ROBERT WRIGHT

Crisis, What Crisis?

More history, less hysteria

Climate Models II

Climate skeptics are today walking tall. A new study by ten eminent climate scientists has revealed that IPCC estimates of humanity's remaining "carbon budget" have missed by a mile. What this means is not merely that "this carbon-budget approach" is "immature scientifically," as one expert noted, but that IPCC forecast models are so out of sync with real-world temperature data as to be virtually worthless. As a ground-breaking 2014 study concluded, estimates for climate sensitivity based on actual temperature readings "suggest that considerably less warming and sea level rise is to be expected in the future than the model projections imply."  This all comes as unmitigatedly good news.

On Hypocognition

Brock pop-culture prof Jennifer Good has concluded that the television coverage of last week's hurricanes was insufficiently attentive to the issue of climate change—not because there are any more or less hard data linking the two but because "crisis also provides an opportunity for change—an opportunity to shift our frames and include the ideas we desperately need." Conditioning TV viewers to think of one thing when they see another is an example of "hypocognition," writes Good. She's right, of course. As Goebbels said, “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle."

Canadian Missile Defence

Last week Canada's highest-ranking soldier at NORAD, Lt.-Gen. Pierre St-Amand, confirmed that the U.S. is not bound to defend Canada against an inbound North Korean ICBM. Whether this surprised the Commons defence committee is unclear, but it certainly jolted the Canadian press corps. Left-nationalists in Canada are again on the ropes—not because their old Reagan-era you-can't-hit-a-bullet-with-a-bullet critique is oddly incongruous with Kim Jong-Un's nuclear threats, but because no one knows for certain whether Kim will subscribe to MAD. PM Trudeau remains blasé about continental missile defence—NATO's Article 5 remains in force, after all—but the times they are a-changin'.

Malevolent Mystique

Journalist Catherine McIntyre has opined that the swastika cannot be rehabilitated, and she's right. This is because—to state the obvious—the once-life-affirming hooked cross now symbolizes a political architecture understood by most people as uniquely vile. A spray-painted swastika is a hate crime, a child with a swastika drawn on her hand is removed from her home, a flea market selling Nazi memorabilia makes headlines. Lesser despots and competing totalitarian ideologies are notorious, but the only universalized bête noire is Adolf Hitler. Post-modernism has drained virtually every other once-sacred symbol of meaning, yet the malevolent mystique of Nazi iconography endures.

Trump Alone

It's been a wild week for Donald Trump, for his once-imperturbable voter base, and for Democrats suffering from THUD and/or Hillary Really Won the Election Syndrome. Out of the blue, the president played nice with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on DACA, sent mixed messages about his wall, signed the Charlottesville Resolution, and directed his economic adviser Gary Cohn to host a meeting of the world’s top climate ministers. Prominent conservatives, including James Delingpole and Milo Yiannopoulos, are beside themselves.  Breitbart has nicknamed the president "Amnesty Don." New Republic editor Brian Beutler has proved prescient: Trump's primary loyalty is to himself.

Trump and the Times

When President Trump started complaining about media bias, his critics accused him of being the Gaslighter in Chief and of "trying to confuse the public so that they will not believe inconvenient truths." When conservatives like Dennis Prager claimed that the main existential threat to Western values was not Russia but "left-wing dominated media," he was excoriated—particularly in the New York Times. Yet in August the Times  began actively soliciting submissions from Trump defectors, and last week it extended that invitation to include educators working with DACA students. Two questions arise. To what editorial uses are such testimonials apt to be put? And was Trump correct all along?

Conflicts and Wars

There are no degrees of separation between Prof Niigaan Sinclair, Adrienne Clarkson, and John Ralston Saul.  All three are directors of the citizens' group 6 Degrees, which sponsored Sinclair's op-ed in yesterday's Globe.  Sinclair believes that "European-based nation-states" like Canada are driven by "a delusional sense of racial, cultural, and social uniformity ... that always ends in violence and genocide." He is fed up with the Trudeau Liberals—and with Canadians more generally—for failing "to recognize Indigenous nations for what we are," warning of "conflicts and wars" if the country stays on its current "neoliberal" path. We well know that Saul shares these views.  But where does former Governor General Clarkson stand?

Harvey & Irma

As destructive as hurricanes Harvey and Irma were in the continental U.S., the cost in human lives was astonishingly low—just 85 fatalities, of which only 13 came in Irma's wake. The reason is not simply that Americans got lucky, but that emergency preparedness has improved dramatically since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. “It’s no accident,” says former FEMA official Richard Serino. "We’ve been training people for this for the last 16 years.” Climate radicals and skeptics are already in open warfare over the storms' epistemological significance. But they ought to agree on one thing. If the sine qua non of 21st-first-century climate politics is "mitigation and adaptation," Harvey and Irma will stand as triumphs of the latter.

Confusing the Public

The aim of Christine Todd Whitman's op-ed on climate change this week was ostensibly to affirm that there is a "broad consensus" on the science and a bipartisan consensus on the politics—since she is a Republican and a former head of the E.P.A. Like many critics of the Trump administration, she disparages Scott Pruitt's "red-team" proposal because—as she says twice in the piece—it will only "confuse the public." This is a breathtaking admission from a "public" figure, since it is "the public" that reads the New York Times, the reports of the IPCC, the growing docket of climate lawsuits, and the angry jeremiads of climate doomsayers demanding ever more radical transformations of our societies.

On "Social Media Scheming"

While Donald Trump's critics hunt for smoking-gun evidence of his collusion with the Russians, they are content to condemn the latter for "posing as Americans" and spreading propaganda on Facebook. Communications prof Siva Vaidhyanathan doesn't buy it. The problem is Facebook itself, says he, whose targeted ads are so "affordable and easy" that "armies of volunteers and bots" now routinely use them to undermine democracy. Vaidhyanathan is hoping reform will come from the European parliaments that are challenging Facebook's business practices. It won't happen. Facebook is a for-profit behemoth. Citizens will be immune from its deleterious influence only when they voluntarily abandon the platform.

Self-described Patriotic Canadians

In June, CBC columnist Robyn Urback called Donald Trump "an idiot." Today she has scolded "any self-described patriotic Canadian" with the temerity to speak in defence of his policies—or, indeed, to wear a MAGA hat. "To support Donald Trump's efforts in America is to de facto support endeavours that threaten Canada economically, socially and in terms of national security....  What patriotic Canadian would wear a hat supporting that?" Urback concedes that such deluded knuckle-draggers "don't hate Canada." But plainly they're un-Canadian. For here in the Dominion of the Righteous, where we can always count on our public broadcaster to rally us to clear-eyed patriotism, there can be only one opinion on the matter.

Climate Politics 101

In arguing that "climate change means transforming society," U of T prof Matthew J. Hoffman has done Canadians the service of delineating the political trajectory of the green revolution.  He doesn't want to sound like a campus radical, but his prescriptive advice is patently authoritarian. "Consumers"—by whom Hoffman presumably means citizens—cannot "save us from climate change," given "society's failure to internalize climate awareness." So "government and corporations" must do it. Thankfully, for now at least, citizens of advanced democracies still have a say in whether they want their societies "transformed"—a process that requires informed debate, not passivity or acquiescence.