Time of the preacher

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

Frank Luntz wrote a memo for the Republican Party in the year of '02, preaching, among other things, that instead of using the term "global warming", Republicans substitute "climate change" because "while global warming has catastrophic communications attached to it, climate change sounds a more controllable and less emotional challenge".

Now at the time I couldn't quite see the logic of this - climate change sounds very uncontrollable to me. But this division between the two terms has continued to this day on blogs and other media outlets. While Mr Luntz's attempt to soothe the savage scientist may or may not have worked in semantic terms in quite the way he intended, it has certainly become an effective tactical move.

First the deniers argued that even if the planet was warming the climate wasn't changing. Scientists would be pushed into mindless discussions about the retreat of glaciers, the frequency of hurricanes, the meaning of droughts. This barrage was so effective that it made the media very reluctant to attribute any aspect of the weather to global warming (whereas in fact EVERY aspect of the world's weather is now affected by warmer temperatures). And the politicians would echo this - no of course we couldn't say that Katrina was caused by global warming. The public, reading this "debate" would be encouraged to believe nothing that their senses were telling them about a changing world environment was of any relevance to global warming.

But suddenly a switch. Seizing upon an abnormally high temperature in 1998, and a relatively (in context) low one in 2007, the result of the El Nino - La Nina cycles, the deniers again began pretending to believe that global temperature wasn't increasing. Now snowfalls here, and snow falls there, and very cold nights somewhere else, and an apparent lack of severe tropical storms, and a professed belief that we would all be better off living in Florida's climate anyway, became climatic indicators that there was no problem at all in the world that couldn't be solved by wishing it away.

This major shift in tactics has mirrored the smaller scale shifts that have been used in the media by the denialist claque. Evidence for warming? No, climate is the thing. Evidence for climate change? No, warming is the real test. It is all reminiscent of the old carney hustlers playing the shell game or the three card trick - you think you have the argument nailed down here? No, it's over there. No, not under that one, this one. Oh, you've lost your money? Too bad, next time you might win.

Or in the words of the song - "When you think it's all over, It's only begun". But in the words of the same song - "Now the preaching is over, And the lesson's begun".

No doubt the lessons are beginning, had begun well before the year of '01, as Mr Luntz must have known (and knows now, it seems), and soon all the cards will be the Queen of Spades.

My cards are on the table on The Watermelon Blog.