Against these real-world pressures, NEWSWEEK’s “denial machine” is a peripheral and highly contrived story. NEWSWEEK implied, for example, that ExxonMobil used a think tank to pay academics to criticize global-warming science. Actually, this accusation was long ago discredited, and NEWSWEEK shouldn’t have lent it respectability. (The company says it knew nothing of the global-warming grant, which involved issues of climate modeling. And its 2006 contribution to the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, was small: $240,000 out of a $28 million budget.)
The alleged cabal’s influence does not seem impressive. The mainstream media have generally been unsympathetic; they’ve treated global warming ominously. The first NEWSWEEK cover story in 1988 warned the greenhouse effect. danger: more hot summers ahead. A Time cover in 2006 was more alarmist: be worried, be very worried. Nor does public opinion seem much swayed. Although polls can be found to illustrate almost anything, the longest-running survey questions show a remarkable consistency. In 1989, Gallup found 63 percent of Americans worried “a great deal” or a “fair amount” about global warming; in 2007, 65 percent did.
What to do about global warming is a quandary. Certainly, more research and development. Advances in underground storage of carbon dioxide, battery technology (for plug-in hybrid cars), biomass or nuclear power could alter energy economics. To cut oil imports, I support a higher gasoline tax—$1 to $2 a gallon, introduced gradually—and higher fuel-economy standards for vehicles. These steps would also temper greenhouse-gas emissions. Drilling for more domestic natural gas (a low-emission fuel) would make sense. One test of greenhouse proposals: are they worth doing on other grounds?
But the overriding reality seems almost un-American: we simply don’t have a solution for this problem. As we debate it, journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale—as NEWSWEEK did—in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed as a fool, a crank or an industry stooge. Dissent is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society.
I would like to have seen Samuelson also take on the fact that in the original global warming piece, what was never mentioned in it is that there is a very well-organized “alarmist machine” – a machine that makes millions off of scaring people into thinking the world is going to end if they don’t do something now. That would have given the article the balance it should have had, but didn’t. But I’m not complaining, considering that Samuelson clearly appears to see that Newsweek went way off course in printing the advocacy journalism hit piece on global warming skeptics.
Hat tip: Blue Crab Boulevard