Denial Isn’t a River in Egypt

I recently read a sobering report on climate change; apparently, the pace of the predicted rise in sea levels is accelerating. The effects will not be uniform–some areas will see a more rapid rise than others. As the introductory paragraphs noted,

polar ice is melting and the seas are rising faster than at any time in at least 2,800 years. The sea level has climbed by up to nine inches since 1880 and by three inches since 1993, according to research published in Nature.

For Americans living near the coasts and wondering how long before their homes are inundated, a new NOAA report — released on the last day of Barack Obama’s administration — offers region-specific predictions to help them prepare.

I was struck by the matter-of-fact tone of the article. The authors were scientists who obviously believed that they were communicating with readers who would respect settled science based upon verifiable fact and evidence.

Fact and evidence are critically important to human survival.

Because distinguishing fantasy from fiction is so important, we cannot afford to ignore Donald Trump’s constant assaults on reality. That point was made–cogently and emphatically–by Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal reporter, in a recent essay for Time Magazine.

You really need to read the entire essay, which is a defense of the importance of objective fact by a conservative journalist.

We honor the central idea of journalism — the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, “that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

And we honor the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with.

Stephens is defending not just reporting, but the importance of credible sources of information in a world where misinformation is a weapon wielded by the unscrupulous.

Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.

His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side.

As Stephens notes, Trump has a habit of defending questionable or clearly false assertions by saying that “lots of people” agree with him.

Now many people also say Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say Barack Obama was born in Kenya. “Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.

For Trump, truth is what you can sell, what you can get away with. For those of us who are astonished by the obvious fact that Donald Trump has gotten away with lying about virtually everything, Stephens has an explanation:

If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

We all know people who prefer to live in their own realities, no matter how divorced from demonstrable fact. Donald Trump appears to be one of them, and the danger that poses for the nation is–or should be– obvious.

The seas are going to rise whether the new EPA Secretary believes in climate change or not. Home-grown terrorists will continue to pose a greater danger than imported ones, despite Trump’s insistence on blaming Muslim refugees. A “wall” won’t stop the significant percentage of undocumented immigrants who fly into the country legally but then overstay their visas. Protectionism isn’t going to save American jobs that are overwhelmingly being lost to automation, not trade.

To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the thing about facts is that they’re true whether you believe them or not. Basing policies on fantasies rather than evidence is a recipe for disaster.

27 thoughts on “Denial Isn’t a River in Egypt

  1. And now Trump is also responsible for anti-vaccine groups increasing their numbers , as he supports the conspiracy theorist, Andrew Wakefield…. “falsehoods continue to be truth” with Trump. And I agree with you – the danger he poses to our country is overwhelming – where does one even begin to put out the fires he has started?

  2. Al Gore’s Academy Award winning documentary movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” showed these changes happening and the consequences of the melting of the ice caps around the world. It provides “before and after” documented changes from around the world. The changes are not only in the areas surrounding the ice caps as has been proven by the relentless encroachment of the oceans on all coastlines.

    “…the pace of the predicted rise in sea levels is accelerating. The effects will not be uniform–some areas will see a more rapid rise than others.”

    This rise in sea levels is also causing other areas, once where rivers and streams flowed, becoming arid wastelands, causing migration of inhabitants due to the inability of the land so sustain life. Yesterday on Facebook, I watched a time-lapse video of these ice caps melting, breaking apart and flowing away to cause the reported rise in ocean levels. The factual information in reports such as written by Brett Stephens are vital; they provide proven results of this escalating phenomena. We do not need to understand the technical information scientists work with and the results they discover regarding Climate Change and Global Warming any more than we need to understand how electricity sent from IPL provides the wattage to turn on the light in our bathrooms…or the surgical procedures that save our lives.

    We do need to heed their warnings of what is happening and what is to come. I am almost 80 years old and I cannot remember a winter here in Indiana as mild as the one we are experiencing at this time. And we are many, many miles from any ocean coastline. Check out the Gary Varvel cartoon in the Star today 🙂

  3. As you say, the seas will continue to rise in spite of Scott Pruitt, but they will rise even more quickly because of him and the destructive actions he will take, for example, by cancelling the clean air rules E.P.A. developed in the last year. That will let coal-burning power plants continue to “carbonize” the atmosphere, and do so at an even greater rate.

  4. Unfortunately many people, including the POTUS, only accept science when it validates their preconceived position. I suspect Donald Trump won’t accept global warming as a real phenomenon until sea water engulfs Mar-a-Lago. Ironically most beachfront property is owned by very wealthy people who have conflicted interests, and their property will be impacted first.

  5. Trump is not the first to publicly use the “lots of people said it” routine. An earlier version was employed by Rush Limbaugh who used such phrases as, “This reported in yesterday’s news” or “In a widely read journal it was reported that…” There was never anyone there to question “what news” or “what journal”. Trump must have been a regular listener.

