August 31, 2009

Climate Security, Continued

I highly recommend Geoffrey Dabelko's op-ed on the use and abuse of the concept of climate security. His first recommendation is particularly worth reading:
Don't oversell the link between climate change and violent conflict or terrorism. Climate change is expected to exacerbate conditions that can contribute to intra-state conflict, serving as a so-called "threat multiplier." But characterizing climate change as producing a new type of conflict is both wrong and counterproductive. For example, simply labeling the genocide in Darfur a "climate war" ignores political and economic motivations for the fighting--and unintentionally could let the criminal regime in Khartoum off the hook.
This reminds me of an excellent paper a while back that argued that we need to flip around our thinking of the causality of climate change: Instead of saying, "Climate change will lead to x," we should say, "y is happening, and the impacts of climate change could induce y to become x." That way of thinking makes climate change more comprehensible to people in various areas of expertise, and will help make adapting to climate change, to the extent that we need to do so, an easier task.

The fourth recommendation is also illuminating:
Don't forget that climate mitigation efforts can introduce social conflict. Since confronting climate change can have unanticipated consequences, mitigation efforts must be "conflict-proofed" to avoid unwittingly creating new inequities and instigating new conflict. For example, demand for biofuels has increased the use of U.S. agricultural land for "growing energy." But it has also helped spur rising food prices and, subsequently, riots in Mexico. On the other side of the world, accelerated deforestation in Indonesia for palm oil plantations has fueled social conflict over forest resources by exacerbating existing tensions between companies and local people.
I would probably also include any potential carbon trade wars in that framework.

August 28, 2009

Climate Security

I've often joked that in Washington, if you attach the word "security" to anything, it automatically becomes important. Thus we have our climate change and energy bills given names like the Energy Independence and Security Act or the American Clean Energy and Security Act. But in fact, framing the climate crisis as a security issue is both substantively grounded and appears to have some promise as a way to persuade fence-sitters in Congress on climate legislation, as this NYT editorial argues.

In one sense, this should be intuitive: If you subject the earth's climate to unprecedented levels of stress, the results (e.g., drought, flooding, infectious disease) will be bad for governments around the world, and especially bad for governments that are weak, unstable, or corrupt, and thus ill-equipped to handle these problems. For example, on top of all the other problems Pakistan is facing, it's also dealing with a growing water crisis -- one that will likely intensify as the glaciers in the Himalayas disappear. Even stable governments could fall apart if the scale of the calamity is big enough: If the ocean rises over the dikes of the Netherlands, the country could go from a modern industrialized democracy to a failed state in the blink of an eye.

The main point of contention, I think, has less to do with the strength of the link between climate change and national security, and more with defining what constitutes "national security," regardless of what connection it has to climate change. We just lived through an era in which the term was defined almost exclusively in terms of what could be accomplished in terms of men with guns and bombs, and needless to say, it was a disaster.* Even if we define national security in broader terms, however -- promoting stable governance, respect for human rights, etc. -- we must still recognize that for all of our wealth, we're not omnipotent: if there's one thing we've learned since 9/11, it's that we have much less leverage over other countries, even very poor countries, than we think we do. There seems to be very little the US can do about failed states like Somalia or repressive states like Burma, short of armed force -- which, as I just mentioned, often creates more problems than it solves.

Why focus on this? Because I think this points to the need to have the question of "climate security" embedded in the larger ethical framework that has grown up around climate change (e.g., that old standby, common but differentiated responsibility). It's well established, at least for many, that the developed world should take primary responsibility for dealing with the effects of climate change, especially in the developing world. Usually this means some kind of technology transfer or financial assistance, but I think it also should mean helping governments in vulnerable parts of the world become more resilient in the face of climate-related upheavals. This is where the recommendations in Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion, for example, could be useful. And of course, it also means the developed countries should make reducing carbon emissions a top priority.

* The Obama administration is turning this mindset around, of course, yet it still persists: The Obama policy on Afghanistan, for example, seems to emphasize putting more troops on the ground, but not on defining realistic, achievable goals for what can accomplished in terms of a US occupation. See Matt Yglesias for more on this.

August 21, 2009

Friday Video

The Dirty Projectors -- "Stillness Is the Move":

The counterpoint to Beyoncé's video for "Single Ladies", perhaps? If "Single Ladies" had a llama, and a spinning guitarist, and a pack of Huskies, I mean?

