Last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC he considers his skepticism towards climate data to be a sign of a "wise, intellectually engaged person." Yesterday, at a press briefing at the White House -- it's apparently supposed to be "Energy Week" -- Perry used similar phrasing, calling for "an intellectual conversation" on global warming.
"Can we agree we ought to have a conversation as a people?" the Republican cabinet secretary asked. "Intellectually engaged, not screaming at each other, and not standing up in the middle of my speeches and saying you're a climate denier, when the fact is, I just want to have a conversation about this."
At face value, this may sound perfectly defensible. All Perry says he wants is a free exchange of ideas, with people of good faith sharing evidence as part of an open, deliberative process. Who's prepared to take a stand against reasoned discourse and polite discussions? If Perry wants a conversation, why not engage in one?
The answer, as The New Republic's Emily Atkin explained very well, is that Perry's posture is a sham.
Make no mistake: When Perry says he just wants an "intellectual conversation" about how much carbon dioxide impacts the climate, that is a lie. Or, in the most generous interpretation, it's a misunderstanding of what an "intellectual conversation" really is. Any intellectual person accepts that the scientific method is among society's most reliable tools for determining facts. And climatologists have overwhelmingly determined, by use of the scientific method, that carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of current climate change. Perry is unwilling to accept the scientific method. Therefore, an intellectual conversation is not what he wants.What Perry does seem to want is further delay any actual intellectual conversation about climate change: a conversation that focuses on how best to solve it.
Quite right. Wise, intellectually engaged people have already wrapped up the conversation Rick Perry says he's eager to have. They've now moved on to different conversations about solutions, stop-gaps, consequences, and points of no return.
If Rick Perry wants to get up to speed and participate in those discussions, I'm sure he could find some scientists who'd donate their time and help him understand the issues about which he's still confused.
But let's not mistake cynicism with curiosity. Perry keeps using that word, "intellectual," but I don't think it means that he thinks it means.