Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 2, 2009

WILL'S GLUTTON FOR PUNISHMENT.... Why George Will would choose to return to the issue of global warming is beyond me, but there he goes again.

"Fervently" is how America will henceforth engage in talks on global warming. So said the president's climate change negotiator Sunday in Germany, at a U.N. conference on reducing carbon emissions. This vow was fervently applauded by conferees welcoming the end of what the AP news story called the Bush administration's "eight years of obdurate participation" in climate talks.

Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.

It gets worse from there -- these are just the first two paragraphs -- but let's pause to appreciate how wrong the column is from the start.

The first problem is obvious: "Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming." Wrong. No one's saying that at all. The point is to reduce emissions to prevent global warming from getting worse. Will not only doesn't understand the nature of the crisis, he doesn't even understand the nature of the arguments.

The other problem is with singling out 1998, an unusually hot year. As Jon Chait explained, Will "fails to understand a very basic concept in data that you don't need any particular social science expertise to grasp, which is that trends don't always move in a perfectly straight line. The planet has been getting warmer, and there was an extreme spike in 1998. Both these things can be true."

Will really should just avoid this topic altogether. For that matter, the Post's editors should probably take a closer look at the column when Will submits items like these for publication.

Update: Will's column also questions the efficacy of compact fluorescent lightbulbs. He's wrong about this, too.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Yes, but George got to mock the use of the word "fervently." That was the real point of the column -- in which the skinny bow-tied intellectual earns his macho chops by mocking word use that suggests passion. It's always psychodrama with this guy.

Posted by: tom on April 2, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

George Will, putting the "will" in willfully ignorant.

Posted by: wvng on April 2, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

While couched, it is apparent that The Post editors agree with Mr. Will.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on April 2, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Mocking energy saving light bulbs is always a good time for everyone.

"here has not been a warmer year on record than 1998"

There is also the occasional chain smoker that lives into his nineties, but I don't think that disproves the cigarette-lung cancer connection.

Posted by: palinoscopy on April 2, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Do you think Will actually doesn’t understand this stuff? I am more inclined to think that he knows better, but he is constructing his argument for readers who he thinks won’t know any better. I think he keeps bringing this up to confuse people and citing official sounding sources like the World Meteorological Organization (which I’m sure does not endorse the opinion that global warming isn’t happening) so that people will have that voice in the back of their head that says “it is just a theory.” As long as people are still questioning its existence, he wins. In other words, I think he has no interest in proving or convincing people of anything, his goal is simply to muddy the waters.

Posted by: Mike on April 2, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Will should go up to Alaska and tell the people there, the ones whose thousands of years old livelihoods are disappearing, whose houses are sinking, whose entire coastal villages are being relocated, that Global Warming isn't happening. Wanker.

Posted by: ed on April 2, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Goodness, I hope they pay in him peanuts and give him a pat on the head.

Posted by: Big Jim Slade on April 2, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

1998 was the year we all learned the name of one of our planet's most prolific sources of hot, fetid air: Ken Starr.

Posted by: skimble on April 2, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

that was a funny one, asking the WAPO editors to read something they publish.....

Posted by: chuck dc on April 2, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

One wonders if Mr. Will participated in Rush Limbaugh's anti lights out campaign last week and joined the throngs of proud idiots burning tires and turning on all their lights. Taking his righteous place as a leader among these fools, George just doesn't seem so intellectual anymore.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 2, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I too read Wills column this morning and was not surprised by what appeared there. Some of what he says is accurate that is there are problems with compact fluorescent bulbs but do the problems outweigh the benefits? I do not know and Will offers no guidance in this area. Instead he uses it as an example of how government screws things up.

He also links to a report that he says supports his assertion that 1998 is the warmest year on record and hints that since then tings have gotten cooler. I followed the link skimmed the report and could find no such comment. I found quite the opposite -- the report on balance puts forward with lots of supporting data that temperatures have continued to rise -- Maybe there was spike in one year and the next was marginally cooler but the trend is and continues to be warmer.

It is the lies and misuse of data to cast doubt on scientific consensus that is most disturbing. Unfortunately this is a very successful approach to delaying necessary change from carbon based to renewable and sustainable policies.