I'm ready to nominate Bitte Orca for album of the year already, by the way.

Morality and Public Life

Matt Yglesias, reflecting on the state of political discourse today, laments the "cynicism and immorality" in the Washington political elite:
For example, Senators who genuinely do believe that carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to a global climate crisis seem to think nothing of nevertheless taking actions that endanger the welfare of billions of people on the grounds that acting otherwise would be politically problematic in their state. In other words, they don’t want to do the right thing because their self-interest points them toward doing something bad. But it’s impossible to imagine these same Senators stabbing a homeless person in a dark DC alley to steal his shoes. And what’s more, the entire political class would be (rightly!) shocked and appalled by the specter of a Senator murdering someone for personal gain. Yet it’s actually taken for granted that “my selfish desires dictate that I do x” constitutes a legitimate reason to do the wrong thing on important legislation.
Part of this, I think, is due to a defect in human nature: It's well-known, for example, that while people can instinctively grasp that, say, pushing someone in front on a runaway trolley is wrong, they become less certain if asked to divert a runaway trolley in order to save five people, though it would mean killing another person. In other words, once you take moral considerations out of the realm of the immediate and visceral, it becomes easier to weasel your way of commitments that you would otherwise honor. Yes, you could argue, I understand that carbon emissions lead to global warming and thus to increased suffering for much of the human race; but I'm not alone in contributing to the problem (look at China!); and I can only do so much to fix the problem; and I must look after the interests of people actually existing now, not potential future people; etc. One reason why I think Hurricane Katrina was a turning point in how Americans think about global warming was that it drove the point home for many that global warming is not an abstract issue, but something that threatens our way of life.*

Matt's other point, about the rather petty nature of most politicians' self-interest, is a harder nut to crack. I'm inclined to believe that the job of politician (as opposed to the jobs of activist, advocate, wonk, etc.) tends not to attract people with idealistic personalities -- the kind who set out to accomplish something and get in the history books. That is, to be an effective politician -- the kind who wins elections -- you need to be, first and foremost, a good salesman. If you happen to have an earnest belief in the ability of government to make people's lives better, that's well and good; but it's not a requirement. I don't know if that's a good explanation, but my sense is that the notion that people enter politics out of a desire for making lasting change is off the mark in many cases.

* Standard disclaimer: No, Katrina was not "caused" by global warming, but global warming does create circumstances in which Katrina-like storms become more prevalent.

August 20, 2009

Top Chef 6.1: First Thoughts

The contestants I'm most impressed with so far are Jennifer Carroll, Kevin, and the Voltaggio brothers. Obviously, with Bryan running Volt in Frederick, Maryland, I'm rooting for him, but I rather like Michael's inventiveness and imagination. Tasked with creating a dish inspired by one of his vices, he decides to make a rack of lamb (wink), marinated with the juice of two coconuts (wink wink). Cheeky, but an example of good culinary thinking.

Kevin won the first elimination challenge, of course, and he seems to really know what he's doing. Likewise with Jennifer Carroll, who won the first Quickfire challenge: When she said she's made boys cry in the kitchen, I was in love.

Michael Isabella seems like he could be the next Marcel: Knowledgeable, but an ass.

Jennifer Zavala's decision to use seitan in a dish was probably her downfall; as Spencer Ackerman points out, it's eaten out of necessity, rarely for pleasure.

Potential dark horses: Hector, Eli, Mattin, and Ron.

All in all, this could be a pretty good season.

August 19, 2009

Emissions Trading: A Frankenstein's Monster?

Aw, would you listen to the gibberish they've got you saying, it's sad and alarming! You were designed to alert schoolchildren about snow days and such.

-- Professor Frink, The Simpsons
So some of the economists who invented the concept of pollution emissions trading, including Thomas Crocker and the late John Dales, were profiled in the WSJ recently as being against the use of emissions trading to fight climate change. Such an event has an obvious man-bites-dog element to it, but it's worth noting that the specific objections that these éminences grises have to using cap-and-trade for climate change are rather pedestrian: According to the article, they argue that 1) cap-and-trade was designed to handle local pollutants like sulfur dioxide, not global pollutants like carbon dioxide and methane; and 2) uncertainty about the costs of climate change make it hard to determine a cap on emissions, and changing the size of the cap to comport with new data would be difficult. Instead, Crocker and David Montgomery, another progenitor of emissions trading, recommend using a carbon tax.

