Sex­ist taunts ob­scure re­al­ity of cli­mate change

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION - ROBIN BARANYAI

Maybe now, with the pen­du­lum swing­ing against sex­ual ha­rass­ment like a wreck­ing ball, we will start to see a new cul­ture of in­tol­er­ance for the sex­ist taunts rou­tinely lev­elled against fe­male politi­cians.

It’s been over a year since Rebel Me­dia’s Sheila Gunn Reid de­liv­ered a jeer­ing cri­tique of En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna’s per­for­mance. “Looks like some­one pulled the string on the back of Cli­mate Bar­bie and made her talk again,” she quipped.

Since then the far-right me­dia out­let has en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced the hash­tag #cli­mate­bar­bie, launch­ing a do­main of the same name, which redi­rects traf­fic to the founder­ing com­pany’s web­site.

There is a long and shame­ful tra­di­tion of de­mean­ing women in pol­i­tics. “Class­less bitch,” “at­trac­tive dip­stick” and “spoiled ditz with big tits” are a few stand­outs lev­elled at Ali­son Red­ford, Belinda Stronach and Christy Clark, re­spec­tively. Of­fend­ers are men and women of all po­lit­i­cal stripes. Far too of­ten, such ca­sual misog­yny is dis­missed as mere par­ti­san­ship.

“Cli­mate Bar­bie” fi­nally at­tracted wide­spread con­dem­na­tion when it was tweeted, then deleted, by Con­ser­va­tive MP Gerry Ritz in Septem­ber. McKenna rightly called him out. “I apol­o­gize for the use of Bar­bie, it is not re­flec­tive of the role the min­is­ter plays,” he promptly re­canted.

The com­par­i­son de­fines a trans­par­ent cam­paign to not just take the min­is­ter down a notch, but to un­der­cut her port­fo­lio with ob­jec­ti­fy­ing lan­guage. If cli­mate sci­ence could tweet, it might well say: #metoo.

The Rebel ag­gres­sively chal­lenges the broad sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on cli­mate change. A sam­ple post from the ar­chives in­cluded a pe­ti­tion to halt green en­ergy poli­cies based on decadal vari­abil­ity in the rate of global warm­ing ( ba­si­cally, the way trends on a graph wig­gle up and down within in a curve rather than go­ing up in a smooth, straight line). Global warm­ing had paused, it ar­gued; the gov­ern­ment should “not spend bil­lions on a prob­lem that may not be hap­pen­ing.”

Not­with­stand­ing this ed­i­to­rial po­si­tion, the out­let strongly re­sists the term “cli­mate de­niers.” Ten­sions erupted at a news con­fer­ence in Van­cou­ver last week, when McKenna used a ques­tion from the Rebel’s Christo­pher Wilson as a plat­form to de­mand his or­ga­ni­za­tion cease us­ing the Cli­mate Bar­bie hash­tag and other per­sonal taunts, call­ing them “to­tally un­ac­cept­able.”

“What I find un­ac­cept­able is when you smear peo­ple, call­ing them de­niers, with all the con­no­ta­tions of the Holo­caust de­nial,” Wilson re­sponded tersely. He used Cli­mate Bar­bie in a sub­se­quent tweet.

The Rebel co-founder Ezra Le­vant left little doubt where he stood on Twit­ter: “Ap­pointed to fit a gen­der quota; un­able to con­trol her emo­tions when crit­i­cized; spends taxes on van­ity photo shoots. #Cli­mate­Bar­bie fits.” It takes care­ful aim to hit so many tropes with one stone. With one broad swing Le­vant in­voked stereo­types of women as less qual­i­fied, over-emo­tional, and prof­li­gate spenders.

The lat­est act in Bar­b­ie­gate has un­folded against the re­lease of the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s Cli­mate Sci­ence Spe­cial Report. The sub­stance of the report has taken a back seat to the no-sur­prises mini-drama be­tween the sci­en­tists’ con­clu­sions — cli­mate change is real, and caused by hu­man ac­tiv­ity — and the U.S. pres­i­dent’s de­nial of same.

That’s a shame; the sub­stance is im­por­tant.

The pace of ris­ing sea lev­els has ac­cel­er­ated rapidly since 1993, and will rise “at least” sev­eral inches more in the next 15 years. Our fu­ture holds more heavy rainfall, heat waves, for­est fires and chronic drought. Hu­man ac­tiv­ity — par­tic­u­larly green­house gas emis­sions — is estab­lished with 95 to 100 per cent cer­tainty as the dom­i­nant cause.

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians and news out­lets should, ab­so­lutely, ques­tion pol­icy so­lu­tions to these press­ing is­sues. Lazy ret­ro­grade at­tacks on women cast doubt on the speaker — not the sci­ence.

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