For a great book on this topic take a look at Cigarette Century and then compare what the tobacco companies did to how the opponents of moving away from a carbon based energy and life style are acting. Their behavior and comments are remarkably the same. Very scary.

Bob O'Reilly

Posted by: Bob O'Reilly on April 2, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

didn't michelle bachman submit a bill about lightbulbs?

next week is george will going to write a piece demanding her currency legislation be passed?

Posted by: karen marie on April 2, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Paleontologist have been studying global paleoclimate for a long time, so there is a lot of data that the present conditions can be compared to. Conservatives, however, view accelerated global warming in terms of 'weather' records going back to the 19th century, when the truth is that there is data about climate conditions millions of years ago, including data to reconstruct swings between periods of lowest temps and highest temps. In the past, these cycles typically took *thousands* of years, not decades. I came upon this sort of paleoclimate data in graduate school, well before Al Gore or anyone else was talking about accelerated global warming.

Posted by: Varecia on April 2, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Bachmann's bill not only asked for the protection of CFLs, but, to place Dimbulbs of the RepuGlican Party on the Endangered Species List.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 2, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "Why George Will would choose to return to the issue of global warming is beyond me ..."

It's not beyond me. George Will is a bought and paid for liar. He is paid quite a lot of money to lie. All of his Post columns about global warming, dating back to 2004, regurgitate the same ExxonMobil-scripted lies that have been thoroughly and repeatedly and publicly debunked, as George Will well knows. George Will is lying for money. It's really that simple.

Steve Benen wrote: "For that matter, the Post's editors should probably take a closer look at the column when Will submits items like these for publication."

The Post's editors know exactly what Will is doing, and they know exactly what they are doing.

In a time when major print newspapers are struggling to stay in business, while at the same time the fossil fuel industry's campaign of denial and deceit is kicking into overdrive, the Post's editors have obviously decided that it will be good for business to join the Wall Street Journal op-ed section as an aggressive purveyor of fake, phony, scripted, corporate-sponsored denialist lies.

There's no mystery here. Both George Will and the Post editors are lying, for money.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 2, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Will gets confused by any equation more complex than the Identity function.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on April 2, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK
All of his Post columns about global warming, dating back to 2004
Actually, dating back about 20 years. Will has a long record of Will-ful deceit on these (and other) issues.

The Will column distorts on so many levels -- on climate change issues, on energy issues, on manufacturing processes & implications, etc ...

Will really is impressive in how he is able, serially, to insert so much deception in so few words.

Posted by: A Siegel on April 2, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

From the Star Tribune, March 26, '08:

Bachmann, a first-term Republican, is challenging the nation's embrace of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights, saying the government has no business telling consumers what kind of light bulbs they can buy.

"This is an issue of science over fads and fashions," Bachmann said in an interview Tuesday.

"Congress tends to jump on whatever the current buzz is in the 24-hour news cycle, " Bachmann said.

Her bill, the first challenge of its kind, raises safety questions about the small amounts of mercury in fluorescent lights. It also lands her squarely in the middle of the debate over global warming. In recent remarks to a gathering of Sherburne County Republicans -- reported in the West Sherburne Tribune -- Bachmann called any human connection to global warming "voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax."

Bachmann and Will: great minds think alike.

Posted by: PS on April 2, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Domn't worry though, the editors of the Washington Pest believe George Will has a First Amendment right to be serious and stupid (seriously stupid?) and will defend to the death his right to mislead.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 2, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Could you parse that for me, please? Did you perhaps mean "Will's gluttony for punishment"?

Posted by: nonc on April 2, 2009 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Will has never been anything but a partisan hack and liar. He uses more flowery language to make readers think he knows what he's talking about, but he obviously doesn't.
What I would really like, for once, is for someone who does know what they're talking about on these issues to publicly confront him on it, either on This Weak or some other widely-viewed show. Everyone always lets him slide on this stuff and I'm sick of it. Yeah right, I know it'll never happen, but it would be great if it did.
Any respectable newspaper(ha, yeah right, again) wouldn't allow someone who has no expertise whatsoever in science to write numerous columns on global warming or any other scientific issue. You hire someone with the appropriate background.
Will can write about constitutional law--oh wait, he has no legal training either. He can write about baseball, or the WashPo can hire just about anyone else who watches it since that's the extent of Will's expertise.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on April 2, 2009 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Will probably has never shopped for light bulbs, or maybe he doesn't live in an area where electric utilities are rewarded for reducing energy consumption. Otherwise he would know that utilities offer coupons which reduce the retail cost of CFLs, sometimes to 1 cent each. So regardless of any savings in electricity, with the right incentives utilities will promote what they know works.

