Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Battle of the Journalist-Pundits

It's Gregg Easterbrook vs. Thomas Friedman, in a clash between two of the most prominent journalists-turned-"experts." Friedman is, of course, the most famous globalization cheerleader in the world, and in his new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America, he takes on energy policy, climate change, and globalization (again). Easterbrook is a prolific pundit, most often described as a science and/or climate change expert, despite the fact that he has no background in science whatsoever. Friedman's, shall we say, "un-nuanced" view of globalization is somewhat obnoxious, and I fully expect his views on energy policy to be obnoxious and over-the-top too (I haven't read his new book yet, although I've read his column semi-regularly for several years). But Easterbrook's review of Hot, Flat, and Crowded is bone-crushingly stupid. Easterbrook just doesn't know what he's talking about on any of the issues. At all. The most brazenly dishonest/uninformed part of his review is when he asserts:

Wind-turbine application went nowhere in the 1970s and 1980s when federally subsidized; actual use has come since the 1990s, when the government bowed out and the private sector took over.
It's simply not true that the government has "bowed out" of wind-turbines. In a delicious bit or irony, an article in this month's Atlantic Monthly—for which Easterbrook is a contributing editor—reports:
Twenty-eight states have set ambitious mandates for renewable energy, with wind power shouldering most of the load... . Those requirements, along with a generous federal subsidy (20 percent of wind energy’s costs), have fostered a turbine-building frenzy.
No Easterbrook article would be complete without condescendingly tut-tutting those who recognized global warming before he did, I guess for having the gall to disagree with Noted Climatologist Gregg Easterbrook and then be proven right:
Artificial climate change is real; even skeptics now call the danger scientifically proven. But Friedman, Al Gore, James Hansen of NASA, and others present climate change as some kind of super-ultra emergency. Global warming is a problem, one that must be managed via greenhouse-gas restrictions and a weaning away from fossil fuels.
First of all, note how Easterbrook links to his own op-ed, as if the turning-point in the climate change debate occurred when a journalist with no scientific expertise of any kind finally admitted that man-made climate change is real. Being a responsible policy expert, and not one of those hippie-alarmists, Easterbrook proposes "a weaning away from fossil fuels" to deal with climate change. Umm, you mean, exactly what Friedman has been proposing for years? I was under the impression that the whole point of Hot, Flat, and Crowded was to push the U.S. government to help develop clean energy sources so that we can "wean away from fossil fuels." At one point, Easterbrook thinks he has identified a basic flaw in Friedman's argument, posing this incredibly smug rhetorical question:
[I]f resource trends and climate change are driven by rising population and rising affluence, which of these, precisely, do you propose to ban?
As I said, I haven't read Friedman's new book yet, but I've read enough of his columns that I'm quite sure he's not proposing to ban any of these. He's long pushed for the U.S. government to aggressively support the development of clean alternative energy sources, which Friedman believes would allow rising population, rising affluence, and ultimately energy consumption to continue apace (even if he wishes population growth would slow down), while at the same time mitigating the harmful effects of climate change. It's your basic "technology and innovation will solve all problems by facilitating a shift to clean energy sources" argument. Perhaps most revealing is how Easterbrook takes time to attack a familiar cast of strawmen: "the cocktail-party circuit," "corporate and Hollywood elites," etc. When an author tries to make himself look good by comparing his arguments to the oh-so-imprudent arguments of fictitious opponents, it's a pretty good sign that the author is full of shit. Slate should be embarrassed that it continues to publish articles by someone as chronically wrong as Gregg Easterbrook.



Accurate news is so important.

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