New York Times writer yields to glacier seduction

Bob Tippee

A celebrated New York Times columnist has observed glaciers melting in Greenland and issued this judgment on proposals for expanded oil and gas leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf: "Madness. Sheer madness."

Oil and gas professionals should heed what Thomas L. Friedman's non sequitur says about the OCS debate.

Much opposition to OCS leasing relates less to concern about effects on marine environments than to a desire to foreclose consumption of oil and gas.

This agenda probably repels most Americans, who like their energy to be cheap. But it attaches itself to more-widespread fear of global warming and becomes explicit in the prominent words of a columnist who has earned fame for his writing about the Middle East.

Friedman dislikes Middle Eastern oil and has made clear in earlier columns his preference for governmental interventions aimed at cutting US imports.

At one level, Friedman's positions contradict each other. The writer wants to lower imports because he assumes foreign oil bankrolls US enemies. Yet he resists an activity that might cut US oil imports—OCS leasing—because combustion of any consequent hydrocarbons might aggravate warming.

The positions are in fact compatible from the broader perspective of antipetroleum radicalism. But a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling book author might be able to afford life without oil. Most people cannot.

So another bright person has yielded to the glacier seduction, concluding from the sight of melting ice that the planet is warming—which of course it is or at least has been until recently—and that people must act sacrificially to stop it.

The glacier seduction blinds its victims to suggestions that observed warming has causes other than human activity and that human responses therefore might have little effect beyond state-sanctioned deprivation.

But Greenland is, according to Friedman's vivid reporting, an enchanting place, dripping with change, so apparently everyone should ignore questions about the wisdom of costly reaction.

A millennium ago, however, Greenland was warm enough to support agriculture in areas later engulfed by glacial ice.

This indication of warming caused by something besides oil-fired prosperity doesn't appear in Friedman's analysis.

(Online Aug. 8, 2008; author's e-mail:

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