Jonah Goldberg misrepresented Gore's comments about Hurricane Katrina

››› ››› LAUREN AUERBACH

In his Los Angeles Times column, Jonah Goldberg asserted that in an NPR interview, Al Gore "chuckled" at the idea that Hurricane Katrina "was God's wrath for New Orleans' sexual depravity," then "went on to blame Katrina on man's energy sinfulness." In fact, Gore stated during the interview that "any individual storm can't be linked singularly to global warming." Goldberg also claimed that the numbers of polar bears "have quadrupled in the last 50 years"; in fact, data to support estimates of the polar bear population 50 years ago are reportedly nonexistent, recent growth in the polar bear population is believed to be linked to hunting bans, and the Department of Interior found that "the polar bear is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future."

In his May 20 Los Angeles Times column, National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg asserted that in an NPR interview, former Vice President Al Gore "went on to blame [Hurricane] Katrina on man's energy sinfulness." Goldberg wrote: "I heard Gore on NPR the other day. He was asked what he made of evangelical pastor Joseph [sic: John] Hagee's absurd comment that Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath for New Orleans' sexual depravity. Naturally, Gore chuckled at such backwardness. But then the Nobel laureate went on to blame Katrina on man's energy sinfulness." In fact, Gore stated that "any individual storm can't be linked singularly to global warming." Asked about Hagee's comment regarding Hurricane Katrina, Gore responded: "Well, my friends in New Orleans said, 'Well, if that's the case, how come God spared the French Quarter?' Of course that's silly."

From the May 6 edition of NPR's Fresh Air:

TERRY GROSS (host): You know, in your book [The Assault on Reason] you mention that you think Katrina, Hurricane Katrina, convinced Americans to look differently at climate crisis --

GORE: Some, mm-hmm.

GROSS: -- even though no one can say for sure whether Katrina was directly a result of the climate crisis or not. But, you know, one reaction to Katrina, one now-famous reaction, was from Pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement John McCain sought.

GORE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And on our show about Hurricane Katrina, he said, "All hurricanes are acts of God because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that. I believe that Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans." And he went on to explain that this was punishment for a gay pride parade that was about to happen that promised to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in all of the gay pride parades. So what do you think about when you hear a reaction like that to Katrina?

GORE: Well, my friends in New Orleans said, "Well, if that's the case, how come God spared the French Quarter?" Of course that's silly. It's also important to note that the emerging consensus among the climate scientists is that even though any individual storm can't be linked singularly to global warming -- we've always had hurricanes -- nevertheless, the trend toward more Category 5 storms, the larger ones, and the trend toward stronger and more destructive storms, appears to be linked to global warming and specifically to the impact of global warming on higher ocean temperatures in the top couple hundred feet of the ocean, which drives convection energy and moisture into these storms and makes them more powerful.

Goldberg also wrote that "[t]he U.S. government just put polar bears on the threatened species list because climate change is shrinking the Arctic ice where they live." Goldberg then asserted: "Never mind that polar bears are in fact thriving -- their numbers have quadrupled in the last 50 years." Goldberg offered no evidence to support the claim, which is based on the myth that the polar bear population increased from a speculated 5,000 in the 1950s to approximately 25,000 today. But Dr. Andrew Derocher, a polar bear scientist at the University of Alberta and a member of Polar Bear International's Scientific Advisory Council, pointed out that "early estimates of polar bear abundance are a guess. There is no data at all for the 1950-60s."

Derocher also asserted that the estimated low populations of polar bears in the mid-20th century were the result of "excess harvest," adding that it is unsound to use the bear's recovery from over-hunting to its current population as a reason to doubt the threat posed to the future viability of the species from global warming. Derocher said: "Comparing declines caused by harvest followed by recovery from harvest controls to declines from loss of habitat and climate warming are apples and oranges." According to Derocher:

Sea ice change and habitat loss is the key driving force. Ignore the bears for a moment and look at the evidence for sea ice change: NASA is a key player in looking at the actual decreases in sea ice. It is an easy matter to put the dots together: no habitat, no seals; no seals, no bears. This never was an issue of polar bears alone. The only effective conservation approach is to protect the habitat and this is an issue of climate change. You can distort the issue any way you so desire. At the end of the day, the sea ice is disappearing. Take away the habitat and the species follows shortly thereafter (or before).

