Commentary; As Maui burned, DeSantis fiddled with climate ed

While the world watched in horror as Maui burned, Florida educators were busy adopting a new climate-change curriculum that minimizes teaching about the dangers of global warming and distorts scientific information.

If only Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) were stupid enough to believe all this, but a Yale- and Harvard-educated military veteran can’t pretend he doesn’t know better. Far worse than a stupid governor is an intelligent one who plays dumb and down to voters.

DeSantis didn’t invent the strategy; it’s a tried-and-true approach that goes back (at least) to Richard M. Nixon and a 1966 stump meeting at the Wade Hampton Hotel in Columbia, S.C.

Campaign aide Pat Buchanan recalled in a New Yorker interview that the room was “filled with sweat, cigar smoke and rage,” and the law-and-order rhetoric “burned the paint off the walls.” Leaving the hotel, Nixon said, “This is the future of this party, right here in the South.”

A generation or two later, the GOP institutionalized willful ignorance when Sarah Palin walked onto the vice-presidential debate stage, winked and asked Joe Biden whether she could call him “Joe.” (During debate rehearsals, she kept saying “Joe O’Biden.”)

DeSantis has watched Donald Trump bamboozle and flatter his supporters by glamorizing their worst instincts. It’s clear by now that DeSantis is Trumpier than Trump.

Florida’s new curriculum is a product of the Prager University Foundation, a conservative nonprofit that aims to present The Other Side on hot-button issues.

PragerU, as it is known, has produced videos on a variety of subjects, including climate change, for kiddies as well as adults.

In previous incarnations, I’ve been a fan of Prager and its creator Dennis Prager, who is not a right-wing nut but a thoughtful conservative who believes the country is going to hell. I happen to agree with him on this point.

I also think we shouldn’t terrify little children with frightening information about climate change that they’re not emotionally or intellectually equipped to handle. Common sense dictates we dial back the apocalyptic narrative.

Needless to say, many parents are delighted to get climate change out of “liberal” educators’ hands, along with discussions about LGBTQ+ issues, race and gender.

Are there different truths about climate change? Not really. Certain facts are no longer up for debate: The Earth is warming; fossil-fuel emissions contribute to that warming; the effects of climate change are evident in almost daily disasters. Today, we weep for Maui. What’s next?

The problem with some PragerU videos I watched is their both-sides-now approach to established science.

“He said/she said” might work in couples therapy, but science isn’t subject to romantic interpretation. At least it shouldn’t be.

What is debatable is the degree to which we can reduce emissions by using alternative energy sources without also breaking the economy.

PragerU downplays the relationship between human activities and global warming; refers to climate science as “hysteria,” and compares activists to Nazis.

(Memo to Prager: Only Nazis can be compared to Nazis.)

One video on the Prager website features conservative darling Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. Lomborg, who looks more like a surfer than a scientist, works with hundreds of experts in several problem areas, including climate, in search of the most efficient solutions.

His appeal is that he accepts the seriousness of climate change but prefers to shift our focus away from dubious environmental fixes to economic investment in human communities.

Another Prager video stars self-described “philosopher and persuasion expert” Alex Epstein. In a voice that says, “I’m talking to you, second graders,” he claims we need to use more natural gas and oil, not less.

Why? Because when production is reduced, prices go up.

And did you know that more people die of cold than of heat by 9 to 1? A 2021 study published in the Lancet supports Epstein’s claim.

More important, Earth’s warming affects the climate, period. This doesn’t mean that people, therefore, will die of heat. Extreme cold might just as likely be connected to the planet’s warming.

Meanwhile, the devastation is incalculable on Maui and especially in the town of Lahaina, where more than 12,000 people live.

People ran into the Pacific to escape the fires. Some have been rescued. Tourists dropped everything and raced to the airport.

Although wildfires do occur in Hawaii, this was a one-off, exacerbated by a month-long drought, low humidity and strong winds from Hurricane Dora hundreds of miles to the south.

Not to be hysterical, but this is yet another disaster unlike any other.

Residents were warned that Hawaii was in a “red flag” situation. As are we all, I fear. As are we all.