Nearly all my light bulbs are CFLs, they do burn out faster than advertised, but they also have a warranty. If I hadn't gotten 'em for free and wasn't lazy, I might complain.

However, I probably wouldn't complain in an OpEd using a bunch of generic statistics about certain bulbs burning out quickly.

All engineers know that any manufactured product has an expected lifetime, actually a pretty narrow range. But they also know that defective products usually fail very quickly, so you will have a small cluster of quick failures followed by a bell curve distribution of failures over time.

But Will isn't an engineer, he is an anti-engineer, for to assess an engineered product from an engineering point of view would destroy a good anti-government-regulation column.

Posted by: tomj on April 2, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

So talk of "reversing climate change" by limiting CO2 emissions is evidence of scientific illiteracy ?

You'd better tell these guys.

We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy.

Posted by: Mike K on April 2, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

There are now three-way CFLs and dimming CFLs.

Posted by: bender on April 2, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

But Will isn't an engineer, he is an anti-engineer...

But will is a political pundit, which allows him to speak his mind without actually knowing anything about the subject, trumping whatever so-called "experts" might have to say.

It's possible that Will might have written his dumbest column in 1998, but that doesn't mean that his columns haven't been getting generally dumber overall as time goes on.

Posted by: qwerty on April 2, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

This is the kind of Will-ful (sorry!) obfuscation that reeks of consigliere territory. Will's getting paid, big time. Even Brit Tories have recognized and adopted climate change into their platform. And/or: Republicists are betting the bank on the 30%-ers, on America's unique brand of comfort and convenience based ignorance and stupidity. Doubling down on McMansions and Hummers, even as GM closes that brand ("the goddamn gummint made 'em do it! socialists!") Modern authoritarians really have nothing - nothing - to add to the conversation, do they, except the cable access rantings of Glen Beck?

Take a page from the Stewart playbook and ridicule these f**ks. Will has no right to be enabling global disaster w/o consequence. He's a tool, a sick joke, a chinless chickenshit whose witless garbage endangers humanity.

Posted by: Conrads Ghost on April 2, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK


No, he's not getting punished at all. That he's still published after what is a career of lying about just about anything, is testament to that.

Recall his last article about global warming. There's was a lot of outcry over the inaccuracies in it. But what consequence of that did Mr. Will receive?

He publishes this article.

There's a very good reason for it. Controversy, even if self-induced, generates copy.

The Washington Post knows this. SecularAnimist is right on the money.

The larger question for me becomes ->

How does one motivated in implementing real and positive change - on issues like this and others - function in a dynamic where the debate is largely muddied by this kind of chatter?

Should I simply ignore what people like Mr. Will and the corporate media say? Should I encourage others to do the same. After all, these people and their Right-wing/Conservative movement isn't in power. After all, if they keep repeating the same lies about the same issues over and over again, what is the point of having places like Media Matters repeatedly correct, us on the Left continually upset of the distortions in the media being dropped on the public?

Or, must should those on the Left constantly come up to post our responses to such distortions as a way to clean up debate? My problem with this is that the Left still doesn't have an effective voice in debates over issues like Global Warming, Iraq, Afghanistan, Economic issues, Gun Control, etc. Our voices aren't very loud in the larger medium of the public debate - those voices are muted by the larger corporate media. And even when they are heard, they are often demonized (Krugman called shrill).

My thinking is we should be concentrating our attention towards them and working to ensure that the right solutions to the problems we all face are implemented. Obama has been elected, and the Democratic Party has control over Congress, but what is the point of having power if one doesn't use it for good?

Posted by: MVPOnline on April 2, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

since george is a baseball fan, i'll just add..."three strikes and you're out."

