A columnist makes asinine arguments on climate change, prompting scientists to cut their noses, spiting our faces

By Tom Yulsman | April 29, 2017 9:47 pm

The cure for false speech is more truth telling — not less speech.

asinine

Here’s what 29 feet of sea level rise would look in New York City. (Source: Courtesy of Climate Central)

In his first piece as an op ed columnist for the N.Y. Times, Bret Stephens rightly decries hyperbole in discussion about climate change. Then he makes seemingly reasonable arguments that turn out to be asinine.

My reaction? Yawn. It’s quite doubtful that he will move the needle of public opinion on climate policy in the United States beyond the noise of natural variability. And I’m pretty darn sure that what he says in his superficially seductive but ultimately silly column will have no impact whatsoever on policy. In that arena, we’ve really got much bigger problems than Bret Stephens.

So I was going to leave it at that, until I started reading reactions on Twitter and elsewhere by some scientists. One renowned and highly respected climate scientist, Stefan Rahmstorf, Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University, wrote an  excellent letter to the New York Times. Excellent, but for one major issue, in my opinion: He also scored an own-goal by publicly saying he was cancelling his subscription to the Times.

Why do I say an “own-goal”? Keep reading. But first, an excerpt of some of the really good things Ramstorf said:

My heroes are Copernicus, Galilei and Kepler, who sought the scientific truth based on observational evidence and defended it against the powerful authority of the church in Rome, at great personal cost.

Had the New York Times existed then – would you have seen it as part of your mission to insult and denigrate these scientists, as Stephens has done with climate scientists?

Make no mistake about it, Stephens did just that with straw man arguments, and ridiculous statements about the state of climate science.

He started out with a deceptively reasonable argument:

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.

But here’s the thing: As Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at Stanford University points out in a response posted to his blog:

Bret Stephens’ opinion piece, titled “Climate of Complete Certainty”, is attacking a straw man. No working scientist claims 100% certainty about anything.

Science is the process of falsification. Hypotheses that have withstood a large number of attempts at falsification, and that are consistent with a large body of established theory that has also resisted falsification, are widely regarded as true (e.g., the Earth is approximately spherical). Many hypotheses of modern climate science fall into this category.

Putting aside the fact that some scientists do actually claim 100 percent certainty on some things, I think Caldeira is spot on here.

To be fair to Stephens, he does acknowledge that humans are altering the planet — just barely. All he’ll say is that a 1.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature in the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is “indisputable.” (I guess this means that in his lexicon, “indisputable” does not mean “certain.” And btw, he got his numbers wrong. The whole globe warmed 1.53 degrees F; the Northern Hemisphere actually has warmed more.) He also acknowledges the “human influence on that warming.” But then he says this:

…much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future.

Does anyone who just read those words fail to understand that projections about the future involve probabilities, not certain fact? If so, please raise your hand.

Uhm, hold ’em up higher, I don’t see any hands…

Moving right along…  Stephens is saying that a modest human impact on Northern Hemisphere temperature is certain, but everything else is just probabilities. And the implication is that since fallible models and simulations are what tell us about those probabilities, then we’re not justified in acting to mitigate climate change — because, obviously, the models produce only a cloudy picture of the future.

Do I have to make an argument for why we humans routinely act to reduce exposure to possible future risks, even when we don’t know for sure what the future will bring?

Okay, I will…

If you own a home, would you refuse to buy fire insurance because you’re not really sure that your home will burn down?

Among other tools, models help insurance companies get a handle on the risks of homes burning down, and what they should charge for insurance. By definition, the output of these models is probabilistic and involves uncertainty. Yet does that mean insurance companies have no clue what might happen and what they should charge?

Moreover, models aren’t the only thing we rely on when deciding that its sensible to buy fire insurance. Folks living in a forested area might take note of the fact that in the past, those forests burned. Multiple times. The past is telling them that even if there’s no guarantee that the forest will burn again and send their homes up in flames, maybe fire insurance would be a good idea.

In fact, it’s not just computer models that have helped scientists zero in on a reasonably probable picture of a future with unabated emissions of carbon dioxide and continued warming. In fact, we already are observing that some forests are burning, literally and figuratively.

