Yes, Harper's Magazine Actually Published These Two Sentences

In “Promises, Promises”, an article appearing in the current (July) issue of Harper’s Magazine, Mark Hertsgaard takes President Obama to task for his failure to live up to his campaign promises... promises as they relate to the environment (generally) and promises to address climate change (specifically). According to Hertsgaard, Obama has veered away from the big ideas the event of his election represented: i.e. “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” etc. (From Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech in St. Paul, Minnesota.)

In the main, the article is your typical, emotionally wrought, evidence-free, anti-business, save-the-earth boilerplate that keeps Harper’s readers feeling super about their politics. But about halfway through the piece, Hertsgaard pens the following:

(By May 2014, scientists would report that part of the West Antarctic ice sheet was “irreversibly” melting, which could cause sea levels to rise an additional four feet over the next 200 years.) To stop or even slow the disaster, Obama would have to lead a virtual U-turn in global policy.

Come again? Scientists have declared that this melting is “irreversible”, but Obama should still push for policies that will stop it or slow it...? Exactly how is that going to work? Does Hertsgaard trust these scientists, or does he not? After all, there are really just two ways we can process the information, as shared: 

1) The scientists are correct. This melting is irreversible. Therefore, nothing can be done that will “reverse” what is “irreversible.” Next topic, please...


2) The scientists are incorrect. This melting is reversible. Therefore, the conclusions of these scientists should be regarded with great suspicion.

What is most certainly not an option is Hertsgaard’s contradictory, have-it-both-ways contortion.

Call me a skeptic, but, I, for one, won’t hold my breath waiting for Harper’s readers to take notice.

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