Posted by: dj spellchecka on April 2, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Since Will isn't stupid, in an I.Q. sense, it's possible that his natural skepticism and conservatism are blinding him to what scientists and their allies, the liberals, say. Some of the proposed remedies for global warming have been, economically, unpalatable. It's easy to think that the liberals are reacting to (the supposed) global warming with the same extremism that they have for social problems -- and that scientists are voicing theoretical, not pragmatic, concerns about global warming's effect.

I don't know how deeply religious Will is, but it must be difficult for someone who believes that God watches over God-fearing humans and protects them to accept that their deity would permit global warming to threaten human prosperity, if not human existence itself. In a conflict between religious principles and a theoretical reality, the religious principles will win.


Posted by: Steven R. Stahl on April 2, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Steven R. Stahl wrote: "Since Will isn't stupid, in an I.Q. sense, it's possible that his natural skepticism and conservatism are blinding him to what scientists and their allies, the liberals, say."

If George Will had a "skeptical" bone in his body, he would be "skeptical" of the fake, phony, scripted, ExxonMobil-sponsored, pseudo-scientific talking points with which he fills his columns.

Repeatedly telling the same lies that have already been thoroughly, publicly debunked and exposed as lies is not "skepticism". It is dishonesty. It is deliberate deceit.

Anthropogenic global warming is a scientific fact. It has nothing to do with political ideology. And the fact that so-called "conservatism" has embraced the nonexistence of anthropogenic global warming as an absolute article of faith, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and the overwhelming agreement of the entire world's scientific community that it is both real and dangerous, indicates just what a fake, phony, scripted, focus-group-tested, corporate-sponsored pseudo-ideology "conservatism" in America has become.

"Conservatives" are like puppets on strings. The corporations -- in this case the fossil fuel corporations -- tell their bought-and-paid-for propagandists like George Will and Rush Limbaugh what to say, what inane drivel to brand "conservative", and all the little weak-minded, ignorant, mental slave Ditto-Heads mindlessly embrace it as infallible dogma.

Steven R. Stahl wrote: "Some of the proposed remedies for global warming have been, economically, unpalatable."

In fact, many of the proposed remedies are not nearly as "unpalatable" as they are portrayed to be -- except of course to the fossil fuel corporations who don't want competition from alternative energy sources.

But fine, OK. If any genuine "conservatives" want to propose solutions that are more "palatable" to their ideological preferences, that's fine. But fake "conservatives" who are really nothing but bought-and-paid-for liars for ExxonMobil, who deny the basic scientific facts of global warming, are not in any position to make substantive, honest contributions to the discussion about appropriate mitigation measures for a problem that they pretend doesn't exist.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 2, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Though not nearly as bright as he thinks he is, Will is not a stupid man, so whenever he weighs in on this subject on which he seems to be so badly misinformed and wildly wrong, I have to wonder who is providing him what enormous recompense to do so. He is demonstrated in the past that he will write whatever his masters want him to for the right price, so who are the masters this time and what is the price?

Posted by: mrgumby2u on April 2, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

My theory:

Will knows he's not being fair with the data. There's some Straussianism going on here.

Posted by: JW on April 2, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Will's editors hate George Will. They are watching him make an ass out of himself and saying "it couldn't happen to a more deserving columnist".

He irritates the hell out of anyone not "forced" to appreciate him. Mealey mouthed elitist twit wouldn't recognize "the American people" if they bit him on the ass.

Why would he still be presenting completely false assumptions...ignorance? bias? money? ego? revenge? pressure?...or all of the above. Just makes things up to support a pre conceived conclusion....and then avoids any confrontation on the matter.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 2, 2009 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to know why anyone with a bit of intelligence would listen to George Will?
When I moved in with my sister and her daughter a year ago I changed every lightbulb in the house over to CFLs and put surge protectors in, forcing them to turn them off nightly. The electric bill dropped immediately and has stayed significantly lower every month. Occasionally we will have a bulb burn out sooner than it should, but for the most part all are still working well.
Mr Will probably has no idea how the lightbulbs in his own home last and just pontificates out of ignorance.

Posted by: mishanti on April 2, 2009 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK



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