Just when you think the corporate media is getting beyond the idea of a climate change "debate," and that journalists are finally going to acknowledge the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet, the idea that "both sides" must be heard comes around again.
Are the paralyzing storms in the East, the drought in the West, creating new urgency to take on climate change? I'm going to speak to two people on opposite sides of the issue. Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
The debate rolled out just as one would have expected. Gregory kicked off by saying, accurately enough, that "in the scientific community, this is not really a debate about whether climate change is real." Which is an odd thing to say right before a debate that, well, sort of suggested that this was up for debate.
Nye was there to represent the scientific consensus on climate change. Blackburn, meanwhile, was there to try to suggest there wasn't one:
I think that Bill would probably agree with this, neither he nor I are a climate scientist. He is an engineer and actor. I am a member of Congress. And what we have to do is look at the information that we get from climate scientists. As you said, there is not agreement around the fact of exactly what is causing this.
She went on:
BLACKBURN: Well, I think that what you have to do is look at what that warming is. And when you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million 0.032, to 0.040, 400 parts per million, what you do is realize it’s very slight. Now, there is not consensus and you can look at the latest IPCC Report and look at Doctor Lindzen from MIT. His rejection of that, or Judith Curry, who recently…
BLACKBURN: …from Georgia Tech. There is not consensus there.
And then, once more: "What we have to look at is the fact that you don't make good laws, sustainable laws, when you're making them on hypotheses or theories or unproven sciences."
If Gregory doesn't think there's any point in debating the science of climate change, why did he host a debate on it? It's puzzling. But then again, so was the reaction from NBC journalist Chuck Todd later on in the show, who tried to lay down a middle-of-the-road approach:
TODD: There are a lot of people that say okay, let’s not debate who's right, man-made or is it just nature that's happening. The fact of the matter, it's happening. And I wonder if there's too much–you know, I know some environmentalists are frustrated with that portion of the debate. But maybe you steer away from it and say, it doesn't matter. We have to tackle this infrastructure problem. You got to build different higher seawalls in some places. We’re going to have to figure out a different way to distribute water in California. The fact of the matter–and the federal government is going to have to pay for this.
TODD: And pay for all these things. And so I wonder if everybody should say, you know what? Let's table this debate. We know what's happening. Table that part of the debate, because when you do that, then it becomes this like clubbing each other with–with–with political argument that takes away from what we have to do.
This is a great example of the problem with corporate media centrism. The debate over "who's right" about climate change annoys people like Todd because it is objectively true that some are more right than others. And one major political party is more frequently aligned with those who deny climate change's existence or the need to do something about it.
So it's not a debate that can be "tabled," nor is it a distraction from "what we have to do." Sea level will continue to rise as the planet warms, and governments will necessarily spend trillions of dollars dealing with the consequences. But whether we're looking at a 35-centimeter rise (about 14 inches) by the end of the century or more like 124 centimeters (close to four feet) depends in large part on whether we face the reality that human-caused changes to the atmosphere are catastrophically altering the climate. Chuck Todd wants us to stop talking about our responsibility for the disaster we're creating–and focus instead on who's going to pay for the damages.