In yet another incredible interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric Tuesday evening, Sarah Palin tackled a response to Couric’s question as to whether climate change is “man-made.”
In a manner imitable only by Tina Fey, Palin gave this response after Couric pressed the question:
“You know, there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with, with 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’ve seen changes there.”
It was what Palin said next that made me hit replay twice to make sure I heard her correctly:
“But it 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.”
Well, at least the governor of Alaska sees that imperative as her state’s permafrost is melting, glaciers are galloping backward, and polar bears are drowning – though the latter is no motivator for Palin, who opposes listing them as an endangered species so they’ll pose no impediment to accelerating oil and gas development. But to suggest that the cause of the unprecedented heating-up of our planet is irrelevant?
How do we “do something about it,” as Palin suggests, if we don’t understand it? How does she propose to deal with the effects without knowing from whence they’ve come, and whether they may get worse? Just how does one address the impacts of global warming if we can’t acknowledge that human-induced carbon emissions are the major driver of the problem, along with 99% of the world’s reputable scientists studying the issue?
While those scientists would not claim certainty about exactly how much of the earth’s warming is human-caused, nor that they can precisely predict the effects to come, they speak with one voice in asserting a basic law of physics that seems to elude Palin: the Earth’s temperature rises when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap energy from the sun, and the more such gases are pumped into the atmosphere, the greater that heating effect will be.
Jim White, director of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is a paleoclimatologist who does research on ice cores from the earth’s polar regions. The bubbles found in the ice core samples White studies hold molecules of atmosphere from up to one million years ago, placing natural variability into an extended context and revealing that humans’ fossil fuel burning over the past 150 years has raised CO2 levels higher than at any previous moment in that million-year timespan.
How can Palin, who notes that she heads the only state in the Arctic, not have even this most basic understanding of scientific principles and research methods that are explaining –- in frightening specificity — the destabilization of the earth’s climate that is underway and is inevitably going to become more extreme? While the Bush Administration disdains science and seeks to keep it from influencing policy, Palin appears to disregard it altogether.
Maybe it is because she doesn’t avail herself of the news and information sources that would force her to confront the science on climate change that says uh, yes, we have a problem and we do know what’s causing it. In tonight’s interview with Couric, Palin could not name one specific newspaper or magazine she reads regularly, even when Couric asked the question three times. This is the response I often get, ironically, from many journalism undergraduates I teach, but Palin, herself a journalism major, is running for vice president of the United States.
With three opportunities, surely she could have come up with a handful of convincing responses, even if she was posturing: the New York Times? No, too liberal. The Washington Times, then? Wall Street Journal? How about the Anchorage Daily News, or the Juneau Empire when the Alaska legislature is in session? Newsweek, TIME? The Economist? National Review? Maybe The Nation, to keep tabs on the spin those crazy liberals are contriving? Not one title came to Governor Palin’s lips.
I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe she does follow the news –- even as a citizen — at least in her own state. It’s too embarrassing, with Palin on the world stage, to imagine otherwise. But what we are seeing and hearing is a candidate whose anti-intellectualism would appear to trump even Dubya’s – and in spades. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
The meltdown of the economy is very frightening. The meltdown of the poles is, by any long-term measure, even more frightening. And the prospect of a potential U.S. president, which all veeps are, who doesn’t care why that’s happening should up the fear quotient by at least another factor of 10.
Image credit: by Robert A. Rohde, Global Warming Art