George Will’s dumb column on “global cooling”

It’s easy to find a bunch of good people out there waiting to tell you exactly how dumb it is. Will wrote on Sunday about how global warming is just another faux danger that liberals are panicking about, and cites the “global cooling” frenzy of the 70’s as

Chart by Nate Silver at

Chart by Nate Silver at

proof that scientists don’t know what they are talking about. Turns out that there was such a theory, but it was not widely accepted, and it eventually lost out the the overwhelming scientific consensus that we’re experiencing global warming, and not cooling. Nate Silver at makes it painfully obvious here (and does a great job of cutting down the column in general). Will goes on to say that


According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979,

Arctic Sea Ice

which is also patently false, according to the very same University of Illinois Arctic Climate Research Center (h/t Daily Kos).


Will, however, does get one thing right: 

On graphs tracking public opinion, two lines are moving in tandem and inversely: The sharply rising line charts public concern about the economy, the plunging line follows concern about the environment. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked which of 20 issues should be the government’s top priorities. Climate change ranked 20th.

It’s easy to see the why; lost jobs, decreased net worth, and overall economic terribleness are certainly more tangible than the fact that the average temperature of the world is a few degrees higher than it was ten years ago. One of the major consequences of the tanking economy is all of those other, important but perhaps not so in-your-face issues are struggling for airtime, public concern, and funding. Climate change is real, and it’s not going to be pretty; we need to start thinking about what we can do to slow it and how we can prepare for its consequences now. Obviously, a good way to get started is with your own consumption, so put somethought into your purchases and try to buy stuff that contributes less to global warming (think local, low-packaging, non-corn reliant). In the meantime, start a blog and make sure that all of your friends know that George Will has no clue what he’s talking about.

Update: Yglesias points to’s Wonk Room, where George Will is outed as having basically plagiarized (or at least completely recycled the idea of) one of his own sloppy columns from 2006. George Will, conservative intellectual.


3 thoughts on “George Will’s dumb column on “global cooling”

  1. nanana_ana says:

    What an interesting post. I hadn’t been aware of any global cooling “scare” (shared only among the fringe, apparently) of the ’70s. The Will article brings up so many reactions for me. First, it’s a fine example of misleading journalism, which is old news, I know, but still, _so_ frustrating. I was dismayed to discover that a threat of global cooling was reported by newspapers and academic journals that I consider credible. It took only 30 seconds of factfinding to figure out the truth, but if I hadn’t spent that time (and who does every time, or even most times?), I would have been left disappointed that one more “failed” prediction had damaged the credibility of the environmental movement. Which brings up my second reaction. I’m sure Will’s column resonates (by design) with many who think the environmental movement has no credibility. And I think they have a point, sadly. For some reason, more often than not, we communicate environmental issues to the public in the form of “raising the alarm”, and we offer apocalyptic predictions all of the time–about the need for clean air and water (otherwise our community will get cancer and die, our children being the first to go) for example, and now, climate change, which is the biggest biggie of all (after floods and hurricanes, droughts and famine, we will kill mother earth). I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a better way. There may not be, because of the inherent nature of the issues we’re talking about–for example, if we don’t mitigate climate change and soon, we may well see apocalyptic consequences. Still, can’t we find some way to convey these kinds of messages that would be more effective, that would make them harder to dismiss? Science-based predictions enjoy more credibility–and with time, Bush’s trashing of the value of science should wear off–so presenting scientific evidence helps. But our knowledge is evolving, of course, so there is a danger of having a marketplace of ideas that is simply too crowded during the “discovery” phase, like what we see in the realm of public health–take this vitamin; never mind, avoid that vitamin; don’t take vitamins at all–where we’re left not knowing what to believe and decide at some point to tune everything out. In the global warming context, this danger might exist with respect to research about the _extent_ of likely melting of the icecaps, and the resulting consequences, though thankfully, it seems like we’ve finally reached a consensus on the fundamental fact that global warming is a real phenomenon. And then, even if you draft an effective “message,” what outlet do you use to convey it? Mainstream media lacking credibility, and all. Sigh. I want desperately to find a way to communicate environmental issues in a way that “non-environmentalists” respect and that influences their decisions. The strategies we’ve employed to date haven’t been able to do that very well.

  2. nanana_ana says:

    PS. Fivethirtyeight is the BOMB. Just one of the stars to come out of the ’08 election! 😉

  3. […] 21, 2009 In the comments, Nanana_Ana writes (I’ve excerpted; check out the full thing as it is very eloquent): I’m sure Will’s column resonates (by design) with many who think the […]

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