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Climate "Scopes" Trial: The Chamber Makes A Monkey Of Itself

Pete Altman

Posted August 25, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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We double-checked our calendar this morning to make sure that it wasn't April 1st.

Even we would have given the U.S. Chamber of Commerce enough credit to think that it would not deliberately set itself up on the wrong side of the "Scopes Monkey trial".  That's the famous Tennessee case where William Jennings Bryan won the short-term battle for creationism, but Clarence Darrow won the war (and verdict of history) in defense of the understanding of evolution.

But, apparently the US Chamber is still stuck in the stone-age, as a Los Angeles Times story published this morning reveals:

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.  "It would be evolution versus creationism," said William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. "It would be the science of climate change on trial."

... Environmentalists say the chamber's strategy is an attempt to sow political discord by challenging settled science -- and note that in the famed 1925 Scopes trial, which pitted lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in a courtroom battle over a Tennessee science teacher accused of teaching evolution illegally, the scientists won in the end.

The chamber proposal "brings to mind for me the Salem witch trials, based on myth," said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist for the environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists. "In this case, it would be ignoring decades of publicly accessible evidence."

Assuming for the moment that the Chamber's spokesperson in this case is not related to the legendary comedian Ernie Kovacs and engaging in some kind of bizarre homage to his forbearer's unique sense of humor, we are forced to assume that the Chamber is now in full desperation mode.   After all, they've already had extensive dissension in the ranks about the Chamber's shortsighted opposition to Congressional action on clean energy and climate change.

And while there is handful of wing nuts out there now who are all behind the Chamber (and any other form of climate science denial),  we wonder how many dues-paying Fortune 1000 companies want to be joined arm in arm with the Chamber in a flat-out denial of climate science. What's next? Trials to deliberate over the notion that the Earth orbits the sun ... or to check on whether the law of gravity is still hanging around? Hey, while you are at it, why not revisit the old "earth is flat / earth is round" debate?

Of course, the Chamber isn't really interested in science. It is only trying to force a delay and buy some time. Frankly, given some of its earlier stratements, now seems like an odd time to go back to the question of whether global warming is real. After all, in testimony earlier this year before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce and Subcommmittee on Energy and the Environment, the Chamber's Kovacs stated

"The Chamber supports the goals of the Committee to lower concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, become more energy efficient, and incentive "green" technologies. The Chamber does not categorically support or oppose approaches such as cap and trade or carbon tax, but rather measures all climate legislation on a bill-by-bill basis..."

Which seems like an odd thing to say, if you don't even think global warming is real. Kovacs could have just cut to the chase and said "The Chamber believes global warming to be bunk, so we are going to try to talk this issue to death."

The great newspaperman and arch-cynic H.L. Mencken would have had great fun with the Chamber's antics this week.   As John Aloysius Farrell from U.S. News wrote of Mencken's coverage of the Scopes trial:

The "old buzzard" (William Jennings) Bryan, said Mencken, "having failed to raise the mob against its rulers, now prepares to raise it against its teachers."

"One somehow pities him, despite his so palpable imbecilities. It is a tragedy indeed to begin life as a hero and to end it as a buffoon. But let no one, laughing at him, underestimate the magic that lies in his black, malignant eye, his frayed but still eloquent voice. He can shake and inflame these poor ignoramuses as no other man among us can shake and inflame them, and he is desperately eager to order the charge."

... "The Baptist preachers ranted unchallenged. Their buffooneries were mistaken for humor. Now the clowns turn out to be armed, and have begun to shoot."

And that sounds about right.  We can pity the Chamber's inexplicable fall from reason. We can mock them for their silliness.   But that doesn't mean we have to indulge their inanities. If we do, the Chamber will have succeeded in making monkeys out of the rest of us.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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