would be interesting to know if Kay is even aware of this), identification of “dissenters” in that fringe was based on signature lists attached to widely circulated “skeptic” open letters, many of which National Post financial editor Terence Corcoran played a key role in disseminating.
And to be sure, Kay stops short of repudiating the past decade of Post “denial” of anthropogenic climate change. But he does describe the propositions of certain unnamed colleagues as “nonsense”. That includes claims that scientific support for the skeptic position is growing (that turns out to Corcoran), and that “the church of global warming’s Galileo moment” is fast approaching (Rex Murphy, back when he was opining for the Globe and Mail).
And while Kay is careful to say “skeptic” science does not in itself demonstrate an anti-science, discredited conspiracy theory, the “paranoid” hoaxers do:
This describes, more or less, how radicalized warming deniers treat the subject of their obsession: They see global warming as a Luddite plot hatched by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Al Gore to destroy industrial society …
In support of this paranoid approach, the denialists typically will rely on stray bits of discordant information — an incorrect reference in a UN report, a suspicious-seeming “climategate” email, some hypocrisy or other from a bien-pensant NGO type — to argue that the whole theory is an intellectual house of cards.
Kay puts much of the blame for this squarely on the “science” blogs like WattsUpWithThat and ClimateAudit (again without naming names):
In part, blame for all this lies with the Internet, whose blog-from-the-hip ethos has convinced legions of pundits that their view on highly technical matters counts as much as peer-reviewed scientific literature.
The rest, according to Kay, is ideological and cultural bias:
… [T]oo many of us treat science as subjective — something we customize to reduce cognitive dissonance between what we think and how we live.
Never mind that those blogs and Post climate commentators are in nothing less than a symbiotic relationship. And it’s true that Kay stops short of pointing a finger the hidden interests that promote these views. Indeed, the Post has a lot to answer for, and this column is only a small step in the right direction.
But it is noteworthy that a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Post editor can speak out in and conclude the obvious:
Rants and slogans may help conservatives deal with the emotional problem of cognitive dissonance. But they aren’t the building blocks of a serious ideological movement. And the impulse toward denialism must be fought if conservatism is to prosper in a century when environmental issues will assume an ever greater profile on this increasingly hot, parched, crowded planet. Otherwise, the movement will come to be defined — and discredited — by its noisiest cranks and conspiracists.
And the timing is interesting, to say the least. Could it be that these sentiments are shared by the Post’s new owners, who took over only a few days ago?
Yes, new CEO Paul Godfrey was head of the National Post before the recent takeover of the troubled CanWest nespaper chain by the Godfrey-led alliance of debtholders. And, yes, the new ownership has rebranded the CanWest newspaper chain as PostMedia, a clear indication that the National Post will continue on, or even be enhanced, in its role as the flagship of Canada’s largest daily newspaper company.
But maybe, just maybe, it will no longer be business as usual for Terence Corcoran and his merry band of what a prominent editor the Post itself has now forthrightly called “climate-change deniers”.