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The Tempest

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Sterling Burnett, a skeptic who is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, says that even if he's wrong about global warming, mandating cuts in carbon emissions would mean economic disaster for poor countries, and cost jobs in America: "I don't know any politician anywhere who is going to run on a platform of saying, 'I'm

going to put you out of work.'"

The skeptics don't have to win the argument, they just have to stay in the game, keep things stirred up and make sure the politicians don't pass any laws that have dangerous climate change as a premise. They're winning that battle. The Senate had hearings on climate change this spring but has put off action for now. The Bush administration is hoping for some kind of technological solution and won't commit itself to cuts in emissions.

The skeptics have a final trump in the argument: Climate change is actually good. Growing seasons will be longer. Plants like carbon dioxide. Trees devour it. This demonized molecule, CO2, isn't some kind of toxin or contaminant or pollutant -- it's fertilizer.

The Free Market Solution: Zoos

AL GORE IS ABOUT TO COME ON THE BIG SCREEN. Fred Smith is eagerly awaiting the moment. We're at a media

preview of "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary on Gore and global warming (it debuts this week in Washington). Smith is not exactly a Gore groupie. He is the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a factory for global warming skepticism.

CEI has 28 people on staff, "half a platoon," Smith likes to say. They're in the persuasion business, fighting for the free market. They lobby against government regulations of all kinds. Smith writes articles with titles such as "Eco-Socialism: Threat to Liberty Around the World." These promoters of capitalism don't really operate a commercial enterprise; like any think tank, CEI relies on donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. The most generous sponsors of last year's annual dinner at the Capital Hilton were the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Exxon Mobil, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Pfizer. Other contributors included General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council and Arch Coal.

Smith is short, stocky, bearded. He talks extremely fast and sprinkles his remarks with free market jargon, climate change lingo, historical references and various mysterious words that seem to come from a secret conservatives-only code book.

As we wait for the movie to start, I ask him how he would define his political beliefs. "Classical liberal," he says. He explains that civilization is a means for allowing individuals to liberate their energies and their genius -- an emergence from primitive, tribal, collectivist social arrangements. When humans switch from collectivism to private property, he says, "you have greater freedom of ideas." This prompts the thought that the federal government owns way too much land in the West. Much of it should be privatized, he says.

Including national parks? I ask.

"Probably wouldn't touch it for political reasons," he says.

The movie begins: Images of a river. Lush foliage. Gore's voice, almost sultry, rhapsodizes about nature. Then we see him take a stage in an auditorium. He is in a suit and tie and looks very much like a candidate for political office.


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