Here’s the headline on one story about that: Climate Change Blamed for Half of Increased Forest Fire Danger. The story is based on recent research, and it appears to be solidly reported.

It was published in the New York Times. Woops.

More figuratively, the U.S. coastline isn’t burning, but it’s already experiencing dramatic impacts from sea level rise, as this story documents in great detail: Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun

Just guess…

Yes. It was published in that climate-change-denying publication called the New York Times…

Will this sea level rise just magically stop, as for all I know Bret Stephens believes? Paleoclimatology — the study of ancient climates — tells us no. Of course, the past is not a perfect guide to the future. But it does give us more data on which to build projections of what the future will probably look like.

I’ve asked James White, a colleague of mine at the University of Colorado, about this numerous times. He’s a paleoclimatologist, and director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. He points out that in Earth’s past, when CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere stood at about 400 parts per million — we’re at ~410ppm today — sea level stood 15 meters higher. That’s 50 feet.

The graphic at the top of this post (courtesy of a Climate Central interactive feature that you can find here), shows what New York City would look like with “just” 29 feet of sea level rise. The Hudson River would not quite be lapping at the lobby entrance Stephens presumably uses to access his office at the N.Y. Times. But it’s pretty close. And a full 50 feet would swamp it.

You might be wondering why sea level hasn’t already come up that far. The reason is very simple: It’s not just the atmosphere that warms thanks to the heat-trapping nature of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (a matter of simple physics understood since the 1800s, by the way). In fact, the oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the heat that has been building up in the climate system. Moreover, it takes much more heat to warm one liter of water than it does to warm the same volume of air.

So despite absorbing huge amounts of energy, the oceans warm slowly. This is analogous to turning up the thermostat in your home, White says:

We turn the thermostat up to 68, but the house hasn’t warmed up yet. Give it time, it will. When it does, the ramifications — the changes we expect under a warmer world — will happen. From a weather point of view, that’s hard to predict. But sea level rise is easy to predict.

Easy to predict precisely because the past helps provide a picture of what to expect, according to White:

A single degree of temperature rise has been equal to about 20 meters of sea level rise on average, given the record of the past 40 million years.

Luckily, since the temperature of the oceans rises slowly, so does sea level. And that means we have time to adapt to the changes already in the pipeline. And also to take out some insurance to prevent even more dramatic changes that models and the past are telling us are likely coming a century or two down the road if we do nothing.

Notice, I didn’t say any of this is certain. And it’s not just based on “fallible” computer models.

Okay, I never intended to write any of this. Because really, who cares about what Bret Stephens has to say? It’s just one uninformed column amidst fairly good coverage of climate change at the New York Times.

But Stefan Ramstorf didn’t feel that way, and he’s absolutely entitled to that opinion. But my opinion is that cancelling his subscription in a highly public manner seems unproductive — an emotional, not a sensible response.

I’m a passionate believer in what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote about speech in a 1927 decision:

To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

In other words, the antidote to false speech is more speech — truth-telling — not less speech.

The N.Y. Times publishes something like 230 items each and every day (stories, graphics, blog posts, etc.). And especially lately, it has generally been speaking truth to power. Numerous columns by Bret Stephens will not change that. And the needle of public opinion on climate change will not even twitch.

The real problem we face isn’t a columnist expressing an opinion, however asinine it might be. The real problem is exertion of abusive power by an administration that is hiding factual information on climate change and even telling lies to advance a cynical, and even venal, agenda. (Sorry, but this is commentary, not a news story, and that’s my honest opinion.)

This situation is being well covered by Times. So I think what I said in the headline on this story is not really over the top. Publicly cancelling subscriptions because of one stupid column really is an example of some scientists cutting their noses (by cutting off their access to solid, rigorously reported information), and thereby spiting our faces — citizens who need access to good reporting in order to make better decisions in future elections.

I think this kind of response also is like an own goal — a soccer team accidentally kicking the ball into its own net. That’s because initiating campaigns to punish the Times plays right into the false claims of climate change deniers who say most scientists are rigid ideologues opposed to free speech.

