What the New York Times’s Climate Skeptic Says

When the NYT hired climate science skeptic Bret Stephens, they were harshly criticized for the move, which was purportedly made because the paper felt that they had drifted too far to the left. Stephens published his first article, and the reaction was predictable, including the obligatory petition to boycott the paper. I hope the Times has the balls to stand up to his detractors, but I don’t know what percentage of their audience hold such authoritarian views.

Here’s a link to the original article. I’m going to comment on it below.

Stephen’s starts out by comparing belief in man made climate change to belief that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election. He’s off to a bad start, since scientific opinion and political opinion are two very different things. There is 100% scientific agreement on the law of gravity. Should I question it because a politician misread the polls? A much better analogy is that, in Copernicus’s time, 100% of the scientific community believed that the sun orbited the earth.

He then discusses a Pew poll that states that only 36 percent of Americans care a great deal about the subject. This is even less relevant, if that’s possible. While it may say something about how many people think that climate changed is over hyped, it could equally be a measure of the ignorance of the American public.

He then begins to make a real argument:

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, … the human influence on that warming … is really a matter of probabilities.

While the earth has warmed only 0.85 degrees C since 1880, we know that about 0.4 degrees of that warming occurred since 1979, when NOAA UAH satellite global temperature measurements began. We also know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas; this has been determined experimentally. We can also estimate with accuracy the amount of CO2 sequestered in fossil fuels that man has added to the atmosphere, and we know that our contribution has become much larger over the last 40 years.

That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.

This is true. The models are not mere guesswork, but one shouldn’t expect them to be highly accurate. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Here’s an analogy: Your car maker can tell you the mean time between failures (MTBF) of your car with and without proper maintenance. Since these numbers are probabilities, does that mean you don’t need to maintain your car?

Stephens then returns to politics:

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

And here, I am in 100% agreement with him. Incompetents like Bill Nye are weakening the argument for man made climate change. Meanwhile, Al Gore and his ilk seem to be attempting to make a huge cash grab from taxpayers. Excuse my skepticism of their motives: I don’t trust politicians. Even assuming they are actually sincere, I’m skeptical that their actions will actually help, but the debt incurred will certainly hurt.

History is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

Exactly. As soon as the politicians get involved, one’s skepticism should increase tenfold.

The appropriate response to this article is to criticize it. Stephens has little to say about climate science, but accurately criticizes the political movement around it. Instead of attempting to silence him, write a letter to the editor, or post your own article on the subject.

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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