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Posted at 04:12 PM ET, 08/17/2011

Rick Perry, global warming and those durn scientists


Feels pretty cool to me! (Charles Dharapak - ASSOCIATED PRESS)
I’m glad Rick Perry is here to tell us these things.

Global warming, or climate change, it seems, is a hoax propagated by malignant scientists.

Rick Perry will have none of it. It’s, he said Wednesday in New Hampshire, “a scientific theory that has not been proven.” In his book, Fed Up! he called it “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”

On Wednesday, his statement was a bit softer. “Yes, our climate has changed. It has been changing ever since the Earth was formed. But I do not buy into a group of scientists who have, in some cases, have been found to be manipulating data.”

It’s a conspiracy, just like penicillin and the vaccines for polio and HPV (too soon?). Whenever scientists get together, Perry seems to feel, you can tell that they are up to no good. They tend not to reemerge until they’ve made a nuclear bomb or electrocuted a boxed cat or come up with special relativity. What was wrong with regular relativity? That sounds dangerously postmodern.

There’s logic and proof, sure, but then there’s the feeling you get in your gut, and that is what counts. Science won’t keep you warm at night, except the small area of science that is responsible for your central heating system.

No, they’re just colluding to deceive us into thinking this might be our fault.

I understand the temptation to view anything that has resulted in Al Gore‘s receiving a Nobel prize as a conspiracy of some sort. It’s only logical — he is probably the only person ever to receive a Nobel prize for talking about the weather — but the facts just don’t line up. The facts contumaciously persist in asserting that, whether we like it or not, climate change is happening. Science says so. Scientists say so. Data say so.

Bears often wander down from the ice floes and say so. Perry probably missed this because he was too busy shooting them on sight.

Birds say so. Bees say so. Even educated fleas say so, unless they are running in a Republican flea primary.

I find it incredible that Mitt Romney is figuratively being pilloried for saying that global warming exists and might be man-made, or at least man-contributed-to, like an office birthday gift. “It was the volcanoes’ idea,” we say, “but we helped a bit after the Industrial Revolution.”

There is a reasonable debate to be had about climate change. But the debate is not about whether or not the climate is different, unless you enjoy arguing with facts. I have always found it a somewhat unrewarding pursuit.

What’s funny about climate change is how it reverses the usual roles of heresy and orthodoxy.

Heresy is whatever doesn’t make it into the textbook. This is true across genres — in religion (“The Gospel of Thomas seemed perfectly legitimate to me”) — and in science (“I liked alchemy.”) Traditionally, heretics tend to be on the side of science, suggesting timidly, “E pur si muove,” when the authorities insisted that they were pretty sure the Earth was standing still. But in the climate change debate, the roles are swapped. Suddenly, scientists have to defend the orthodoxy (it’s been in the textbook for years!), and that makes them nervous and irritable. “I thought we agreed after the Enlightenment that there was no arguing with facts,” they say, firing off round after round of ill-advised e-mails.

Nonsense! The Enlightenment, or, as Perry likes to call it, the “Sneaky Time,” is something we are now running away from as fast as possible.

It turns out to be as difficult to get people to start believing in a fact as it is to get them to stop believing in a belief. And that’s where global warming is now. What can you do? You can yell louder, but you can’t amplify the data. It’s become a moral battle. It’s why Perry can be applauded for saying a thing like this — just one more article of faith, a sort of sacred disbelief.

And it’s absurd. It is not that the Earth has not changed temperature. Why may be in question, and what to do about it as a planet. (“We don’t call it American warming,” as Mitt Romney helpfully points out. Then again, maybe Perry would be more inclined to believe in it if we did.)

The political debate has also heated up in recent years, and we can’t seem to agree on reasons for that either. But it’ll still be true, no matter what Rick Perry says. E pur riscalda, or something.

The FactChecker on Perry’s climate change claims

More from PostOpinions:

Dionne: Romney, Perry and the GOP’s summer of discontent

Stromberg: Perry’s politics of suspicion and accusation

Rubin: Perry’s vacillation on the HPV vaccine

By  |  04:12 PM ET, 08/17/2011

Tags:  Rick Perry, science, Mitt Romney

 
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