Wednesday, April 3, 2024

#94 / Slap Shot


Two different columns appeared in the February 16, 2024, edition of The New York Times. They were on different topics, completely, but they had something very much in common - at least to my way of thinking. Let me summarize the two columns in the order in which I read them: 

This column, by Dr. Michael E. Mann and attorney Peter J. Fontaine, starts this way:
The climate is warming. Polar ice is melting, glaciers are receding, the chemistry of the ocean is becoming dangerously acidic, sea levels are rising. All of this and more are consequences of the greenhouse gases we continue to emit into the atmosphere, where they trap and radiate heat that would otherwise escape into space. 
Those are facts, not conjectures.

I particularly liked that last line. Mann and Fontaine are making "fact-based" statements, not "political" statements, about global warming. 

The column written by Mann and Fontaine describes how Dr. Mann was accused of research fraud, in connection with his work documenting the rapid rise of Earth's temperature since the early 20th Century. A person who was working as an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute responded to Dr. Mann's research by using the Institute's blog to compare Dr. Mann to a "convicted sex offender."

“Instead of molesting children,” the post read, “[Mann] has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.” Following that attack, "a conservative writer republished parts of that post on a blog hosted by National Review and added that Dr. Mann was “behind the fraudulent climate-change ‘hockey stick’ graph.”

The New York Times' column byMann and Fontaine reported to readers that a jury had recently found those statements to be defamatory. The jury awarded Dr. Mann $1 million in damages. The Times' column suggests that this award of damages may help to stop continuing attacks on climate science and climate scientists, attacks that distort and misrepresent research findings and that make false statements about what climate scientists have said, and about the research they have done.

The jury award is the "Slap Shot" featured in the headline found on that column in The Times.

Trump Is at Odds With NATO — and Reality

Paul Krugman's column, linked above, is on a completely different topic (one of our favorites, right?) - the conduct of our former president, Donald J. Trump. In his column, Krugman discussed Trump's recent statement that he would encourage Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, to attack any NATO nation that has not spent as much on "defense" as it had promised to spend, and that he, as president, would not let the United States come to the aid of any such nation, either. 

Krugman went on to discuss the fact that many of the statements that our former president makes (including statements relating to his plan for NATO) are largely untrue, premised on supposed realities that aren't actually factual. Trump, in other words, frequently bases his statements on what we might call "hallucinations," if we were talking about artificial intelligence. The former president's statements are simply not tethered to "reality."


Both these columns, it seems to me, though dealing with very different areas of public policy, demonstrate how our politics has become, increasingly, divorced from both "truth" and "reality" itself. If we want to survive, we cannot afford to act as though what we would like to believe is ever a proper basis for action.

Former president Trump has demonstrated just how extensively our politics has become infected by people's willingness to act as though what they would like to be true is is actually true. (I "won," says Trump. No "insurrection" on January 6th, either). 

Oil companies, of course, also want to wish reality away, and to pretend that global warming hasn't been caused by the continuing combustion of fossil fuels. But it has, and the continued combustion of hydrocarbon fuels is pushing the environment into a major ecological collapse.

Both Krugman's column, and the column by Mann and Fontaine, tell us how critically important it is that we reformulate our politics! Let's not make our decisions as though there aren't, really, any genuine "realities," at all.

There are objective realities - in both the "World of Nature" and in the "Political World" we most immediately inhabit - and we need to acknowledge them. Global warming can be seen as the way the Natural World is delivering its "slap shot," and is thus providing us some guidance and advice with respect to the realities associated with our continued use of fossil fuels. 

Do we really need the installation of a "dictator for a day" to act as the "Slap Shot" that wakes us up to the need to conform our "politics" to truth and reality, too?

Let's hope not!

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