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Ben Shapiro recommends that people concerned about climate change should just spend more time inside with air conditioning, but that's not exactly a solution to the underlying problem. He knows this.
Hello, readers. Parker here.
In today’s newsletter, I’m going to talk about climate change, distractions, and the rhetorical tricks of climate change deniers. As a bonus, I put together a playlist to accompany your reading, which you can find here.
Let’s get started.
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Jump in the pool,
Turn on the A/C,
Ride out the heatwave.
Do you remember when
We'd be outside with our friends?
Don't know when that will happen again.
I’ve found it instructive to watch how the discussion of climate change has shifted in conservative circles. For years, many right-wing media personalities denied the existence of climate change, dismissing it as a liberal hoax or an exaggeration. However, in recent years, there's been a noticeable shift in the narrative. The denial has morphed into a resigned acceptance with a new caveat: climate change is real, but there's nothing we can do about it.
Take, for instance, the recent comments by Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire. He acknowledged the reality of rising temperatures but dismissed the idea of taking action. "It's hot outside. You know what I can do about that? Zero things," he said, adding, "Thank God we have this thing called air conditioning. It's awesome. You know what's a great cure for it being super-duper hot outside? Being a first world country."
Golly, Ben. That’s reassuring. Don’t like climate change? Just stay inside! And have air conditioning! See? Easy-peasy! Why didn’t anyone else think of that? Surely, this is nothing a little A/C can’t fix! Well…
There’s the progress we have found,
A way to talk around the problem.
Building towered foresight
Isn’t anything at all
Ben Shapiro rolling his eyes and telling people to just stay where there’s air conditioning is meant to make people go, “But Ben, that’s not an actual solution to this problem.” But see, the problem with the analysis ending there is that you’re conceding that he’s at least suggesting something. You might even be tempted to go, “Ah! So, you admit that climate change is real!” and see that as a step in the right direction. But it’s not. Not really, at least.
See, Shapiro isn’t being serious when he says things about air conditioning, etc. No, no. He’s saying whatever’s convenient for him at a specific moment in time. The words that come out of his mouth aren’t intended to contribute anything to ongoing debates but to redirect the conversation away from something he doesn’t want to talk about.
Depending on the day, depending on the year, you can hear and see Shapiro argue everything from a claim that the debate over human involvement isn’t over (2013), to conspiracy theories about “Climategate,” the non-scandal that climate change denialists clung to (2013); to “LOL” (2014), to climate change isn’t real (2015), to climate change is probably real and sure humans are probably part of the problem but what are we gonna do about it (2017), to claims that he never denied that climate change was happening (2018), to nobody denies climate change but all the solutions are crazy (2020), to… well, you get the idea.
The man doesn’t seem to actually believe anything. He just says whatever fits the argument he’s trying to make. But Shapiro’s not alone in this. He’s just an easy example.
In 2019, (very, very good) YouTuber Hbomberguy (a.k.a. Harris Brewis) released a video called “Climate Denial: A Measured Response.” In it, he explains how climate change denialists use these sorts of tactics to obfuscate the issue. The most well-known part of the video takes place about three minutes in, featuring one of the silliest, wholly unserious arguments you’ll ever see someone make about why climate change is actually no big deal. It’s Shapiro, speaking to a group, brushing off the threats posed by. climate change with the following point:
“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that all water levels around the world rise by, let’s say, five feet over the next 100 years. Say 10 feet over the next 100 years. And it puts all the low-lying areas on the coast underwater. Let’s say all of that happens. You think that people aren’t just going to sell their homes and move?”
The video cuts to Brewis hacking his way through a wall with an ax à la The Shining. “Just one small problem! Sell their houses to who, Ben!? F*cking Aquaman!?” (It’s worth noting that now, in 2023, a number of major insurance companies simply aren’t writing new home insurance policies in the state of Florida because of climate change because the risk of homes being destroyed by natural disasters keeps going up. That’s a crisis.)
Shapiro’s a smart enough guy to know what he said was ridiculous. He knows that what he suggested would be catastrophic, but he’s not actually trying to make an argument, just filibustering until he can move on. He knows that you can say things you don’t really believe, and as long as you don’t take things too far, you can get away with it. So long as people can’t prove that you don’t believe the thing you’re saying, they have to take you at least somewhat seriously.
But later in the video, Brewis gives an example of what happens when someone does take that tactic too far by pointing to Patrick Moore, an environmentalist who was once the president of Greenpeace Canada before pivoting to a more lucrative career of defending corporations and spreading dubious claims about climate change.
In 2015, Moore appeared on French TV station Canal Plus to defend Roundup, the weedkiller, which was getting a lot of bad press at the time over the possible link between glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, and cancer. Moore made the mistake of taking his defense of the chemical to the extreme and was called on it by the interviewer.
“You can drink a whole quart of [Roundup] and it won’t hurt you,” Moore said. The interviewer called his bluff and offered Moore a glass of Roundup to drink. After initially saying he’d be “happy to” drink the glass of Roundup, Moore backtracked and said that he wouldn’t drink it because he’s “not stupid.” After a few moments of trying to dig himself out of the hole he created for himself, Moore ended the interview and walked away.
“This clip makes clearer than anywhere else that beneath the veneer of ‘just being skeptical of the scientists and their agendas’ lie people whose job is not at all related to finding or sharing the truth,” Brewis says.
Your cover-up is caving in
Man is such a fool
Why are we saving him?
Poisoning themselves now
Begging for our help, wow!