On both of these, I'm with John Whitehead: The problems with actually existing cap-and-trade programs -- which is what Crocker, et al are describing -- would likely prevail with actually existing carbon tax programs. In fact, I would go further and say that the thing we need most is not this or that mechanism for reducing carbon emissions, but institutions capable to recognizing the threat posed by climate change and acting decisively on it. The rules of the US Senate arguably matter as much as the particular structure of a US cap-and-trade system that it would consider. Internationally, negotiations on climate change reflect the state of international institutions as a whole: Often efforts to act on global issues devolve into acrimony between the developed and the developing countries -- or between the US and everyone else -- and to the extent consensus is reached, there is no internationally recognized authority to enforce agreements.

This is why the negotiations in Congress over health care reform have been so depressing: Despite a clear need for change in how we finance health care, and a majority in both chambers in general support of a plan to do that, legislation is still being held hostage by the whims of Max Baucus and the now-routine use of the filibuster. And yet, the system does at times work swiftly -- if you're an investment bank or an agribusiness giant. If you can't get health insurance, or you live in a poor country at risk of climate change-induced drought or flooding, not so much.

August 18, 2009

Thoughts on The Hurt Locker

I saw the movie a little over a week ago, and I still have it rolling around in my head. Spoilers to follow.


One thing about this movie that unsettled me was watching characters who were members of my generation in a war zone. Of course, I know a good number of people who have served or are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the movie reminded me that these wars, like Vietnam was for the Baby Boomers, will be an enduring feature of my generation, in ways we haven't yet acknowledged.

I disagree with this assessment from n+1, which asserts that The Hurt Locker is a pro-war film. Certainly the focus on the men of Bravo company excludes all other perspectives, and to the extent that we do see other perspectives, they aren't presented sympathetically: The Ralph Fiennes-led band of contractors suck Bravo company in a shooting match, the touchy-feely colonel doesn't know what to do when out on patrol, home life for Staff Sgt. James is drudgery, etc. But I would hazard that the tone of the movie, in its own way, exemplifies what the Iraq War has become: With the original case for war having evaporated by the time they're deployed, the men of Bravo company struggle to carry out their mission, with no goal higher than getting out of there -- or in Staff Sgt. James' case, the thrill of defusing bombs. The Hurt Locker is pro-war in the sense that it doesn't portray war as utter futility; but then, I think any attempt to tell a true war story (in Tim O'Brien's sense) could be labeled as pro-war, even as it refuses to sentimentalize about it. O'Brien himself put it best:
A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done.

In a true war story, if there's a moral at all, it's like the thread that makes the cloth. You can't tease it out. You can't extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there's nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe "Oh." True war stories do not generalize. They do not indulge in abstraction or analysis.
I will be very disappointed if The Hurt Locker doesn't get a slew of Oscar nominations -- at the least, for Best Actor and Best Director. Jeremy Renner is excellent as displaying all the contradictions in Staff Sgt. James' character; and Kathryn Bigelow does an extremely good job at creating a near-constant state of tension, even when nothing's happening. I expected to come out of the theater with my senses assaulted by war violence; instead I came out with only a weird sense of dread. In a way, that was more disturbing.

August 16, 2009

Thoughts on The Time Traveler's Wife

I liked the time traveling part more than the romance part. Spoilers to follow.


Time travel is a good tool for meditating on the nature of fate in science fiction, much in the same way prophecy was used in classical literature: The paradox of Henry and Clare's relationship is that you can't determine whether it began when Clare first approaches Henry in the library, saying she's known him all her life; or whether it began when Henry first visited Clare as a little girl, having already married Clare in the future. Stated as an intellectual puzzle, it's fascinating (I liked this article on the physics of The Time Traveler's Wife, for example), but to make it into a great story, you need, as always, good characters. Unfortunately, Henry and Clare in the movie come off as rather dull and not fully-formed. I understand, however, that the book presents them in much richer detail.

