I had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend of mine the other day. We shared a lot of good times together when we were living the single life, a period of post-academic matriculation but before becoming involved in serious relationships that would potentially lead to marriage and family. Let’s call it that “20 something period.”
My friend Mitch and I had a lot of fun together, going out with different women, engaging in competitive one-on-one basketball games and sharing a lot of personal issues that gave us a sense of genuine camaraderie. The one thing, however, that we did not have in common was our political orientation.
While I was a staunch conservative, Mitch was a hard core progressive. While I spent my free time enjoying the works of Hayek and Rand, his preferences were Marx and Chomsky. When the subject of Vietnam came up once, I was quick to point out the role of the American media in driving the anti-war sentiment that came to prevail in the late 1960s. Mitch preferred to gloat over the defeat of the U.S. at the hands of the less well-armed but determined Vietcong and NVA forces, a Jane Fonda acolyte if you will.
Then, as I went on to attain greater success in the financial services industry, I began to sense a glint of disapproval as Mitch’s anti-capitalist opinions of my career path seemed to bubble up just beneath the surface. Eventually, he went on to fulfill his teaching ambitions — despite having failed in his aspiration to first acquire his education degree from Cal Berkeley. Mitch now lives in northern California in some type of communal setting, but he recently traveled back to the East Coast to attend to some family matters. He gave me a call last week and asked if I had some time to get together while he was in the area, so I obliged, looking forward to reminiscing over some our good times together and getting updated on what Mitch was up to.
I gave Mitch some directions to a local watering hole and made plans to spend a few hours over some beers and perhaps a light meal. Having arrived early, I procured a draft for myself and had just taken my first swallow when I looked out the window to see Mitch pull up in his Prius.
He looked pretty much the same as he did 20 years ago, about the last time our paths had last crossed. He was quite tall, but still fairly lean. He had kept that trademark scruffy beard and was attired in shorts, a tee-shirt and a pair of Birkenstock sandals. We exchanged some pleasantries and ordered dinner before delving into some discussion about our current lives.
Mitch was currently teaching modern literature at some high school in Anderson, California (a community not far from Redding) and was still single. It turned out that Mitch, quite enthralled with the Obama victory in 2008, had become very involved with Organizing for America (now called Organizing for Action), and was now increasingly active with the group. He went on to share his involvement in the recently formed Climate Leader Reality Corps, fresh off of a recent trip to Chicago where he participated in one of the training seminars.
Now Mitch was very aware of my conservative leanings, so made an effort to not come across as too confrontational. For my part, I chose not to share my several years of independent research on the climate change science and my affiliation with the Heartland Institute. I wanted to feign my ignorance of the subject, curious to see how far he would go to try to evangelize me.
Mitch seemed to become more energized as I innocently expressed my interest in the climate change matter. He pontificated about the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, the tragic loss of life from the Oklahoma tornadoes this past spring, and the dwindling level of Arctic sea ice. This all derived, in his view, from man-made climate change.
At the risk of revealing my hand, I pursued him on the issue of how Sandy could be construed as an indication of global warming when I had recently come across an article showing declining trends in global and Atlantic Basin hurricane activity since 2005 as defined by a measure called the ACE Index (I pretended not to fully understand the article).
Mitch confessed that he had never heard of the ACE Index but assured me that a resumption of above-average hurricane activity was likely to occur in the coming years. At the time of the two Oklahoma tornadoes, I also shared with Mitch that I had happened to come across an article showing that the preponderance of category F3 or stronger tornadoes had demonstrated a downward trend since the early 1970s. That article further pointed to the randomness of tornadoes, noting that the growth of populations in tornado prone areas would naturally lead to more deaths and injuries in such areas of the country. I added that I had seen some data that graphically demonstrated overall tornado activity in 2013 was likely to be one of the lowest in the last ten years.
Mitch appeared to scoff at my findings, cited some quote from Sen. Barbara Boxer about a link between tornadoes and climate change, but also conceded he thought the Fujita scale sounded like it had something to do with photography. I had to keep from bursting into laughter.
Trying my best not to appear disrespectful of his newfound knowledge from the Chicago seminar, I pressed Mitch to share what else he learned while there. Now appearing a little more vulnerable, Mitch went for his trump card and recited some quote from Al Gore about record low sea ice in the Arctic.
I scratched my head, then innocuously recalled recently reading a study in a science blog showing that Antarctic sea ice levels were currently making record highs and Arctic sea ice levels were well off their lows of recent years. The article on the blog showed that the current total global sea ice level was actually very close to the 35-year average. Mitch was trying to enjoy his veggie burger that he had ordered earlier, but now seemed to be having a bout of indigestion. So I ordered another beer for him in order to break the tension and help his gastronomic function.
Struggling in one last attempt to make his case, Mitch proudly stated that he was on a mission as part of an initiative called Action August to do what he could to spread the news about climate change and help enlist more people to the cause. In an effort to probe the depths of his understanding of the science, I responded with one final tweak of his progressive mind.
I asked Mitch about recent trends in temperatures, sharing with him that I had read an article somewhere showing that temperature trends over the last 15-16 years had been fairly flat despite a continued rise in the levels of CO2. The article, I suggested, seemed to imply that models citing causality between CO2 levels and temperature changes were coming under considerable questioning.
I could tell Mitch was starting to become a little suspicious of me by now and was getting more than a little annoyed with my questions. He blurted out that any such studies were probably fabricated by some “deniers” who were funded by oil companies. The science is settled” Mitch stated, “and besides, 97% of the scientific community agrees on that point.”
I was tempted to interject a study that I had read pointing to the fallaciousness of the 97 percent figure, but decided not to push him over the brink. So seeing Mitch’s discomfort, I agreed with his suggestion that we move on to a different subject.
By this time we had finished our meals and I took care of the check. Mitch was really not making too much money as it turned out, and so he happily let me pay for his dinner and his two high-priced import beers. I guess he figured that capitalists like me shouldn’t have a problem sharing the wealth.