Hills burn in California
My turn to ignore ya
Don't say I didn't warn ya
And the thing about climate change is that it’s not just about being hot in the summertime. Yes, with temperatures nearing 120 degrees, people are being hospitalized with burns in Arizona after falling to the ground. Yes, we’re hitting record-high temperatures on a pretty regular basis now. Yes, yes, yes. Obviously. But this isn’t just about heat.
Climate change will challenge us in an extraordinarily wide range of ways (and, in some instances, already is). Virtually everything about the planet and our existence on it is connected. Global temperatures increase, causing ice caps and glaciers to melt, and sea levels to rise. Rising sea levels will cause increased flooding along coastal areas, erosion, and the displacement of people. Ecosystems are being tampered with, which will result in a loss of biodiversity and the extinction of some species. Extreme weather events are becoming more common; it will become warmer in the summer and colder in the winter, and there will be more hurricanes (and they will be more intense). Diseases like malaria will become more common in the U.S. You get the idea.
Everything is tied together. Economy, health, ecology, and more. None of this stuff happens in a bubble, and Shapiro’s attempt to brush off concerns about climate change as simply being something that has a simple fix (air conditioning) is insulting. He and others like to say that humanity will simply adapt and innovate our way out of climate change, yet oppose actual efforts to do just that. The longer serious climate action gets kicked down the road, the greater the cost — both financially and, well, everything else mentioned above — will be. Just as the loss of life, the sickness, and the economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been mitigated by taking action before the pandemic or early in the pandemic, the world instead experienced millions of deaths and an economic cost that will likely exceed $12.5 trillion. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
It makes no difference to me,
How they cried all over overseas.
When it's hot in the poor places tonight,
I'm not going outside.
But yes, to Shapiro’s point, air conditioning is important, and surviving without it will only get more difficult. Yes, Shapiro will be able to keep cool in the air conditioning to hide from extreme heat whenever necessary. I probably will as well. And maybe you, too. That’s great and all, but besides the fact that it’s not just the extreme heat we need to be concerned with, as discussed above, there’s a simple reality: not everyone has A/C, nor will they be able to get it.
Last month, PBS reported that as many as 44 states don’t have air conditioning in all their prisons, and state legislatures aren’t exactly in a rush to appropriate the necessary funding to change that. A Justice Department investigation into the conditions of one Mississippi prison found that temperatures could reach as high as 145 degrees. Incarcerated people have rights, too, and that’s simply not a safe temperature.
But it’s not just prisons, either. Due to the fact that they are some of the least likely to have any kind of air conditioning, low-income neighborhoods are the hardest hit by extreme heat. The Associated Press recently ran a story headlined, “Record heat waves illuminate plight of poorest Americans who suffer without air conditioning.” We’ve known for a very long time that whether or not someone has access to functioning air conditioning is a major factor in determining someone’s risk of heat-related deaths, but little is being done to actually help people who can’t afford an A/C unit, let alone central air. As temperatures continue to rise, we, as a society, need to come to the realization that A/C is not a luxury, but a necessity, something the government needs to address.
Add in the fact that public swimming pools are becoming less common, and it’s just a bad situation all around. To make matters even worse, I’ve noticed a number of conservative commentators preemptively sneering at any talk of increasing the number of public pools, a haven for low-income individuals and families looking to stay cool. Right-wing pundit Erick Erickson mocked the idea as an “entitlement program.”
To the next generation, Merry Christmas,
You're working harder than ever now and the coffee sucks.
You know Colombia and Kenya got too damn hot,
And now you're making do with what you've gotta.
Politicians like to use excuses about saddling future generations with debt to avoid funding necessary projects today. No one ever says that about a tax cut or new defense spending, though. We just magically find ways to pay for that. But improving the material conditions of all Americans? Health care? Climate solutions? Suddenly, we’re just all out of money.
It’s frustrating because it’s such a transparent excuse to not take action. And when it comes to climate change, the longer we delay, the more expensive the cost becomes, the easier it is for pundits and politicians to brush off your requests as unfeasible. If this was actually about not leaving future generations worse off, we’d take action now to ensure a habitable world for all people, now and in the future. But it seems like we’re not going to do that, I guess.
Just so I know I'm not insane,
Ever get the feeling you've been played?
Well, that's rock for sustainable
Capitalism and you know,
We may face a scorched and lifeless earth,
But they're accountable to their shareholders first.
That's how the world works.
Did you know that British Petroleum popularized the term “carbon footprint” as a way to take the heat off of giant energy companies and make climate change seem like an individual problem rather than a structural one? It’s true! Of course, there’s nothing at all wrong with reducing your personal energy use. It’s good to do that, sure. It’s just that fighting climate change requires changes that can’t be done by us all minimizing our “personal carbon footprint.”
Structural problems require structural solutions, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies aren’t going to one day just wake up and say, “Screw the bottom line,” on their own. What I’m saying here is [unintelligible screaming sounds].
I’m not an expert on climate change; I’m just someone who consumes a lot of news and sees how bad actors have been trying to muddy discussions about what action should be taken to create a better world, now and for the future.
Here are some newsletters from a few people who do know what they’re talking about:
That’s it for me today. Thanks for reading. Take care, all!
I put it on Spotify because that seems to be what most people are using. I don’t have a paid Spotify account (I use Apple Music, but it’s not like I’m particularly tied to a streaming service; also, on the topic of music, I recommend actually buying the records of musicians you like, as streaming tends to be… not so financially rewarding). I thought including a playlist could be fun. If I keep including them in newsletters, I’d be happy to put them together on Apple Music or YouTube, if that’s something people want. Let me know if that’s the case in the comments.