Immediately following the event, I approached the young man who was the source of many of the pertinent shouted comments and questions and asked him to write up a response given that there really was only one side presented and that he appeared to have much to say on the topic. I received that response in my email inbox earlier today:
J. Erik Peterson, a writer and biology major at Saint Johns University
“We don’t need to put wind turbines on people’s huts, we need to get people out of the huts” was Chris Horner’s mistaken response to our insistence that dirty fuels will harm first and most lethally the poorest of the world’s peoples. The congregation of Congressional District 6 constituents at Saint Cloud State University bore witness to a great spectacle Thursday afternoon. District representative Michelle Bachmann brought Attorney Chris Horner back to MN for either (we’re still debating what the objective was) a tutorial on non-sequitor rhetoric or a chance to claim that Bachmann had finally faced the younger populations of Saint Cloud, Waite Park, Saint Joseph and Collegeville. While Bachmann’s hesitance to appear before the populations that so emphatically voted (and lobbied, and canvassed, and organized) against her in November is understandable, she more than made up for her lack of gall by parading Mr. Horner into SCSU’s ballroom as a veteran Global Warming-debunker. Something like 500 students, middle-classers, retirees and a smattering of reporters gathered at the foot of Horner’s stage. They tried to keep up as he sprinted through slides containing “factual” persuasions intended to dismantle theories of climate change and cap-and-trade systems. But little nuggets like his mumbling about huts and wind turbines mentioned above seemed to stick our more than any expertise on climate change and C&T. He grinned and sneered and sang and danced and duly impressed the gathering, jockeying them about at his wish, affirming their intuition that the young’ns who came to dissent had simply not lived enough to glean an appropriate level of cynicism.
A brilliant rhetor, no doubt, Horner’s litigation…er…I’m sure I meant presentation…swept the crowd off its feet with jive and jeer against names like Al Gore and Leo DeCaprio and anyone else who might be foolish enough to momentarily use their fame for good. So what information did Horner so flagrantly manipulate that students – as WCCO, MPR, and the Strib report – decided to enter into exchanges with him from the audience, requesting that he stop dancing with questions long enough to answer a couple?
Horner touched on multiple studies of European countries which have implemented emission-trading strategies or large-scale alternative energy programs. Essentially, his claim was that the attempts did not reduce emissions and that the outsourcing of jobs was as real for them as it is inevitable for the U.S. if we adopt C&T. I hope another of my web-wide reporting colleagues can rightly take him to task on this, for again his inaccuracy here was gross and most in the audience were none the wiser. What I’d like to focus on – for the off chance that someone from Stearn’s county or its neighbors to the east is reading – are three fundamental pieces of the climate debate which, if understood correctly, afford us no time to hold parties in college ballrooms at which lawyers use stories of alleged European failure to further entrench and encourage our xenophobia.
First – and its sad we have to begin here – is the virtually uncontroversial fact that CO2 both acts as a greenhouse gas and exists as a trace element in our atmosphere. Only by internalizing these two facts can we get any purchase on humans’ involvement in the global problem. Two nineteenth century scientists, Joseph Fourier and John Tyndall, respectively observed and described the mechanism by which heat from the sun does not bounce off of earth as it would be expected to, but is held close to it like a thin but effective blanket. Further, Tyndall’s study showed that its not obvious gases like nitrogen or oxygen that hold onto the heat, but water vapor and trace elements like carbon dioxide and methane. This brings me to important concept #2. Horner liked to rant about how CO2 is this inconsequential element in an atmospheric ocean of gases – how could it matter? After all, the water vapor up there is way better at trapping heat anyway. The best way I’ve heard this described is by Sir David King, the former chief science adviser to the United Kingdom and now professor of chemistry at Cambridge University. Imagine an ocean into which all of human kind is pouring buckets; the ocean is water vapor and so is the substance in our buckets – we have no effect. Now imagine the same buckets being poured into a bathtub, but the bathtub is full of carbon dioxide as are our buckets. In terms of how freak’n big the atmosphere is, yes, our contribution of carbon dioxide is quite small; but in terms of how we can effect the composition of the atmosphere, our nominal contribution becomes a huge proportional contribution. Individuals with agendas as shadowy as Mr. Chris’ seem to enjoy speaking to crowds who are plenty intelligent, but lack sufficient time to research these issues on their own. He paints himself the hero – with help from our clingy representative – to people who have no practical purpose for knowing why the emission of one gas is negligible and the emission of others will eventually change the topographical character of our planet, and drown the most coastal populations of earth.
That’s the element I want to leave you with. What Horner did Thursday does not represent a republican agenda nor a conservative one. His agenda is one of perpetual skepticism and nay-saying, sure, but worse, its pathogenic and infectious. The woman next to me at Horner’s event was whispering one-line vocalizations of support as Horner went through his slides about Europe’s failure and his argument possessed her. After the presentation she told me that she was not worried because “Jesus will save us.” Frankly, I think she could be right. But amidst discussions – and violent rejections – of possible solutions for our climate crisis a parable echoes to me. A parable about the man on the hill who – anticipating God’s salvation – rejects the canoe, the motorboat, and the helicopter as the floodwaters rise, lap at his feet, drown him, and land him at the pearly gates only to be chastised by St. Peter for rejecting God’s extended hand. Unfortunately, and with more than a bit of irony, the ultra-right-winger Bachmann hired Horner to come to district 6 Thursday, to help slap the Almighty’s Helping Hand away from her constituents (the youngest of whom still await their chance to talk with her).