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Sunday, December 17, 2006

"On a swift boat to a warmer world" or, abusing the Word.

Daniel Schrag, a climate scientist from Harvard, gives some insight in today's Boston Globe into the cravenness of the ideologues running Washington the last two years:
Yet I am an optimist because I believe we can fix the climate change problem. We can deploy the technologies to meet our energy needs while slashing carbon emissions: plug-in hybrids, windmills, carbon sequestration for coal plants, and even nuclear power. We have responded to larger challenges in the past, such as when FDR appropriated most of the nation's industrial capacity to build ships, tanks, and airplanes for World War II.

Unfortunately, I am a little less optimistic today than I was a couple of weeks ago, before testifying at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It was Senator James Inhofe's last hearing as chair of the committee, and the focus was on media coverage of global warming. I was invited by the Democratic staff to counter arguments that global warming is a hoax perpetrated on the American people by scientists like me.

... I watched in horror as Inhofe's witnesses spouted outrageous claims intended to deceive and distort. Two were scientists associated with industry-funded think tanks. They described global warming as a "mass delusion" among the scientific community, sowing confusion by misrepresenting the ice core data that connects carbon dioxide and temperature over glacial cycles, and claiming that "global warming stopped in 1998" -- an anomalously warm year. They even recommended burning as much fossil fuel as possible to prevent another ice age.

Unfortunately, the format does not allow for direct debate. Some senators defended the integrity of the scientific community, including Barbara Boxer, who will become chair of the committee in January. But amid the collegiality and decorum that is the tradition in the Senate, no one stood up and called this hearing what it was: a gathering of liars and charlatans, sponsored by those industries who want to protect their profits.

Later that day, Inhofe issued a press release that specifically highlighted my testimony, claiming that I "agreed" with him that the Kyoto Protocol "would have almost no impact on the climate even if all the nations fully complied." In fact, I had interrupted him during the hearing to object to this claim, reminding him that Kyoto was only conceived as a first step, and never as a long-term solution.

Was Schrag surprised by this? You might hope that he would be, and perhaps he was at the time; but as he next describes, he won't be surprised by it anymore.

I later learned that Inhofe's communications director, Marc Morano, was a key figure in publicizing the swift boat veterans' attack on John Kerry in 2004. Morano, it seems, is still up to his old tricks, twisting the facts to support his boss's outrageous claims. This made my visit complete: a glimpse at our government that sees the world only through glasses tinted by special interests, which treats science as a political football, no matter what is at stake.

So...Inhofe, who seems to like to take the Bible seriously, appears to have forgotten that pesky little commandment about "bearing false witness." Or is it okay to employ and rely on someone like Marc Morano, whose reputation is built on flouting that commandment? As long as one isn't committing the sin oneself (as for whether Inhofe is or isn't, we can save that question for later), it's okay to benefit from someone who clearly is?

Or maybe not all commandments are created equally to these folks who claim to want this country run as a "Christian nation." Hmmm. (Something tells me my readers, all three of them, will be spitting "duh!" at their monitors when they read that. 's ok.)

This question of "bearing false witness", and why that commandment seems to mean so little to so many on the right who profess to be "God-fearing Christians" or even "born again", has been bugging me for some time now. In the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, "right speech" (which goes way beyond simply not lying), is the first of the behavioral prescriptions for ethical conduct. The concept of honoring the power of speech is also described first in the popular book of "Toltec wisdom", The Four Agreements: "Be Impeccable with your Word". It seems like a concept that cultures all over the world have come to recognize: words are so powerful that they must be considered sacred and to use them inappropriately is immoral. So why is it that the moralizing "right" in this country so blithely abuses the power of the word?

I wonder what the response might be from those I refer to above. My own feeling is that it is simply because they are neither "moral" nor "right", and they never intended any relationship between themselves and those concepts, except as sheep's clothing to gain the trust of those they would manipulate.

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