Indeed, according to the Department of Interior's (DOI) May 14 final rule, polar bears are not "in fact thriving." While DOI noted that the current global population estimate for the polar bear is 25,000, it nevertheless found that "the polar bear is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range." Further, in announcing the decision to list the polar bear as threatened, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne specifically addressed the increase in the polar bear's population:

Although the population of bears has grown from a low of about 12,000 in the late 1960's to approximately 25,000 today, our scientists advise me that computer modeling projects a significant population decline by the year 2050. This, in my judgment, makes the polar bear a threatened species -- one likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.

Moreover, issuing its final rule, DOI assessed the "current population status and trend" of the 19 polar bear populations and stated that only "two polar bear populations are designated as increasing," both of which "were severely reduced in the past and are recovering under conservative harvest limits." DOI also stated that six populations are stable, five populations are declining, and six populations are designated as "data deficient." Further, of the "two populations with the most extensive time series of data" DOI concluded that both are "considered to be declining." From DOI's final rule:

On the basis of information presented above, two polar bear populations are designated as increasing (Viscount Melville Sound and M'Clintock Channel -- both were severely reduced in the past and are recovering under conservative harvest limits); six populations are stable (Northern Beaufort Sea, Southern Hudson Bay, Davis Strait, Lancaster Sound, Gulf of Bothia, Foxe Basin); five populations are declining (Southern Beaufort Sea, Norwegian Bay, Western Hudson Bay, Kane Basin, Baffin Bay); and six populations are designated as data deficient (Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, Chukchi 23 Sea, Arctic Basin, East Greenland) with no estimate of trend. The two populations with the most extensive time series of data, Western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea, are both considered to be declining.

As the blog Think Progress noted, on the April 3 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) asserted that there is an "overpopulation problem" with polar bears, repeating the myth that "[s]ince 1950, we have quadrupled the number of polar bears. The populations have gone up from the range of 5,000 to 10,000 to 20,000 to 25,000."

From Goldberg's May 20 Los Angeles Times column:

Environmentalism's most renewable resources are fear, guilt and moral bullying. Its worldview casts man as a sinful creature who, through the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, abandoned our Edenic past. John Muir, who laid the philosophical foundations of modern environmentalism, described humans as "selfish, conceited creatures." Salvation comes from shedding our sins, rejecting our addictions (to oil, consumerism, etc.) and demonstrating through deeds an all-encompassing love of Mother Earth. Quoth Al Gore: "The climate crisis is not a political issue; it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

I heard Gore on NPR the other day. He was asked what he made of evangelical pastor Joseph Hagee's absurd comment that Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath for New Orleans' sexual depravity. Naturally, Gore chuckled at such backwardness. But then the Nobel laureate went on to blame Katrina on man's energy sinfulness. It struck me that the two men were not so different. If only canoodling residents of the Big Easy had adhered to "The Greenpeace Guide to Environmentally Friendly Sex."

Environmentalists are keen to insist that their movement is a secular one. But using the word "secular" no more makes you secular than using the word "Christian" automatically means you behave like a Christian. Pioneering green lawyer Joseph Sax, for example, describes environmentalists as "secular prophets, preaching a message of secular salvation." Gore too has often been dubbed a "prophet." It's no surprise that a green-themed California hotel provides Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" right next to the Bible and a Buddhist tome.

Whether it's adopted the trappings of religion or not, my biggest beef with environmentalism is how comfortably irrational it is. It touts ritual over reality, symbolism over substance, while claiming to be so much more rational and scientific than those silly sky-God worshipers and deranged oil addicts.

It often seems that displaying faith in the green cause is more important than advancing the green cause. The U.S. government just put polar bears on the threatened species list because climate change is shrinking the Arctic ice where they live. Never mind that polar bears are in fact thriving -- their numbers have quadrupled in the last 50 years. Never mind that full implementation of the Kyoto protocols on greenhouse gases would save exactly one polar bear, according to Danish social scientist Bjorn Lomborg, author of the 2007 book "Cool It!"

Yet about 300 to 500 polar bears could be saved every year, starting right now, Lomborg says, if there were a ban on hunting them in Canada. What's cheaper, trillions to trim carbon emissions or paying off the Canadians to stop killing polar bears?

Plastic grocery bags are being banned all over the place, even though they require less energy to make or recycle than paper ones. The whole country is being forced to subscribe to a modern version of transubstantiation, whereby corn is miraculously transformed into sinless energy even as it does worse damage than oil.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change, Energy
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Los Angeles Times
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Jonah Goldberg
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