Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Same as it ever was


The battle over climate science in US environmental policy has come to an odd watershed:

The Senate overwhelmingly voted, 98-1, in favor of an amendment stating that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” In an amusing twist, the chamber’s most notorious climate denier, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, signed on to the amendment at the last minute, mostly because it didn’t attribute a cause to global warming. “The climate is changing. The climate has always changed,” Inhofe said. He then criticized supporters of man-caused climate change by saying that the real “hoax” was “that there are some people that are so arrogant to think” they can change the climate.

This reminds me of an obscure event in modern German history. Searching for an appropriate new president to succeed the highly esteemed Richard von Weizsäcker in 1993, the first new Bundespräsident since reunification, Helmut Kohl looked east, and selected the little-known former theologian and then justice minister of Saxony, Steffen Heitmann. Unfortunately, Heitmann scuttled his own candidacy by proving himself to be even more prone to embarrassing press comments than Kohl himself.

For the first time in nearly 50 years Germany was not occupied, but rather was preoccupied, with the “Schlussstrich” debate. It’s an untranslatable German word for the line drawn under a column of numbers before totting them up. The question was whether Germany should stop examining its conscience about the Nazi period and Cold War, and draw a balance, the better to march forward to a bright new dawn, as the right wing (!) wanted. (I’m presuming they assumed the balance would come out negative, though what the sum would be was never really a part of the discussion.) Exactly the opposite of Faulkner’s famous dictum about the past, and this was the position that Heitmann allied himself with, which was controversial enough. But his choice of words really grabbed people’s attention:

Ich glaube, daß der organisierte Tod von Millionen Juden in Gaskammern tatsächlich einmalig ist – so wie es viele historisch einmalige Vorgänge gibt. Wiederholungen gibt es in der Geschichte ohnehin nicht.

I do believe that the organised death of millions of Jews in gas chambers was unique — just as there are so many unique events in history. In any case, history never repeats itself.

As one commentator satirised it, “Of course you are my one true love, darling. As are all my girlfriends.”

I was also intrigued by the following comment, cited by Jonathan Chait,

“I do think there are those [who] think there is some kind of climate change happening and are tired of fighting the science or just don’t want the fight and who would rather focus on the economics — I don’t think that means they are ceding the argument that manmade climate change exists, though,” said one Republican Senate aide in a comment echoed by several others.

I’ve never seen such an explicit statement from inside the Republican party that science is seen as an enemy to be “fought”, rather than a discipline that should inform all sensible policy.

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