I wrote that on Twitter this afternoon, and someone replied:

…’deniers’ will twist almost anything, so worrying abt own goals can be counterproductive

I replied:

Would soccer players say this abt kicking ball into their own net?: ‘Why worry about it since the other team will still do anything to win?’

On Twitter, people have been using the hashtag #ShowYourCancellation to excoriate the Times. Here’s a particularly odious example, and to be fair, not representative of most (but nonetheless, a very big own-goal):

Here’s a more representative example:

Twitter? Good luck with that…

Just to be clear: I greatly respect Stefan Rahmstorf, and will defend his right to free speech — whatever he says (as long as it’s not crying fire in a crowded theater) — passionately.

I also greatly respect climate scientist Michael Mann, who Tweeted that he cancelled his subscription not due to Stephens’ silly column, but because of the “Public editor’s offensive response” to the uproar it created it.

You can find that response here: Seeking More Voices, Even if Some Don’t Want to Hear Them.

Some of it made me roll my eyes. But I didn’t find it offensive. And it concluded on just the right note. The public editor of the Times, Liz Spayd, says that while reporting for her column, she sought the perspective of Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer-winning playwright. Spayd describes Nottage as “a breakthrough talent when it comes to crossing into red-state territory and bringing back its humanity…” And this was Nottage’s “advice on listening to what you may not want to hear”:

“I like to replace judgment with curiosity . . . You tell me your story. I’m going to listen without interruption, and then decide what I think

I listened without interruption to what Stephens had to say. And I decided it was asinine. But my response wasn’t to cancel my subscription to the Times. Even though the paper does make bone-headed moves like hiring Bret Stephens, on balance, they perform a valuable public service. And really, it’s not even close.

My response was to write this column. More speech. Not less.

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  • Sven_Golly

    Fire insurance isn’t a good analogy. Yes you should get fire insurance, but not if it means not being able to feed your children.

    I agree with your article/premise/position, but I think it’s the wrong argument.

    Instead of arguing about “if” climate change is man-made (which it almost certainly is because man-made carbon isotopes are different from other carbon isotopes) scientists should be arguing that only man can stop global warming.

    Nobody wants to admit their actions cause harm, so let’s stop blaming and arguing over “hockey sticks” and instead focus on the fact the planet is heating up and mankind needs to stop it or the planet may very well stop mankind.

    I can’t believe we were able to stop destroying the ozone layer.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Sorry, but I don’t buy your contention that taking steps to mitigate climate change means “not being able to feed your children.” This is a dreadfully false dichotomy.

      As for the planet heating up, we cannot “stop it.” A large amount of change has already happened, and a lot more is coming even if we were to stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere tomorrow. But we can take sensible steps to reduce the magnitude of future change so that we can adapt. Or more precisely, so our children and grandchildren can adapt. We should be giving them a fighting chance. Instead we’re stealing from their futures.

      • jcurl04063

        “Jurnolistic integrity” look it up, you’ve obviously never heard of it. Not backing your argument with facts is no better than lying. One study with questionable parameters and funding that supports your predisposed conclusion isn’t enough to discount 98% of the scientiffic community agreeing on something. The times made a move away from journalistic integrity, there should be reprocustons. If everyone just goes along with something without objection, it only gets more prevalent. And the only thing corporations care about is the bottom line. If this blatant step towards anti-intellectualism didn’t cost the times subscriptions, it would only get more prevelent.

        • Tom Yulsman

          You must have political blinders on that are so effective at screening out things you don’t want to read that you do not actually see the words printed on the page. I backed up my arguments with many facts. And I did not rely on just one study.

          As for your point about the Times suffering repercussions, I agree, they should. But can’t we agree to disagree, respectfully, on what those repercussions should be? I think on balance the Times does a very good job of covering climate change, better than most, throughout the paper. One asinine column, and the unfortunate hiring of one columnist, does not change that very much. And since I am a passionate believer in the power of speech to correct falsity, that is what I think the proper response is. Yes, I criticized prominent scientists who cancelled publicly. But I did it respectfully and with reason and logic. One of the scientists emailed me this morning to say he appreciated what I wrote, but that he still disagreed. He also thanked me. He’s a mensch. (Look it up.) You should try acting like one. It feels good.