August 12, 2009

Life After People

Gregory Clark's column on the future of unemployment seems to have gone over like a lead balloon; both left and right have given it a good pummeling. To recap: Clark argues that continuing technological progress, particularly in computers, will make the unskilled portion of the labor force unemployable. As he puts it:
So, how do we operate a society in which a large share of the population is socially needy but economically redundant? There is only one answer. You tax the winners -- those with the still uniquely human skills, and those owning the capital and land -- to provide for the losers.
Now, there's certainly a kernel of truth to this: As Mike Konczal notes, the long-term unemployment rate is at an all-time high, and the trend seems to point to the continued disappearance of unskilled workers from the work force. But Clark seems to have closed off any possibility of our society adjusting to technological progress in the way that every generation since the onset of the Industrial Revolution has adjusted: Some jobs disappear, but new ones are created, and people train to fill those jobs. The process by which this happened, to be sure, was messy and often unjust, but one can't deny that each generation since the onset of the Industrial Revolution adapted in this manner; and that, outside of major financial crises, the developed world has not been afflicted with a large underclass of the permanently unemployed.

Induction, however, is a dangerous thing, and it's all too facile to say that the computer revolution (including the Internet, AI, and robots) won't be any more disruptive than previous technological breakthroughs. What can we say about Clark's argument that doesn't dismiss it as neo-Luddism? I find myself borrowing liberally from both Reihan Salam and Ryan Avent for my thoughts on this. Salam, echoing Will Wilkinson and Tim Worstall, points out that economic incentives for low-income households can affect enormously how technological progress impacts their livelihoods -- though I think that government tax and welfare policies have mattered less than automation and globalization have, in terms of mass unemployment among the unskilled.* I like Salam's idea of wage subsidies, so that jobs for the unskilled that pay less than what can be lived on can still be taken; still, he is right to note that financial remedies may not do much about the social disruptions that would take place in the wake of mass automation.

Avent, for his part, says that the dystopia of a robot-run society with billions of superfluous people is likely not even feasible, either physically or economically. That point is important: how our energy policy plays out over the next few decades will be a big determinant of how technological progress will affect low-skilled labor. I can see a world in which oil is over $200/bbl severely hampering the supply chain for computers and robots, along with everything else. Not that that would be insurmountable -- domestic manufacturing, including for robots, could well revive in that environment -- but paying attention to resource constraints is always important when talking about the future.** Too often, we get utopian happy talk that blithely assumes physical abundance will always be with us and that technology will overcome any scarcity issues. In other words, that man-made capital is substitutable for natural capital, rather than being complementary.

Avent also notes that Clark's focus on unskilled labor is bizarre given that computerization is likely to hurt the highly educated as much as, if not more than, the less educated. I'm currently reading A Farewell to Alms (albeit at a glacial pace), and it seems to be a theme of his that social change is the product of social, or even genetic, behavioral traits. The Industrial Revolution happened because Europe, England in particular, was populated with descendants of the rich, not the poor, and thus had the traits needed to build an industrial civilization. So the ability of institutions to improve the lot of the poor is fairly limited: Either you have the social environment for economic growth, something that develops slowly over long periods of time, if at all; or you don't. That may or may not be the case (I'm skeptical, to say the least), but transposing that analysis onto the present day economy, where workers of all backgrounds are in danger of being made redundant, seems to have caused Clark's argument to go astray.

* This points to an ambiguity in Clark's op-ed: Is he talking about just American workers or the world as a whole? The wage differential between the average American worker and the average Chinese worker, say, is pretty large, and I suspect it would take a while for even robots to surpass the Chinese in that respect.

** Of course, if we become less reliant on fossil fuels, unskilled labor may yet have a chance -- let's not forget the green jobs debate. Yet again, automation could make even that moot.

UPDATE: Also read Tom Lee's thoughts on the subject. For myself, if the robot revolution leads to a Star Trek-style socialist utopia, I think I could get on board.

August 10, 2009

Pain in a Bottle

Spencer Ackerman gets acquainted with slivovitz:
I’ve never tasted a brandy before, but I’d be surprised if all brandies are as cloying or as rubbing-alcohol powerful as this. Every glug caused pain. Not since I was a juvenile delinquent drinking King Cobra with members of my band can I recall being this affected by a drink. This morning I saw that under the influence of Slivovitz I blogged something that I cannot recall writing.
That's about the size of it. I got a bottle of Rudolf Jelínek (a slivovitz from the Czech Republic) for Christmas last year, and I can attest that it's the kind of drink that will grab you by the collar and slap you around for a while. In fact, all the liquors in the rakia family (of which slivovitz is one) have that "cloying," "rubbing-alcohol" quality to it. What I haven't been able to figure out is what makes rakia different from other brandies, which generally aren't as harsh on the palate. Most brandy is distilled from grapes, which is not the case with rakia, but there are many fruit brandies, e.g., calvados, that are comparatively smooth. I know that grappa, which has a harsh rakia-type taste, is distilled from all the bits of the grape left over from winemaking; perhaps rakia distillation uses a similar process?