    The rising oceans present a bigger problem than some future coastal flooding. Storm surge is already a bigger threat than before, daily tides are now inundating many once “safe” areas along the east coast, and the cost to insure coastal property is off the charts.

    As I do not live along the sea my personal concern with global warming and climate change is the radical changes in the weather. As predicted decades ago, the weather we now experience is a constant flow of extremes. From larger numbers of tornadoes year around to massive rainfalls that flood cities and large areas not once in a hundred years, but now every two or three years, that when the area is not experiencing a drought of epic proportions. Again the resulting loss in property and the disruption of lives is massive. One would think that people would “get it” and take action. Alas, the Original Sin of all mankind…laziness that feeds self delusion.

  6. In his application to build a seawall at his golf course in Scotland, 45 cited sea level rise due to global warming as the reason the wall was necessary. While he works to protect himself, he uses the anti-science rhetoric to incite his crowds of well wishers. They believe he is sticking it to us liberal elitists, while he is, in fact, sticking it to them.

    Do any of those Congressmen or Senators who claim not be scientists really believe that what we are experiencing is not affected be what we are doing? I doubt that very much. You may not be entitled to your own facts, but you are entitled to your own hypocricy.

  7. To take a page from Rush, “Lots of people” say that global warming is real, too, and among such groups are scientists who have been monitoring this ongoing phenomenon for many years with measures of polar ice, receding ice caps, air temperatures etc. I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, for 17 years, but left before the real effects of global warming became so obvious. Now I see temperatures there in the 20s (above) in January, something I did not see during my stay there, and I am seeing it every year. I am hearing stories from my old haunt about mother polar bears who leave their cubs on shore while they have to swim as much as 70 miles to find pack ice that used to be near shore for seals to bring back to shore for her and her cubs to eat, and how many mothers drown in search of pack ice, leaving her cubs to starve.

    With such personal experience and reading of others in re ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland that are collapsing, I find it hard to be civil to those who say it isn’t happening, and consider them to be victims of fossil fuel propaganda. This issue (if it can be called one) is different than others since this involves everyone and everything on the planet in our mad rush to entropy. It is not whether Trump is lying or two and two are five; it is about survival and the civil commotion it is sure to bring as more and more people are squeezed into less and less land, a certain recipe for catstrophe. What to do? Vote against any candidate of any party who denies the obvious and keep advocating for survival of the race.

  8. Gerald –

    “What to do?” Yes, vote against anyone who denies the obvious, but perhaps more importantly, we need to face the bugaboo in the closet…. OVER POPULATION.

  9. Ironically, the sea is encroaching on Trump’s golf course in Scotland, and he wants the local government to build a seawall to save it.

  10. I read today’s blog before any comment was posted. Now I’ve read 10. No one has commented on the deliciously hilarious title. Sheila, did you think that up all by yourself? Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.

  11. It shouldn’t be any surprise that Fake President Donald Trump does not believe in global warming. His millionaire buddies may believe in it, but they don’t support it. Tea Party members neither believe in nor support it. Al Gore believes in it, but hardly anybody believes in Al Gore. Democrats believe in it, but have not yet figured out how to get Republicans to recognize the urgency of a bad situation.

    Fake President Donald Trump is inclined to stretch the truth, no matter what the subject matter is. So what we should probably do is come up with a really good lie. Trump will undoubtedly take credit for it.

  12. Those of us who do believe in facts and science can all see what is happening. And there are actually many of us. The protests and demonstrations against Trump/Bannon and Trumplandia are continuing in large numbers such as yesterday’s “Not My President” rallies in many major cities across the Country, and that is somewhat heartening. Effective? Probably not so much, but important still.

    My last hope of at least slowing down some of the worst of the worst of what Bannon/Trump/Pence want to do to this Country, before the 2018 elections by which time untold damage will have been inflicted, is on three or four Republican Senators who still might have a love for their Country, some sense left, and concern for the future of their children and grandchildren. While there are reportedly grumblings from some Republican Senators behind closed doors, only McCain and Jeff Flake to a lesser extent (Go Arizona! Who would have thought it?) seem to have at least publicly criticized Bannon/Trump. But that hasn’t turned into any votes against the agenda.

    Now all I need is an uplifting ending to this post, but I haven’t seen that light at the end of the tunnel yet.

  13. Science and Technology is not some neutral force, the applications can have far reaching consequences like Agent Orange for instance. When you add Corporate Profit into the mixture you have one very big finger on scale.

    It is hard to say if those Republicans in elected office really believe that climate science, evolution, or controls on pollution are phony, or they are just in the pockets of big campaign contributors or Bible Thumping pressure groups.

