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With friends like these: Easterbrook on ‘An Inconvenient Truth’

An Inconvenient TruthGregg Easterbrook offers up a fatuous look at the “moral flaws” of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, laying out a laundry list of quibbles that we’ll undoubtedly be hearing a lot more of in the coming weeks.

What’s interesting is that Easterbrook claims to be glad that a serious-minded movie about global warming will be hitting suburban movie theaters. A former skeptic who now regards the evidence for anthropegenic climate change as persuasive, Easterbrook professes to care quite a bit about the subject.

Of course, not everyone who cares about global warming is required to love An Inconvenient Truth. But the weakness of Easterbrook’s arguments do provide a sad foretaste of what we can expect from critics who don’t care about global warming. Namely, the same bad arguments, with the volume turned up to 11.

Easterbrook starts by recycling a series of lame caricatures of Gore. Gore is boring, professorial, ponderous, insufficiently sexy, etc. He follows up with a series of nitpicks about the science in the movie, essentially accusing Gore of not being boring or professorial enough. He then accuses Gore of indulging in conspiracy theories, because the movie has the temerity to point out that a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute served as chief of staff for Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality. Easterbrook reaches deep into his bag of dismissive stereotypes to label this part of the film “wacky.”

More bizarrely, Easterbrook criticizes the movie for coming to “the right conclusions about the seriousness of global warming,” but then failing to tell moviegoers exactly how to fix the problem. Isn’t launching a massive awareness campaign aimed squarely at mainstream America a pretty good first step? Apparently Easterbrook is still holding out for the after-school special in which Timmy learns that by carpooling to the roller rink, he can help fix a serious issue that affects us all.

But the truly ludicrous stuff comes at the end of the review. First, Easterbrook whips out that hoariest of chestnuts, an accusation of “double standards.” It turns out that Gore and his ilk fly on airplanes and use electricity-sucking laptops in pursuit of their environmental agenda. Quelle horreur! I’m a bit shocked that a Fellow at the Brookings Institute would stoop to such an argument. Look, personal conservation is important, but political activism is far more important. Yes, it would be nice if Laurie David rollerbladed to work, but what does this have to do with the matter at hand? We’re going to be hearing a lot more of this kind of misdirection, and much of it will be flat-out false.

Easterbrook ends with a grand flourish, reminding us that consumption of fossil fuel-based power has contributed enormously to the growth in human welfare over the past century. The true moral failing of the movie, he feels, is that Gore condemns the accumulation of greenhouse gases as “deeply unethical” without sufficiently recognizing just how good fossil fuels have been to us. With this criticism, Easterbrook hopes to inject a note of moral ambiguity into a debate that he views as overly simplistic.

And here he fails. The reason the decisions facing humanity are stark is that the consequences of global warming are stark. We can recognize that fossil fuels have made possible the prosperity of a billion people and simultaneously acknowledge that the next billion are not going to be able to follow the exact same path to wealth. Yes, we may have an ethical obligation to help them find that new path. But Gore is still right. It’s just the have two ethical obligations, rather than one.

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