August 7, 2009

Friday Video

Neko Case -- "People Got a Lot of Nerve":

The Case for "Vardarska Makedonija"

I missed this Foreign Policy article on the Macedonian name dispute, but it's a good read. Among other things, it argues that Macedonia (or the FYROM, more specifically) should adopt a name that won't be a source of international tension:
Imagine how Californians would feel if Baja California wanted to be called simply "California"? Or how Swedes would react if Norway changed its name to "Scandinavia"? The U.N.'s designated mediator has floated various possible names for FYROM, and Greece has recently indicated it would accept "The Republic of Northern Macedonia." But such a solution implies there is a "Southern Macedonia" in Greece inhabited by the same people, as in North and South Korea. But this is not the case linguistically or ethnically. A more sensible solution would be "Vardarska Makedonija," named for the river that flows through the region, which respects the dignity and identity of Greece's northern neighbor but also distinguishes it from the northern Greek province.
It would be one thing if it were just the name that was in dispute between Macedonia and Greece. But if it's true that the Macedonian government is appropriating Hellenistic history and imagery as its own, and claiming that the Macedonian region of Greece has some connection to the country of Macedonia other than the name*, then I think the UN and the US (which unilaterally recognized the "Republic of Macedonia" in exchange for the country entering the Iraq War -- thanks again, Bush Administration!) need to persuade the Macedonians to soften their stance on this issue.

Also check out the response to this article from the Macedonian ambassador to the US.

* Ethnically, Macedonians are closer to Serbs and other Slavs than they are to Greeks. While there is a large Slavic-speaking community in the northern Greek province of Macedonia, they identify themselves as Greek rather than Macedonian. For more, this Wikipedia article on the Macedonian ethnic group is worth reading.

How a Fact Becomes a Myth

Because I can't leave this issue alone, check out this post by Brendan Nyhan detailing the similarities between the Birthers and the advocates against health care reform. Notice, if you will, how the standard climate denier arguments also fit this pattern:
1. Take a complicated issue that people don't understand (e.g. presidential citizenship reqirements and Hawaiian birth records or the complex health care reform bills pending in Congress).
2. Advance a disturbing hypothesis about the issue that will appeal to your side of the aisle (e.g. Obama isn't a legitimate president; the health bill will take away your freedom).
3. Misconstrue available evidence to construct arguments supporting your point.
4. Promote these myths widely. If you are successful enough in doing so, the media will feel obligated to report on them. Coverage will then frequently be presented in an artificially balanced "he said," "she said" format, giving further credence to your claims.
5. When your arguments are debunked, claim that the media is trying to silence you to prevent the truth from being revealed.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until various elites (e.g. John Boehner on health, Lou Dobbs on Obama's birth certificate) start claiming you have raised legitimate questions about the issue of interest.
Most recently we've seen this pattern with the right quoting the cost of the Waxman-Markey bill as being several thousand dollars a year for the average family, even though most studies, including the ones cited by the GOP, say that the costs will be far more modest, or even negative.

August 6, 2009

Simple and Complex

Upon rereading it, my post from yesterday is a bit of a muddle. If you're looking for a clearer discussion of the use and abuse of science in the climate debate, check out Cheryl Rofer:
The climate deniers, like Will, feel that if they find one incorrect measurement, one incorrect calculation, the entirety of global warming is disproved. A public who have learned that oversimplified vision of science is inclined to take such things seriously. But it’s not that simple.
Quite so. Anyone familiar with research methods, either in the social or the physical sciences, knows how popular discussions of matters with lots of technical details can devolve rapidly:

At the same time, we shouldn't let the complexities of scientific discussion get in the way of our responsibilities as citizens to act on threats to the environment using the best knowledge we have available. In other words, the weak version of the precautionary principle applies. In truth, the evidence for global warming is convincing enough that arguing against doing something, even if we don't know precisely what the policy should be, is grossly irresponsible. And arguing that convincing evidence for global warming isn't there at all is downright insane.