    The overlay narrative is Government is the Enemy when the Government seeks to control Corporate behavior. Corporatism can and will frame the discussion as Government over reach. This overlay gathers in the social right wing who believe the government’s permission for same sex marriage or keeping religion out of public schools is another over reach.

  14. The cost of neglecting our educational system and the standards of rational discourse have come home to roost. We are responsible for letting this happen when we defer to the ill-conceived ideas of self-interested institutional leaders in all areas of our society. Trump is a symptom of a larger malaise that has infected our culture. We were supposed to be smart enough to keep this sort of thing from happening. We were, but we forgot that we needed to the courage to do it too.

    I think young people will stand up. I’m betting on them. The sage advice of people over 40 hasn’t been very good. We need to find and support young leaders of good character.

  15. In many climate change conversations I end up asking myself, is the opposition dumb or duplicitous, that is the question.
    H
    Dumb to me isn’t at all pejorative as I am as dumb as a box of rocks in many fields. Science just doesn’t happen to be one of them but it’s clear there is also no end to the opportunity for me to learn more.

    Duplicitous however is not something that I suffer gladly.

    In the case of high level public servants there is no excuse for ignorance. The truth is widely available, just ask a science curious high school student.

    So Bannon/Trump/Pence/McConnell/Ryan/Pruitt have all of the resources to govern responsibly but choose not to. Kicking the can down the road is easier, more lucrative in campaign funding from oligarchs, pleases the lowest common denominator voter base, and is defensible (e.g. I’m not a scientist). By the time the tax payers notice the bill for inept governance today the perpetrators will be retired and wealthy.

  16. In many climate change conversations I end up asking myself, is the opposition dumb or duplicitous, that is the question.

    Dumb to me isn’t at all pejorative as I am as dumb as a box of rocks in many fields. Science just doesn’t happen to be one of them but it’s clear there is also no end to the opportunity for me to learn more.

    Duplicitous however is not something that I suffer gladly.

    In the case of high level public servants there is no excuse for ignorance. The truth is widely available, just ask a science curious high school student.

    So Bannon/Trump/Pence/McConnell/Ryan/Pruitt have all of the resources to govern responsibly but choose not to. Kicking the can down the road is easier, more lucrative in campaign funding from oligarchs, pleases the lowest common denominator voter base, and is defensible (e.g. I’m not a scientist). By the time the tax payers notice the bill for inept governance today the perpetrators will be retired and wealthy.

  17. I was out today with my friend from London and she asked me why the US doesn’t have public transportation like they do in Europe. The first thing to pop in my mind was the Oil Cartel. I can’t find any other words to describe it to her except using those two words. Oil Cartel. Seriously folks, China has public transportation through out their country and it’s bigger than the US, why is that? Europe through multiple countries and languages has a rail network the envy of the US. The Oil Cartel has run local state and federal government since the 70s and we’re all pointing at each other instead of where the blame needs to be pointed to. The Cartel of Oil, The Mafia of Oil, the instigators of today’s and tomorrow’s climate disasters.

    Please pray for my Mother. She’s in the hospital (ICU) and I’m very afraid. I leave here in two weeks and going back to Northern Indiana in the next 3 weeks wasn’t in the plan.

  18. Sorry, this sentence should read: Europe through multiple countries and languages (YET) has a rail network the envy of the US.

  19. I think we might be too indoctrinated as a group to do anything about climate change. I don’t listen to daytime radio because I still work, but I have to believe that Limbaugh and Hannity (and others) continue to misinform their listeners who in turn defend those “facts” on a grand scale. This becomes a completely closed system with no room for any information that doesn’t support what the listeners’ “known facts” and spoken by someone they “trust”. The local TV weather forecasters are apparently forbidden from mentioning climate change. It’s a long trip from Limbaugh to something like PBS where they occasionally air a program on climate change supported with a summary of data and facts, and a trip many are not interested in making no matter the consequences.

  20. Thank you JoAnn. My life is like a deja vu sometimes. Family emergencies seems to occur during major changes and it’s just getting weird when it keeps happening. Normal people would lose their minds and I’m like, REALLY? 🙁

  21. If the science really is settled, then, as a practical person, my question is why are we talking about it? I have read that the situation is irreversible within reason.
    First, prohibit new building permits in every national location at less than five feet above mean sea level. That means Sanibel, Marco, Hilton Head, and dozens of resort areas. No fair building them “up”. Who knows how deep the future? New Orleans probably should begin a slow evacuation. Everyone on the coasts should begin to move uphill. Raising flood insurance rates in coastal areas immediately is mandatory to make the pain real. Then, instead of carbon rules, demand the same rules for the coasts of the whole planet! Bangladesh will need lots of help. Maylasia, too. I challenge others to find the flaws in my plan. Second, provide tax credits to all the US property owners affected to hasten their moves uphill. A few billions spread over years will not hurt. Practical, planned, easy, and funded. Who could argue?

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