In the classic movie The Shawshank Redemption, one of the most fascinating characters is one that doesn’t exist. Peter Stevens, the silent, silent partner. A phantom. An apparition. Second cousin to Harvey the Rabbit.
When Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) concocts various frauds, scams, and kickbacks for Warden Samuel Norton to enrich himself at the taxpayers’ expense, Dufresne runs the paper trail through the nonexistent Peter Stevens. Dufresne conjures up Stevens and then creates all the legal documents necessary to run the tainted money through the nonexistent silent partner. If the IRS or others start investigating Warden Norton’s laundered money, they will chase after a person who simply doesn’t exist.
Dufresne explains that if people start nosing around the financial records and facts, the warden can simply point to the nonexistent culprit. “He’s the guilty one, Your Honor,” says Dufresne.
“They’ll wind up chasing a figment of my imagination,” Dufresne boasts.
Imaginary Hurricane Claims
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) performed a similar evasion when he told reporters he would like to see the U.S. Senate address climate change. Similarly, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) wrote a letter to Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Fred Upton (R-MI) calling for hearings on an asserted link between Hurricane Sandy and global warming.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish” when you know how to game the system, said Dufresne. He might as well have been talking about Reid, Waxman, and Rush.
The three lawmakers argue global warming caused Hurricane Sandy. They talk about changes in the weather, unprecedented hurricane strikes, and massive storm damage that allegedly never used to occur.
Scientific Facts Disagree
The scientific facts, however, tell a completely different story. When a hurricane strikes the U.S. Northeast nowadays, it only seems unusual because during recent decades, as global warming has gradually occurred, once-frequent Northeast hurricane strikes have almost ceased to exist.
This is especially evident when we examine the real monsters, the Category 3 or higher hurricanes. Only one major hurricane—Gloria in 1985—has made landfall in the U.S. Northeast since 1960. By comparison, five major hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. Northeast during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. Hurricane Sandy, a Level 1 hurricane, pales in comparison to the monsters that frequently struck the U.S. Northeast during the cooler decades of the 1930s through the ’50s. Sure, Hurricane Sandy is now a very unusual event, but it is unusual today precisely because Northeast hurricane strikes have become less frequent and less severe during recent decades as our planet has gradually warmed.
The same trend applies to the United States as a whole. During the past several decades, major hurricanes have struck with only two-thirds the frequency the nation experienced in the first half of the twentieth century. Ironically, when severe weather events become less frequent, they stand out more in the public consciousness when they do occur.
When it comes to global warming and hurricanes, we know two things to be true: (1) gradual global warming is occurring, and (2) the United States is experiencing significantly fewer major storms as temperatures warm. These two facts would lead most intelligent people to conclude that if global warming is having any impact on hurricanes, it is to lessen their negative impact. Reid, Waxman, and Rush would like us to believe the opposite, despite the facts.
Concocting a Myth
In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne explained to his friend Red (Morgan Freeman) just how easy it is to invent a phony silent partner and perpetrate a fraud.
“Sure you can, if you know how the system works, and where the cracks are,” Dufresne explained. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish by mail. Mr. Stevens has a birth certificate, Social Security card, driver’s license.… If they ever track those accounts, they’ll wind up chasing a figment of my imagination.”
I can just see Reid, Waxman, and Rush similarly explaining how easy it is to invent a phony global warming scare despite scientific evidence to the contrary:
“Sure you can, if you know how the system works, and where the cracks are. It’s amazing what you can accomplish through bluster and compliant media. We’ll play on people’s fears, their unfamiliarity with the hurricane data, and the fact that the media are largely silent about how the chair of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate variability research program reported there is little or no connection between global warming and Hurricane Sandy. Unless they take the time and effort to track these claims, they’ll wind up chasing a figment of our imagination.”
As Red said to Andy Dufresne, “Did I say you were good? You’re a Rembrandt!”
James M. Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. An earlier version of this article appeared at Forbes.com. Reprinted with permission.