          • jcurl04063

            climate change deniers are the ones who don’t back their arguments with facts, because there aren’t any facts to suport their argument. Just because a lot of ignorant people don’t understand the science of global climate change doesn’t mean their opinions are valid. The times has no reason to appeal to these nut jobs at all if they want to be taken seriously. One oh spit washes out all the ata’ boys. The times might have been good in the past reporting on this issue, but this step towards untruth taints all those stories. If the times didn’t loose any money they would just higher more crazy people to write stories for conspericy nut jobs. This isn’t what color to paint the kitchen, the future of the human race is literally at stake, acting like it’s just an academic discussion is stupid

          • John C

            And your scientifically based solution to the climate crisis is…

          • jcurl04063

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement But you’ve scarfed down so much oil industry propaganda I don’t think you’re capable of understanding the whole “our actions have consequences and those gasses coming out of your tail pipe don’t just disapear” thing

          • John C

            Ok…

            And my question still stands:

            Let’s assume you are 100% correct.

            What specific scientifically based solutions do you propose for the climate problem?

            Meaning you, not a cut and paste link.

      • jcurl04063

        “Sensible steps” meaning free steps other people take I don’t have to have any part in. The fact is all people working together is causing our climate to shift towards the uninhabitable range at a rate exponentially faster than any time in the past 100,000 years and only all people working together can stop it. If someone is stabbing you in the eye, are you going to try to reason with them and make them decide they need to stop stabing you? Or are you going to push them away from you? Climate change deniers don’t care if people get hurt as a result of their selfish actions, I have no sympathy for them

        • John C

          Stop using inane term “denier”. There is no equivalence to the Holocaust and what the Nazis did to the European Jews. Zero.

        • John C

          Climate change deniers don’t care if people get hurt as a result of their selfish actions

          —–

          Neither do rich carbon hog liberals like private jet flying Leo DiCaprio, 100,000 sq ft air conditioned mansion Oprah and the friends.

          • Tom Yulsman

            Mr. John C.: Please show me where I’ve written anything ever about a “climate coercion plan”. And why do you tar ordinary citizens who disagree with you by conflating them with celebrities you don’t like?

          • John C

            If someone is stabbing you in the eye, are you going to try to reason with them and make them decide they need to stop stabing you? Or are you going to push them away from you?

            —–

            Not you, Tom. This guy. Fascisti

            And it’s not celebrities I don’t like.

            It’s enormous, flaming Red Giant hypocrites I don’t like.

          • jcurl04063

            You have a right to an opinion, like if you like cream in your coffee. You have no right to call a falicy an opinion. Your ignorance of reality doesn’t entitle you to any respect. Just because you don’t understand that something with an unusually high “probability” is acutllly probably going to happen doesn’t mean you get to be treted like you know what you’re talking about. A 1 in a million bet is a bad bet, it is a selfish bet, it is a stupid bet. Humans are contributing significantly to the global shift in our claimant, and it will continue to get worse if we do nothing. Theee years in a row of record breaking global tempatures is not normal. There is a lot of junk science out ther, by when the only studies that support your conclusion are funded by the oil industry with questionable parameters, it only works against you

          • John C

            You thankfully didn’t mention Russians and Ivanka as part of the carbon conspiracy.

            As I’ve written to Tom, put aside all the worst of the doom and gloom as fact. Which is still debatable, but take it all off the table.

            What specific scientifically based solutions do you propose to solve the problem that you so vociferously point out?

            I just go by physics. Windmills and solar cells ain’t gonna power our global economy. Nor will “increased government investment” increase their share of contribution to the power grid from the current 4% to the 100% that Greens dream of. I wish, but I also wish I had a pet Stegosauraus.

            Stop preaching. What real world solutions do you offer?

          • jcurl04063

            Renewable energy is cheaper now than oil, we could with only technology available today power our whole world with renewable energy. There is also a finite amount of fossil fuels, without investment in new sources of energy production what’s the GDP gong to look like when there’s no power to run any factories? A smart person doesn’t prepare for the best and ignore all the writing on the wall that something bad is about to happen

          • John C

            Please site references supporting the claim that renewables (wind, solar I assume) are cheaper than oil and coal.

