A Case of Intellectual Bankruptcy

It pains me to say this about a fellow alum of my high school, but George Will has apparently reached the point of intellectual insolvency.   A case in point: his recent Washington Post op. ed. about climate change.

Will begins by setting up a straw man.  He slams climate advocates like Obama for supposedly basing their claims on Hurricane Sandy and the unusual hot weather of 2012, and  he then implies they’re idiots for using U.S. events as evidence of global change. If that were the only evidence of climate change, in the U.S. or elsewhere, he’d be absolutely right that it’s flimsy. But of course that’s at most a sliver of the evidence.  Here are the facts, courtesy of EPA.

First, what about the U.S.A.?  Here’s what we know about the trends:

Since 1901, the average surface temperature across the contiguous 48 states has risen an average rate of 0.13°F per decade (1.3°F per century) . . . Average temperatures have risen more quickly since the late 1970s (0.31 to 0.45°F per decade). Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the contiguous 48 states have occurred since 1990.

This graph provides the answer at the global level:

Our high school had a very strong math program, so Will really ought to know how to read a graph.

Besides denying the evidence for climate change, Will also claims that EPA’s regulations will do nothing about climate change and will only keep businesses from hiring.  His evidence linking climate policy and unemployment is just the fact that the fossil fuel industries employ workers — ignoring the potential for the same people to get jobs in other sectors.  He asserts that EPA regulation will do nothing to affect climate change. Will fails to  supply any arguments or evidence whatsoever in support of that conclusion.

Rather than providing intellectual support for his conclusions about climate change, Will veers off to take a slap at Obamacare. He then makes the screamingly obvious point that a lot more people would have jobs if the employment rate were the same as it was in 2000.  Having apparently failed to notice the financial collapse that took place before Obama took office, Will blames much of the the unemployment on regulatory burdens and on what he calls “subsidies for not working” such as food stamps — apparently, he’d rather the unemployed be faced with starvation as an incentive to find jobs.

The bottom line, he says, is that Obama’s position on climate change and other parts of his agenda will help spark a conservative revival.  Maybe so, but for that to happen, conservatives will need more intellectual firepower than Will seems to have left in his arsenal.


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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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