Right from the beginning, the January 6 episode of CNN's Crossfire sounded like a bad idea. Here's the announcement that aired at the top of the show:
How far below zero does it have to get to cool off the global warming debate?
To make things clearer, the top of the show announcement continued:
This week's historic cold brings out the skeptics. Will it put the climate change debate in the deep freeze?
But while cold weather might "bring out" climate change deniers, it was CNN that decided to put one on Crossfire, creating a familiar–and false– "balance" between those who accept climate science and those who do not.
That "debate" was between Navin Nayak of the League of Conservation Voters and the Heritage Foundation's David Kreutzer.
To his credit, CNN's host from the left, Van Jones, attempted to put the debate in a more appropriate context:
I agree with you that we should have a debate, but we should not be debating whether global warming is real, whether it's caused by humans…. We should be debating what to do about it, not debating whether it's happening.
But that's hard to do when the show was evidently structured to have that very debate, especially when right-wing host Newt Gingrich was busy making erroneous claims about the so-called pause in global warming: "As for the alarmist claim that global temperatures would rise for the foreseeable future, temperatures have flat-lined for the past 16 years." That's misleading, but when the point of a segment is to frame a discussion about climate change around the notion that a cold snap suggests the overwhelming scientific consensus might be wrong, it can hardly be anything else.
At times, Kreutzer attempted to shift the discussion towards a different point–yes, global warming is real, but the scientists can't know that the repercussions will be all that bad. But then he say something like, "They have a zillion models that can explain everything except the lack of warming in the past 15 years." Actually, while scientists do have a pretty good grasp of what causes short-term fluctuations in surface temperatures, the more important point is that the long-term trend remains steadily upward–with the first decade of the 21st century showing the biggest decade-to-decade warming since accurate temperatures have been measured.
Kreutzer also went to some length to claim that sea ice growth challenges the scientific model, though actual scientists would tell you otherwise. The discussion was, at best, muddled–which is exactly what the fossil fuel-funded climate denial movement wants.
But one of the most interesting things about all of this is watching Gingrich play the role of climate denier. Once upon a time–in 2008, to be exact–he was appearing in a TV commercial alongside Democrat Nancy Pelosi, declaring the need to do something to address climate change. A few years later, as a Republican presidential contender, Gingrich wasn't even sure there was such a crisis (Bloomberg, 12/1/11). It's his current job to represent his principles–whatever they might happen to be this year.
In any event, when the inevitable heat waves hit this summer, will Crossfire be doing shows wondering whether it's time to stop listening to climate skeptics?