Working the refs: Climate Change Edition

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times seems to be a conscientious, intelligent reporter. He has a good blog on environmental issues, and strives to be, well, fair and balanced.

Which is the entire problem.

Revkin has recently announced that there is a group of “environmental centrists” who have tried to take the climate change debate away from the “yelling match between the political and environmental left and the right.”

And who are these quiet centrists? Well, two of them are Newt Gingrich and Bjorn Lomborg.

If you are wondering how it is that these two right-wingers (neither of then particularly quiet) are suddenly reincarnated as centrists, then you are finding out what you need to know about how the right has (in Eric Alterman’s words) been “working the refs” for the last 30 years.

What makes Gingrich a centrist? Well, unlike the vast majority of conservatives, he actually acknowledges that global warming is real and is caused by human beings! Centrists, you see, split the difference between, on the one hand, the overwhelming consensus of internationally-respected scientists and on the other hand, Michael Crichton and ExxonMobil.

And what does Gingrich actually want to do about climate change? Well, nothing apparently. According to Revkin, he opposes both carbon taxes and greenhouse gas caps. But it’s okay, because he wants conservatives to do something called “embrace their inner environmentalist.”

Lomborg, whose book has been debunked so many times by actual scientists, and who plays fast and loose with the evidence (for example, claiming that a study says that climate change is not certain when its several follow-up studies said that it did), hasn’t changed his position at all. Instead, he likes to note that polar bears won’t actually become extinct: instead, notes Revkin “most biologists do see populations shrinking significantly in a melting Arctic.”

Don’t worry: they won’t be extinct. They will just be even more severely endangered as the Arctic melts! No worries!

On the environment, as with so much, the right has staked out an extreme position, and then when it retreats from that position by an iota, the press falls all over it talking about its new “centrism” and wondering why the left is so “shrill.”

Until we can get reporters–especially smart ones like Revkin–to stop this strange tick, the press will not be doing its job.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.