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Join the informed, opinionated journalists of The Times' editorial staff in lively discussions at our blog Ed Cetera.

October 30, 2009 at 3:28 PM

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Dow and the "Deniers"

Posted by Bruce Ramsey

Dow Constantine, progressive candidate for King County executive, has a political ad that draws a connection between his conservative opponent, Susan Hutchison, and a group that "doesn't believe in global warming." The ad, here

doesn't name the group, but it's the Washington Policy Center, the Seattle-based free-market think tank. And the environmental director of that group, Todd Myers, says the characterization is not true. Indeed, it came from an article in the Seattle Weekly, and the Weekly has corrected it. Myers has asked the Constantine campaign to stop using the ad, and it won't. To support his position as a global warming believer, he cites pieces he's written pieces for the Times opinion pages, here, and here, advocating a carbon tax.

I'm not bringing this up to argue Myers' case for him, though I think he has one. It's election time, and Constantine is running the ads his political advisers figure will help him win. And if the Washington Policy Center is ideologically libeled, well, they don't care much about that.

My interest is in the term, "global warming denier." It is used by progressives to suggest that their opponents are evil, anti-science, probably Creationists and damaged in the head. Rarely do they make it clear what their opponents are denying. Is it the warming? The human causation? Or is it the crisis?

There are a spectrum of positions. Here are some points on the line:

1. The earth warmed a bit from the mid-1970s to about 1998, but it was caused by the sun, and is over. It's nothing to worry about. (The denies any current warming trend.)

2. The earth is in a warming trend. It is mainly because of the sun, meaning that we don't have any control over it. We have to adjust to it, and we can. (This accepts a warming trend but denies human causation.)

3. The earth is in a warming trend mainly becuase of human activity, but it's very slow. We have time to come up with livable, cost-effective ways of slowing it down, and it would be a mistake to lose our heads and go rushing off to commit trillions now. It's a problem, but it needs to be considered along with other problems. Partly we will need to adjust to it. (This accepts both warming and human causation.)

4. The earth is in a warming trend because of human activity, it's a substantial problem, it's getting worse, and we need to do much more. (Same, but more urgency.)

5. The earth is in a warming trend mainly becuse of human activity, and it is a crisis. It could tip any time into uncontrollable warming, and disaster. Stopping it must be humanity's No. 1 priority. (The highest degree of urgency.)

The Washington Policy Center's view, as I understand, is closest to 3. It's not progressive Seattle's position, but it's not denial of warming or of human agency.

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