August 5, 2009

Symbolic Belief and Climate Change

David Roberts asks a pertinent question: How can we can have a debate over what to do about climate change when most conservatives don't think climate change is even a problem? He writes:
You might think this would make for short debates. Conservatives could collectively sign on to a one-line op-ed:

"We do not believe in anthropogenic climate change, thus we do not support legislation to address it."

Period. Done. Right? But that doesn’t happen. Instead you get peculiarities like [Sarah] Palin, droning on for 700 words about how the legislation is flawed because it doesn’t promote domestic fossil fuel without once mentioning carbon emissions or climate change. You get [George] Will analyzing the challenges of international climate negotiations and then mentioning, almost casually, at the end of his piece, "by the way, climate change isn’t real."


There will never be a policy proposal sensible enough to gain support from people who do not acknowledge the problem the proposal is meant to address. You’d think that fact would merit notice!
It's not uncommon for people (pundits, anyway) to make political arguments for disingenuous reasons. For years, Republicans advocated that tax cuts, especially for the rich, would actually increase government revenue -- a funny thing to claim, given the GOP's reputation as the party of less government. But directly calling for cutting government spending, much of which is popular, is a political non-starter, so Republicans resorted to off-kilter arguments like the Laffer Curve to advance their agenda.

In a similar vein, I think Julian Sanchez's recent post on the Birther phenomenon illustrates that there's a sort of instrumental value to certain political beliefs -- including, and perhaps especially, those that aren't grounded in fact. A large number of Republicans seem to have embraced a nonsensical belief about Barack Obama, but the number of people who embrace it deeply enough to actually do something about it (e.g., Orly Taitz) is likely very few. Mostly (or so Sanchez thinks) it's a way to express their displeasure at Obama being President. Believing the worst about one's political opponents is an age-old tradition -- I've succumbed to it myself -- and conspiracy theories like Birtherism are hallmarks of that tradition.

What does this have to do with climate change and climate change deniers? Well, let me put it this way. I'm not a climate scientist, but like most people, I accept the scientific consensus on climate change. I accept it in the same way I accept that relativity and quantum mechanics best explain the physical universe and that evolution best explains the diversity of life on earth: I'm conversant in the theories, but I'm not an expert in the way that, say, the authors of RealClimate are. To the extent that I can speak knowledgeably about climate change and what to do about it, it's because I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.

Now it could be that the IPCC (and NASA, and NOAA, and the National Academy of Sciences, etc.) are wrong, and the earth isn't warming. And it could also be true that relativity is wrong, and quantum mechanics is wrong, and evolution is wrong too. But the evidence that we have for all those things is quite strong, to the point where they don't really have competitors, in the way that the particle and wave theories of light competed from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Similarly, in the case of climate change, the debate among scientists is no longer whether it's happening, but about the range of possible effects:

If you're a conservative, who believes that government can do no right, and you're presented with the information about climate change, a problem which transcends the ability of the private sector to address it, you can do one of two things. You can either agree with it, but argue that responding to it doesn't entail the kind of government intervention that liberals are calling for -- this is what Jim Manzi and others have done. Or, like George Will, Sarah Palin, and countless more, you can cherry-pick for contrary evidence, speculate about a conspiracy to suppress dissenting voices, or just ignore the issue altogether.

So why has there been so much more of the latter than the former? To loop this back to where I started, I think a lot of conservatives' opinions on global warming are essentially symbolic beliefs, adopted largely because they are positioning themselves in opposition to liberals. Consider, for example, the Pew survey from last year, which found that Republican support for the proposition that the earth is warming declined by 13 percent from 2007 to 2008 (Democratic and independent support also fell, but by insignificant amounts). Given that this happened when Democrats regained control of Congress and made a first attempt at passing global warming legislation, I would venture that the shift in opinion among Republicans didn't have much to do with a reappraisal of the science.

Of course, I could be wrong about all this: Is my belief that the earth is warming a dispassionate read of the evidence, or a way for me to fulfill my earnest liberal desire to meddle in people's lives? I don't think so, obviously, and I appealed to my belief in other aspects of science as a way to justify my layman's opinion on the subject. And by no means am I saying that my opinions on climate change policy are above reproach, or that conservative's opinions on the same are as without merit as the Birthers. In short, I'm saying (rather badly) that the persistence of climate change deniers among conservatives should be seen as a sort of marker of political identity. That that political identity is so relentlessly anti-science, and that it has such a hold on a major political party, is rather disturbing.