Everyone who has seen the latest Katie Couric/Sarah Palin interview is focused on the fact that Palin either couldn’t or wouldn’t name a single newspaper or magazine she regularly reads. And while that answer will certainly find its way into some future SNL skit, this exchange on global warming is what caught my attention:
COURIC: Is [global warming] man-made though, in your view?
PALIN: You know there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, these impacts. I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate. Because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen changes there.
First, note Palin’s reference to the world’s “cyclical” weather patterns as a possible explanation for global warming. This is extremely important, because it’s the basic foundation of belief for global warming deniers. So Palin begins answering the question by expressing openness to the idea that global warming “can be,” if not man-made, at least man-influenced. But she then shows her cards by referencing a widely debunked global warming argument that is only embraced by far right skeptics.
No one who believes global warming is man-made would even think to cite normal planetary weather cycles (which can take thousands of years to manifest– think of the last ice age, 20,000 years ago) as the reason why every single year since 1993 has been in the top 20 warmest years on record. There’s no doubt Palin is a global warming denier, and if Couric was paying attention, she would have caught the signs and hopefully pressed the matter further.
But what may be even more disturbing than Palin the global warming denier is the possibility raised by the next part of her answer: Palin the global warming agnostic.
But, um, kind of doesn’t matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about it.
It doesn’t matter what causes global warming? Isn’t solving global warming entirely dependent on knowing what causes it? Palin’s lack of curiousity on every issue outside of caribou hunting is well-documented, but her call to action– “we need to do something about it”– in the face of (what she believes to be) insufficient evidence is mind-boggling.
Imagine someone saying, “It kind of doesn’t matter at this point what causes cancer. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about it.” What? How? Or better yet, “It kind of doesn’t matter at this point who attacked us on 9/11. The point is: it happened; we need to do something about it.” Okay, but without knowing– or caring– who attacked us, how do we secure the homeland? Where do we send our troops?
Likewise, how do you craft global warming policy without a basic, elementary understanding of the cause behind it? How do you balance the myriad of policy options– a carbon tax or higher fuel efficiency standards or stricter regulations overseas or alternative energy development– if you don’t know what it is exactly you’re trying to stop? Maybe the sun is just getting hotter and we need to build a really big umbrella.
No, Governor Palin, it does matter what causes global warming. Just like it matters what caused the current financial crisis, why 40 million Americans are uninsured, how we ended up in Iraq, and what the Bush Doctrine is. You can’t just “do something” without an understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. Otherwise, you end up trying to put out a fire, or a rapidly-warming planet, with gasoline.
UPDATE: Apparently, you don’t need an offhand remark from an interview to know Palin is a global warming denier. I did a little more research and discovered that, as governor of Alaska, Palin fought to remove polar bears from the endangered species list. How and why did she do it?
The Republican Sarah Palin and her officials in the Alaskan state government drew on the work of at least six scientists known to be sceptical about the dangers and causes of global warming, to back efforts to stop polar bears being protected as an endangered species, the Guardian can disclose. Some of the scientists were funded by the oil industry.
In official submissions to the US government’s consultation on the status of the polar bear, Palin and her team referred to at least six scientists who have questioned either the existence of warming as a largely man-made phenomenon or its severity. One paper was partly funded by the US oil company ExxonMobil.
Drill, baby, drill.