WaPo’s Dana Milbank’s Epic Climate Change Fail

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has written a shouty piece claiming that “climate-change deniers are in retreat.”

I bring it to your attention for a couple of reasons. First, as a feelgood service to those of you who didn’t attend Ivy League universities: Milbank did—Yale, of all places, where he was a member of the exclusive society Skull and Bones—yet still, here he is thirty years on, turning out dross so risible it could have been produced by a Common-Core-indoctrinated third grader.

Secondly, I mention it because of the light it sheds on the current state of the global warming debate. Basically, the alarmist camp has largely abandoned “the science” (which is proving so stubbornly unhelpful to its cause) in favor of spin, propaganda, and dirty politicking.

Milbank’s article is a particularly ugly, cynical, intellectually threadbare example of this. If he’s doing it just to please the WaPo‘s greenie-liberal fanbase, then he is shameless. But if he’s doing it because he’s not even aware of what he’s doing, then he is brainless.

Let me fisk Milbank’s drivel so that you can appreciate for yourselves just how risibly feeble his line of argument is.

Here’s how he begins:

There is no denying it: Climate-change deniers are in retreat.

What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede.

Fine so far. Punchy start. Now what evidence can he produce to support this bold claim?

Well, first he shows that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been forced to backtrack on its position on man-made global warming. Where before it was openly skeptical, now —according to this WaPo report—it is actually threatening to sue activists who say it doesn’t believe in global warming.

Next, he remembers that someone who now works as a copy editor at the Heartland Institute—Justin Haskins—wrote a blogpost last year for Human Events in which he said:

The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists.

And the third example? (It’s a tradition in journalism that trends come in threes).

Well, Milbank has to flail around a bit here. He quotes an “energy lobbyist” who says “the science issue isn’t as salient as it once was.” (Hmm, not really doing it, is it Dana?). Then, he ventures that a “healthy majority” of Americans “accept that global warming is real” (as do I, as do you, as does everyone, depending on your definition of “global warming”—so no dice there, really, either Dana). Then he shuffles on to a largely irrelevant discourse on where various Republicans stand on global warming. Then, he kind of gives up.

So, the first point I think we can safely make about Milbank’s piece is that it doesn’t really live up to its initial premise. You don’t need to be a cattle rancher to realize that it takes more than three animals to make a “stampede.” And the best Dana can come up with is two, maybe two and a half at a push.

Next, let’s examine his point about ALEC changing its position on man-made global warming. The way he gloats about it, you’d think it represented a glorious victory for truth, justice, commonsense, etc. But when you follow his link to the original Wapo report (see above), you quickly realize that this isn’t a case of wrong-thinking people being forced by sheer weight of evidence into seeing the light. It’s an open and shut case of vicious, concerted left-wing bullying.

ALEC, it seems, felt it had no choice but to alter its official stance on man-made global warming, because so many of its corporate sponsors had capitulated to green activists.

The legal demands from ALEC follow an exodus of some of its best known corporate members, including Google, British Petroleum, Facebook, Yahoo and Northrop Grumman. Activist groups had pressured these corporate sponsors in recent years to abandon their support for organizations that they believe oppose action to stem climate change. Google publicly connected its decision to stop funding ALEC to the climate change issue.

Now in Milbank’s weltanschaaung this may represent a wonderful result. But the only victors here are left-wing bullying and corporate cowardice. If Milbank wants to celebrate this as a triumph, then fine, but I’m not sure it reflects well on either his moral integrity or his credibility as an independent-minded journalist. To me it smacks of the response of an activist, not a reporter.

Then we come to his point about Haskins who—it ought to be pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain—does not, as a copy editor, embody the official viewpoint of the Heartland Institute. And suppose for a moment he did, even then about the worst thing you could say about that particular blogpost is that a few lines are clumsily expressed.

For example, I think it’s misleading to say that on the issue of whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change, the science has been “settled” in “favor of the alarmists.” It’s misleading because those of us on the skeptical side of the argument never claimed otherwise. We have always been happy to acknowledge that there may be some anthropogenic impact on climate, be it the influence of methane from the farts of beef cattle to the Urban Heat Island effect to the (albeit marginal) forcing effects of man-made CO2. To argue otherwise is simply to misrepresent the nature of the debate. So what we’re talking here is a tiny factual error or a rhetorical slip-up. What we’re definitely NOT talking about is what Milbank—with the most appalling disingenuousness or ignorance, take your pick—contrives to pretend it is, viz. a major U-turn by the Heartland Institute.

Look. I don’t want to turn this into an Oxford v. Yale issue. I’m sure some perfectly clever, decent people went to Yale. I know some incredibly dumb people have been through Oxford.

But what I will say as an Oxford graduate to a Yale graduate is that if ever you’d tried producing an essay as threadbare as this effort to the professors who taught me, you, Milbank, would have been totally ripped to shreds.

Your argument doesn’t stand up. It’s a confection of straw men and non-sequiturs. It is not supported by the facts. You have twisted the evidence. You have begun with a promise which you have simply failed to deliver. You, my friend, are what today’s undergraduates would call an “Epic Fail.”


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