            And if so, why by way of simple market economics have they not supplanted carbon, without resorting to conspiracy theory.

          • jcurl04063

            https://qz.com/871907/2016-was-the-year-solar-panels-finally-became-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-just-wait-for-2017/ It hasn’t surplanted carbon because we have corrupt politicians on the take who are still investing in oil pipelines and pandering to coal country. The idea that this needs to happen without government investment you keep pushing is laughable. I’d rather have the government investing in clean energy than a stupid wall

          • John C

            So the Grassy Knoll.

          • jcurl04063

            Why am I not surprised you didn’t take the 2 seconds to google it?

          • NliteN

            http://static.cdn-seekingalpha.com/uploads/2013/4/2/1051953-13649193321115432-zjkiss.png

            Fossil fuels are pooping their pants, which is why they are rigging everything from low cost public lands and offshore drilling to zero cost of waste disposal.

          • Will Myers

            Yep – and when your house is on fire, you don’t stand out in the front yard and hand out brochures on thermodynamics.

          • John C

            So anyone who strongly believes in an idea has the moral obligation to force action for the Good, as they define it.

            Says ISIS, and all the other anti-huministic murdering crud throughout history.

      • John C

        How can windmills, solar panels, batteries and conservation power a modern global economy and 3% annual GDP?

        And please don’t answer, “With more government investment.”

        • Tom Yulsman

          You’re not really interested in my reply, and it will not do anything to change your mind. So I will decline to take the bait. Have a nice day.

          • John C

            I am, actually.

            And I welcome a scientifically based, factual exchange of ideas.

          • Tom Yulsman

            Please accept my sincere apologies. I’m tired. I’ve been rattled by angry people all day. It’s debilitating… The answer to your question cannot be posted in a comment on a blog. It would take a feature article, or even a book. Maybe some day, but not now. Thanks for sticking with the discussion.

          • John C

            No apology is necessary. Food for thought: I’d love to read a series of detailed posts examining the plusses, minuses and track records of the various energy alternatives. None is The silver bullet but I really would be interested in what kind of path forward could be realistically fashioned from the tools at hand. And the socio-economic impact, good and bad, as best we can determine. I know, that’s a deep dive, but it would also be a fascinating one, especially with the attention to detail that you bring to your work.

            Being the energy Holy Grail, I’ve always had a special interest in fusion. Could that technical nut finally be cracked by some type of global Manhattan Project? Or is the rate of progress we see the best we can hope for?

          • Tom Yulsman

            Here are some random ideas off the top of my head:

            First, we shouldn’t have to debate whether efficiency is a good idea. We can have an honest policy debate about how to encourage it, but unfortunately such honest debates rarely occur any longer because there are no adults left in the room.

            Second: We’ve become much more efficient in use of energy because of technological innovation. Government funding of basic research and technology initiatives hasn’t been solely responsible, but it has helped a lot, in much the same way that DARPA helped with all manner of technological innovation that has made the U.S. a leader. Have we gotten enough bang for the buck? Do these government programs actually pick winners and losers as some of my conservative friends decry? Again, we could have an honest debate about that and probably arrive at some good, common-sense solutions that no one would fully embrace, but most would embrace enough. Unfortunately, we can’t have that debate because most of the adults have been displaced by angry bloviators.

            Thanks in good measure to improvements in efficiency, the United States is actually emitting less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere now than in 2007, and that is not expected to change for well more than a decade. The switch to natural gas made possible in large measure by fracking has also helped. That’s because natural gas produces much less CO2 per unit of energy than coal. We could have an honest debate about finding the right balance between producing even more and safeguarding the environment from the risks of fracking (and minimizing methane leaks, etc.) But unfortunately, we can’t. Because the adults are gone, and the blowhards rule the roost.

            Another contributor to the reduction in CO2 emissions has been a significant uptick in penetration of renewable energy — solar and wind in particular. See my comments about the role of government funded R&D in this. It has played no small measure in the success. So has the ability of the Chinese to mass manufacture cells. That has caused costs to plummet. In some cases, it is even getting close to parity with fossil fuels. And anecdotally, during some reporting I did in South Africa, I learned that solar actually saved the country’s utility a very large sum of money in 2015. I believe it was in the 100s of millions, but don’t quote me. It’s a bit of a complicated explanation for how this happened, and I’d be happy to share it if you’re interested.

