Debunking Charlie Kirk’s position on climate change

On June 15, 2018 Charlie Kirk, founder and director of Turning Point USA, was “interviewed” by The Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation news outlet, at Turning Point’s young women’s leadership forum in Dallas. In that interview Kirk filled in some more details of his upbringing and how he came to his political ideology in his schooling years.

First, let me point the reader to my debunking of Kirk’s first Breitbart post, where he tried but failed to effectively denounce his AP Economics textbook and liberal teachers in general.

Second, let me remind the reader of Kirk’s educational lineage. He went to Wheeling High School in a Chicago suburb. In this commencement speech you can see that Kirk paints a picture of his high school as less than respected than others. Whatever the case then — he graduated in 2012 — he portrays his teachers in general as liberals who tried to indoctrinate him.

But in this June 15 interview he takes the attack further, lambasting his middle school teachers, especially for pushing on him “Al Gore propaganda” through the film An Inconvenient Truth.

In response to being asked “when did you first realize that you were a conservative?” Kirk said: “Probably sixth or seventh grade. I remember, I’ve always been a contrarian by nature. I remember my teachers absolutely bashing, at the time, President George W. Bush. We had to watch ‘Inconvenient Truth’ and we had to watch all that Al Gore propaganda. I remember asking just very simple questions.” [Kirk has never articulated what those questions were.]

He tells this same story in his book Time for a Turning Point, debating a teacher in sixth grade over “climate change.”

The Film

Bush was president from 2001–2009 and Kirk was in middle school from 2005–2008. Gore’s film came out in 2006. It won two Academy Awards, one for Best Documentary.

Wikipedia: “Since the film’s release, An Inconvenient Truth has been credited for raising international public awareness of global warming and re-energizing the environmental movement. The documentary has also been included in science curricula in schools around the world, which has spurred some controversy. A sequel to the film, titled An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, was released on July 28, 2017.”

The film ultimately helped Al Gore win the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in promoting action against climate change, according to two University of British Columbia scientists.

Those scientists also suggest the film also gave more air to our political polarization. “And even though that message [of the film] was unabashedly pro-climate and for strong climate action, it likely played a role in turning Republicans against that message, since to them, Gore was simply a Democratic politician they disliked.”

This may explain the young Kirk’s dislike of the film and the teachers who “forced” him to watch it.

One of the key criticisms by the right was the story of the polar bears. Not a surprise, that very narrative shows up in a Turning Point anecdote highlighted in the book Kirk published about indoctrination. See the Caroline Stout section of my post here. Here is a 2009 Fox News article on that “debate” about the endangering of polar bears.

Kirk’s climate position

Like so many of his fellow Republicans, Kirk does not believe there is “climate change.”

In May, as part of his usual spring college speaking tour, Charlie Kirk stopped at Stanford. Here is the Stanford Daily Cardinal’s report on the forum’s moments about climate change:

When the conversation shifted to climate change, however, the speakers said that they do not believe that anyone can prove that climate change is happening or that it is caused and controlled by human activity. Kirk said that a 99 percent consensus that climate change exists is not enough to convince him.

“So what about the one percent?” Kirk asked. “Science is not a democracy. We don’t vote on gravity. We don’t vote on Newton’s Second Law.”

Kirk added that people changed the term “global warming” to “climate change” in an attempt to convince more people of its reality, since they could not prove the earth is warming and climate is always changing. He and [TPUSA communications director Candace] Owens likened this use of agreeable terminology to other initiatives such as Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter.

Kirk has tweeted mocking those who believe in global warming[here, here, and here] and Turning Point has posted videos doing the same thing. As for the official Turning Point stance, desmogblog, the self-described “world’s number one source for accurate, fact based information regarding global warming misinformation campaigns,” notes:

  1. Charlie Kirk has admitted to soliciting funds from the fossil fuel industry;
  2. He was also a speaker at the 2017 board meeting of the National Mining Association (NMA)and the 2016 annual meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA); and
  3. TPUSA has helped organize opposition to student campaigns pressuring universities to divest from fossil fuels. In an interview with the The New Yorker, Kirk said, “We think targeting fossil fuels is rather unfair, and it is not really in the best interests of the universities to favor one type of political agenda over another.” (By the way Kirk and Turning Point have aimed to take over student governments across the nation. And he has directed his online mob to professors who disagree with his political stances.)

Here are three tweets by Kirk that articulate his position, however shallow it may be:

Why Kirk is wrong

I’m not going to spend a thousand words arguing for climate change. Here is NASA on that.

I will point out some flaws in Kirk’s arguments.

First, “We don’t vote on gravity. We don’t vote on Newton’s Second Law.”

These were not named until someone named them, like global warming or climate change. What I am getting at is Kirk here is trying to use the line of argument that these things are “there” without dispute, leading to the 1 percent line. But in terms of history, no one “knew” they were “there” until someone named them, i.e. no one knew to call it “global warming” until we started tracking temps. As for the voting, science is not the static subject Kirk is claiming.

In that vein, especially, for Newton’s law, it is not, to use a well-worn phrase, an exact science. Wikipedia: “The sense or senses in which Newton used his terminology, and how he understood the second law and intended it to be understood, have been extensively discussed by historians of science, along with the relations between Newton’s formulation and modern formulations.”

And the law can’t be applied universally: “Indeed, most of Newton’s classical physics needs to be modified in extreme situations — the second law is not accurate when immense gravitational forces are present, around a black hole or in the context of the huge masses of entire galaxies for example, where general relativity takes over as the best way to describe the movement within a system.”

Terminology

You will notice that sometimes Kirk uses climate change, mainly to mock it, and sometimes he uses global warming, mainly to deny its existence.

Here is a short summary on why someone might shift from one phrase to another. Short answer: political ideology.

Facts

At Stanford, Kirk noted scientists “could not prove the earth is warming and climate is always changing…”

Kirk has infamously confused weather and climate:

Kirk’s claim about warming is wrong: “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Some conservatives will debate human-caused or not, though Kirk does not make that claim here. NASA on that: “The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.”

National Geographic has a great graphic on this as well.

The climate does and has changed but it is changing more rapidly and more dangerously (for human inhabitants and others) in recent time. National Geographic mentions ice melts, more powerful storms, and species impact. NASA has other reasons.

Rhetoric

Kirk “can’t even” with climate change being biggest threat to the US. Others can:

  1. Climate change disaster is the biggest threat to global economy in 2016, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016.
  2. The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called climate change “the most systemic threat to humankind” and urged world leaders to curb their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, according to The New York Times.
  3. Military leaders think climate change is a threat.

Finally Kirk is trying to use the fear of a more “imminent” threat — global government and sometimes ISIS — to get people to dismiss climate change, a “less imminent” threat. First, “global government” is a lesser “one world government” and “new world order” that many on the fringe of the right see rising. Globalists are a target of Steve Bannon. And a global government is a demonic sign of the end times for many Christians.

But Kirk hasn’t dug much further than this one phrase. It is a nod to the other things, and American nationalism. And it is a nice chiasmus-like opposite to “global warming.” But it is not a well-defined phrase for Kirk.

So what is Kirk terrified of? Well, if 100% of scientists agree on climate change, that might be a “global” thing. If 100% of people agree…. But where is the idea of a global government coming from? Other than being the opposite of nationalists, I am not sure. Glenn Beck in 2010 laid out a conspiracy theory about it.

In the end, Kirk uses the vague phrase filled with fear to distract us from the other thing — a common tactic by Kirk. And Kirk as Trump’s sycophant praises the leader for also discerning the two rightly. In the end the nice turn of phrase is empty, at best. Much like Kirk’s position on climate change.