The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.
Question and Answer
News of the Tautological
“U.S. Embassy in Cuba Likely to Operate in Restrictive Environment”–headline, Reuters, May 20
Global Warming Warning
All reasonable Americans – this statement is true by definition – scoffed in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama, having just clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, proclaimed: “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that . . . this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
It’s been only a fraction of a generation, but the president asserted yesterday that he had mischaracterized that moment. “The planet is getting warmer,” he claimed in a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy:
Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have been in the past 15 years. Last year was the planet’s warmest year ever recorded.
Our scientists at NASA just reported that some of the sea ice around Antarctica is breaking up even faster than expected. The world’s glaciers are melting, pouring new water into the ocean. Over the past century, the world sea level rose by about 8 inches. That was in the last century; by the end of this century, it’s projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet.
Yes, the lucky cadets were treated to a presidential lecture on, in Obama’s words, “the urgent need to combat and adapt to climate change.”
The president trotted out and knocked down a partisan straw man: “Now, I know there are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real.” He suggested that departure from “climate change” orthodoxy is unpatriotic: “Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.” He called it “a dereliction of duty.”
He rehearsed the litany of weather disasters supposedly caused by climate change: “more extreme storms,” “deeper droughts and longer wildfires,” flooding of streets in coastal cities. And he went further, blaming global warming for geopolitical problems:
Understand, climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East. So, increasingly, our military and our combatant commands, our services—including the Coast Guard—will need to factor climate change into plans and operations, because you need to be ready.
Even if one assumes all these assertions are true, they do not advance a case for urgent action. As the president acknowledged with that initial disclaimer, the chain of causation is just too weak. Global climate change contributes somehow to local droughts, which contribute somehow to instability, which contributes somehow to the rise of Boko Haram and rebellion in Syria (a rebellion, let us recall, for which the president briefly urged U.S. military support back in 2013). The vagueness of the hypotheses make it impossible to evaluate any proposed climate policy as a remedy for the Nigerian or Syrian conflicts.
The most telling assertion in the president’s speech was meant as a throwaway line. Immediately after setting up his some-folks-back-in-Washington straw man, Obama allowed as how “on a day like today, it’s hard to get too worried about it,” the antecedent being “climate change.” It was a cool spring day in New London, Conn.
Now of course weather isn’t the same thing as climate, as global warmists are quick to point out in fair weather. But that’s true of all weather. It is fallacious to attribute bad weather but not good weather to “climate change,” as if every day was idyllic everywhere on preindustrial Earth.
Similarly, if “climate change” is contributing to war and instability, it must also be contributing to peace and stability. Obama boasts of various foreign-policy achievements, such as the “end of the war” in Iraq and the diplomatic openings to Iran and Cuba. Stipulating for the sake of argument that these are in fact favorable developments, the logic of the president’s Coast Guard speech is that he must share the credit for them with all humans whose activities have contributed to climate change.
But of course he does not. As with the weather, he presents “climate change” as a cause of all manner of bad effects but no good ones. In the geopolitical realm, it is an all-purpose excuse when things go wrong. It is logically little different from saying of a disaster, whether natural or man-made, “It was God’s will.” That statement is true if one accepts the underlying metaphysical theory, and it may provide comfort to those who do. But it is not an empirical explanation. It isn’t science.
Obama’s denunciation of those who persist in “denying” global warmism is especially objectionable in light of his own denialism with regard to Islamic extremism. As we noted last August, the president insisted that the Islamic State, which is among the combatants in the Syrian war, “speaks for no religion. . . . No faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” Presumably he would say the same of Boko Haram (whose name means, roughly, “non-Islamic education violates Islamic law”).
The president’s purpose in denying that the Islamic State is Islamic is not partisan but prudential: Evidently he thinks that denying the obvious makes it easier to work with Muslims who do not share the group’s extreme beliefs and practices. But William Saletan, Slate’s top’s sophist, has adapted the claim into a partisan attack. “ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sounds like a Republican candidate for president,” declares the subheadline of his article. Here’s an example:
[Rick] Santorum, Rudy Giuliani, and other Republicans say ISIS has a scriptural basis for its violence. Two weeks ago Jeb Bush said “part” of the Muslim world was “not a religion of peace.” Baghdadi, too, rejects the religion-of-peace narrative:
“O Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war. Your Prophet (peace be upon him) was dispatched with the sword as a mercy to the creation. He was ordered with war until Allah is worshipped alone. He (peace be upon him) said to the polytheists of his people, ‘I came to you with slaughter.’ . . . He never for a day grew tired of war.”
The religion-of-war narrative, whatever its scholarly merits, serves political interests on both sides. It gives the Republicans red meat for the primaries, and it helps Baghdadi persuade Muslims that they’re commanded by God to support ISIS.
To simplify, Republicans say: The enemy believes X. The enemy says: I believe X. Saletan describes this is a “convergence of Republican rhetoric with jihadist propaganda.” In reality, Republicans are doing no more than accurately describing the enemy’s beliefs. It would be interesting to see Saletan make the case that those beliefs are less important than “climate change” as a cause of conflict.
Back in August, the president also said of the Islamic State that “people like this ultimately fail. They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” He didn’t use the phrase “the wrong side of history,” but the idea was the same, and that is one of his favorite tropes. He also likes to quote Martin Luther King: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Put this together with the Coast Guard speech and the dualism at the heart of contemporary liberalism becomes clear: On the one hand, it believes in “history,” which bends the moral universe toward justice; on the other, in “climate change,” which is caused by mankind and creates all manner of disorder. Isn’t it obvious that these ideas are substitutes for God and original sin?
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