            We could have an honest debate about what, if anything, we should do to encourage renewables. Putting aside climate change, my opinion is that they offer many advantages. The Chinese know: They’re installing more solar capacity than any one else to help clear their filthy skies. But we can’t have that debate, because unfortunately there aren’t many adults around to have it.

            Bottom line: The United States has come a long way without any sort of integrated carbon and energy policy, because of targeted R&D investments, our capacity for technological innovation, regulations, and the power of markets. We could debate the relative mix of those things, but of course we won’t, because…

            There are very good arguments for continuing to move in this direction, regardless of what you think about climate change. Perhaps you and I could have that debate, but…

            Lastly, climate change doesn’t have “a solution.” As you will point out, the climate has changed dramatically on its own throughout Earth history. But we are pushing it very hard in a direction that’s already producing significant challenges. There’s little doubt about that. (Speak to folks living in Miami if you have any doubts. Or Svalbard, for that matter…) My opinion is that the conservative way to proceed is to do all that we can to reduce the risks and make it easier for our children and their children to adapt and thrive. This requires some long-term investments. I prefer to think of it that way rather than “sacrifice.” This is the way I think of saving for retirement, and to pass on some resources to my children — as investing in a better future, even though I’ve had to sacrifice some things I would have liked. A fancier car, say, or a bigger house. Actually, wait, as hippie greenie environmentalist I’ve never wanted those things. 😉 )

          • OWilson

            We all want cheaper more efficient enegry, and one day we will have it.

            Childish wishful thinking aside, the top 3 Solar Energy Companies in the world have just gone bankrupt:

            ABENGOA
            SUN EDISON
            SOLYNDRA

            And taken over $25,000,000,000.00 of American taxpayers money with them.

            An adult has to burst the fairy tale naivety once in a while.

            And really, if you take the time to check the NOAA satellite record over the last 38 years. there is really no problem, compared to the adult problems like Nuclear War, Radical Islamist Terrorism, and that huge $20,000,000,000,000.00 National Debt you are kicking down the raod to generations unborn! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            So now the moderator’s a “snowflake?” Wow, just can’t figure out when easing up on the insults might be a good idea, can you? LOL… But then, what to expect from someone arguing debt is more dangerous than floods, drought, famine, deadly heatwaves, and the loss of coastal cities to rising sea levels. Such lack of realistic perspective.

          • OWilson

            Our moderator calls another columnist silly, asinine, ridiculous, deceptive, odious, stupid, and your government “venal”, and you feel you have to jump in and “defend” his honor? :)

            I’m sure Tom feels relieved! :)

            You hit two definitions there, snowflake AND master scorer of an “own goal”, in just one post! :)

            The term was “sowflakes” by the way, not directed at any one person, not that that matters to you true believers :)

            A cheap point, is, as always, better than no point I suppose at this stage in your pathetic record here!

          • Mike Richardson

            When you reply specifically to one person in a thread, then use the inclusive plural “you snowflakes,” you are directing it at least in part at the person to whom you’re replying. Not that I would expect you to apologize for your behavior like a mature adult — better to post something ridiculous and insulting like an angry gradeschooler, then try to explain it away. Seems like we’ve all seen that pattern too much lately. And you have quite the pathetic record of that around her yourself. Still, you do prove our host’s point of providing others the freedom to say asinine things and do more damage to their already ludicrous viewpoints. Carry on.

          • OWilson

            Only a snowflake could possibly be outraged and violated by the term “snowflake” :)

            But always glad I have your “official” gummint swamp worker approval to carry on! Thank you! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Nothing official, just the confident knowledge that you will continue to cut off your nose to spite your own face, as you’ve so obligingly done here. That inability to critically reflect on your own behavior is greatly appreciated, both for the humor it provides and the example of how irrational climate change deniers actually are. So no, thank you, sir! 😉

          • OWilson

            Your “confident knowledge” got you President Hillary too, remember?

            Welcome to reality!

