John Mott-Smith Credit: Davis Enterprise

This regular column by John Mott-Smith, a member of the Cool Davis Initiative Core Group, is cross-posted from Davis Enterprise

The conversation over climate change in the public square has always been a bit strange, but it’s getting downright weird. Climate scientists and ordinary persons concerned about climate change are now being labeled by some as “watermelons” to indicate their green (environmental) exterior is concealing a red (communist) interior.

This jaw-dropping charge of a communist agenda underlying the motivations of those worried about climate change apparently stems from a belief that this climate change thing is a big hoax (or, in the jargon of the Cold War, a conspiracy) perpetrated by the “left” of the political spectrum to undermine capitalism.

This despite the fact that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the U.S. National Academy of Science as well as the science academies of Germany, Japan, Britain, China (aha, the source of the conspiracy); the Bush administration’s Climate Science Program; and others all over the world agree on the subject. One of the key programs promoted to combat global warming is the market-based cap and trade program.

It gets even weirder. Have you ever heard of “Agenda 21”? It’s a 1992 U.N. document encouraging countries to use less energy and conserve open land. A recent article in the New York Times catalogued charges made by people showing up at city council meetings around the country that this document is at the core of a conspiracy to undermine property rights and promote big government’s crusade against the rights of individuals.

And they are having success in opposing actions they object to, such as expanding public transportation, promoting increased density instead of sprawl, building bike lanes, and creating Climate Action Plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Michael Gerson, a columnist with the Washington Post, recently wrote that, “Among some groups, skepticism about global warming has become a symbol of social identity — the cultural equivalent of a gun rack.” Perhaps picking up on this, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, in criticizing the bailout of the auto industry, indicated caustically to an Oklahoma audience that the trouble with the new Chevy Volt electric vehicle is that it won’t accommodate a gun rack.

In other news, Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and a major voice in issues related to climate change, apparently made a major error of judgment when he requested documents under a false name from a climate change-denying institute. He is rightly being pilloried for using deception to expose deception.

On the other hand, I confess to a certain level of incredulity at the loud and righteous indignation coming out of an institute whose own documents seem to explicitly indicate a strategy of creating uncertainty about the science of climate change (an old technique pioneered by the tobacco industry) in the teaching of school children.

It matters what scientists say and do; the credibility of their field depends on the public’s trust. Too bad this demand for accuracy doesn’t seem to extend to the world of politics. Or, looked at another way, perhaps the tenuous attachment to accuracy in the political arena is one reason why poll after poll finds that a huge majority of Americans don’t trust much of what politicians say.

At any rate, some are making hay over the recent rise in gas prices and indicating that if only we’d permit oil companies to drill for more oil off our coast and build a pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, gas prices would decline. Forget for a moment that it was less than two years ago that nearly 5 million barrels of oil (enough to produce more than 200 million gallons of gas) were leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s well known that the United States is the No. 1 importer of oil. Guess what our No. 1 export is? I’ll give you a hint: fuel. We import oil, refine it into gas, diesel and jet fuel, and then sell much of it to the highest bidder on the world market.

The recession, combined with higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and greater use of ethanol mixed into gasoline, reduced U.S. demand for gasoline in each of the past five years. Prices at the pump are going up primarily due to increased demand in other countries (China, Latin America) with higher rates of growth, not to mention guesses by speculators that tensions in the Middle East will disrupt international supplies of oil.

Bringing this back to the woeful lack of sensible discussion in politics over the very important issue of climate change, one of the candidates for president was quoted as charging that higher gas prices are due to “radical environmental policies” and that the true goal of the current administration is to keep gas prices high to discourage people from driving their cars so that the goals of the (presumably communist) climate change movement can be reached.

Talk about a “reach.” Sometimes the level of debate is depressing.