          • Mike Richardson

            Your behavior, self-defeating as it is, actually is much more predictable and reliable than any election. Elections always provide opportunity for change, good or bad, whereas you lack the capacity to change. That, unfortunately, is your reality.

          • OWilson

            So, nothing on topic!

            OK!

          • Mike Richardson

            LOL… Seriously, Your Irrelevancy? You see no irony in THAT comment? Never mind, rhetorical question. ON topic you continue to provide no coherent argument to support your contrarian position, merely ever predictable knee jerk responses that project your own failures in this regard. You’re quite considerate in proving exactly what I said in my last post. :)

          • okiejoe

            I’m a little late getting here but I have been interested in Thorium fission for power generation(don’t groan, keep an open mind.) There hasn’t been enough research on Thorium because Uranium got there first and the reason Uranium led the way is that you can make bombs with Uranium and you can’t with Thorium. Thorium is more plentiful and easier to refine than Uranium and its fission products are easier to handle. I’m sure there are disadvantages too but not as bad as Uranium. Some real research might yield a reasonable mid-term solution until fusion or some other method comes on line.

          • TLongmire

            To harness friction is to drink of the holy grail.

  • stevenmosher
    • Tom Yulsman

      This is terrific! Thank you for sharing it.

  • OWilson

    I think you made your position very clear with your statement:

    “The real problem is exertion of abusive power by an (Republican) administration that is hiding factual information on climate change and even telling lies to advance a cynical, and even venal, agenda.

    So much for politics.

    As for the science, illustrating your column with a photoshopped picture of New York City (which is actually growing) under 29 feet of water is pure hyperbole.

    If you ignore any margin of error, we have had a 1 degree rise over the last century and 0.19 of warming (NOAA) over the last 38 years of the satellite record.

    Your quote, “A single degree of temperature rise has been equal to about 60 feet (20 meters) of sea level rise on average, given the record of the past 40 million years”, is total (how can I be polite here?) “speculation”.

    As for the logic: Buying fire insurance never stops fires, it just re-imburses the victims. Your nemesis, Stephens would be out of his mind to spend his money on buying insurance against the Hudson River rising 50 feet and swamping his office building.

    When it comes to scoring own goals, “true believers” need no help from “deniers”. :)

    • Richard Reiss

      New York City (as well as Paris, London, and the world’s other major cities) knows exactly what needs to be done to preserve our coastlines: achieve the ‘high ambition’ goals of the Paris agreement. What that takes is outlined in this document.

      c40.org/researches/deadline-2020

      No one is actually doing it yet, except maybe the Scandinavian countries and the Swiss.

      swissinfo.ch/eng/energy-efficiency_2000-watt-society–when-the-future-becomes-a-reality/41958718

      • OWilson

        According to your link, “the Paris Agreement objective (is)
        limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees”.

        According to the latest NOAA satellite record over the last 38 years, the current anomaly is 0.19 degrees.

        At this the current rate, the anomaly will be 0.17 degrees higher by the year 2050, and 0.42 degrees higher by 2100.

        Don’t start building that Ark just yet! :)

        • Richard Reiss

          Whatever tiny grain of derpness you get from posting satellite only, enjoy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_heat_content

          • OWilson

            I know you folks would rather rely on old steamship records from 1880, ice cores and tree rings Ancient tidal guages and such.

            And in 1880 it must have been hard for those horses and buggies to haul around those new fangled thermometers. :)

            What do you figure the margin of error wopuld have bee, dodging the indians and head hunters in the Amazon? :)

          • Richard Reiss

            Even worse, climate scientists rely on rocks, just like Exxon.
            https://youtu.be/uXTCai_NAFk

          • NliteN

            Zero error. Thermometers are calibrated by boiling and freezing water points at room temperature and sea level. Nice try.

          • OWilson

            How did they manage to get them into Africa, Austrailia, South America and both Poles which were “unexplored” in 1880? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Africa, Australia, and South America were not unexplored in the 1880s. Perhaps not completely explored by Europeans and Americans, but neither was North America at that point. Sounds like someone got a history degree from Trump University. 😉

          • OWilson

            Look at any world map from 1880, and you’ll see large areas “unexplored”.

            http://brilliantmaps.com/unexplored-world/

            i.e. not a thermometer in sight!

            (Or even a Trump to get the snowflake’s panties in a knot!) :)

            On the subject of “fake institutions”, who do you think will warrant an FBI Indictment first, the Clinton “Foundation”, or Bernie Sander’s wife’s bankrupt Burlington “College”?

            Clinton supporters are not well served by bringing up political corruption, as we have seen! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Never one to admit a mistake, eh? Now there’s a purveyor of fake news! 😁

          • OWilson

            Hillary ahead by 14!

            Trump, no path to…….(fill in the gap)

            :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Which has what to do with the topic of climate or geography, Your Irrelevancy?

          • OWilson

            You couldn’t resist mentioning Trump!

            You are a silly person.

            Bye Bye Mikey!

          • Mike Richardson

            Merely comparing his own ignorance and twisting of historical fact to your own, as you demonstrated in your last semi-relevant post. Bye Wilson; nice try, but again you fail on facts and relevancy. But at least you’re consistent! :)

          • OWilson

            Ah, Mikey, self important gummint employee!

            Always telling himself he wins! :)

            How be we leave the “relevancy” of our posts to the readers? :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Ol’Wilson, avid consumer and promoter of alt-facts extraordinaire! Always too clueless to realize he’s just embarrassing himself further with that trademark inability to detect his own irony. I pointed out your poor grasp or deliberate distortion of historical fact, and that’s “trolling,” but your incessant political rants that depart ever further from topic aren’t? Priceless! 😁 And I’ll decide when I’m done, thank you very much! Maybe in your own alternative reality you have some control over other people, but around here you constantly display just how inconsequential you actually are. But if it makes you feel any better , you do have at least one purpose around here — making me and so many others laugh! 😆 Thanks!

          • OWilson

            Feel free to continue to rage, at yourself! :)

            Will you be posting anything on topic here anytime soon? :)

            After all, that’s what me “and so many others” are here for :)

          • Mike Richardson

            LOL…. Oh, the irony of your post, Your Irrelevancy, when you’ve said nothing on topic for the past several. But closer to the point of the topic, you have at least shown the value of supporting free speech (or at least not restricting it) from contrarians. As you’ve demonstrated here, aside from a very weak argument based on unexplored areas of the globe preventing a reasonable baseline estimate of average temperatures in the late 1800s, or questioning whether thermometers can be trusted, your posts have consisted mainly of political rants and insults. Not terribly on topic, eh? But the irrelevancy and inaccuracies in your posts do provide support for the premise of the blog article. You are indeed the gift that keeps on giving. :)

          • OWilson

            Thank you and good night!

          • Mike Richardson

            Concession accepted. Clearly you cannot post anything topical yourself, except by way of ironically proving Tom’s point about the value of allowing climate change deniers to embarrass themselves, rather than responding to them irrationally. Goodday, sir. :)

          • OWilson

            So you declare yourself the “winner” again?

            God help you, and your kids! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            No, your compulsive responses in an effort to have the last word, while consistently free of any topical content, declare that to anyone bothering to read them. Based on your track record of compulsive and irrational behavior, it’s clearly your own family that needs sympathy. They at least have mine! :)

          • OWilson

            My readers speak for themselves!

            (so do yours!)

            Nobody made you the referee, (yet!) :)

          • Mike Richardson

            “Idols?” Someone’s mind is clearly wandering the countryside unattended. And sorry, Wilson, but like probably everyone else on the planet, I don’t need you. You do provide the occasionally amusing harmless distraction, like video games or sitcoms, but nothing more. As for your “readers,” from whom we’re not hearing much these days, congratulations. I’m sure you’re the most popular girl on the denier cheerleader squad. Don’t worry much about popularity myself, as it’s pretty irrelevant to objective facts. Still, if you need that kind of constant validation, I understand. Makes you feel needed, doesn’t it? :)

          • OWilson

            Makes it easier to spot the trolls, though! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            I should worry about being taken away by “the white coats?”. Dude, I’m not the one publicly proclaiming “You NEED me, Mikey! ” Sounds like a line from Fatal Attraction, honestly. And it’s probably well above a 97% consensus regarding human contributions to global warming, now, sad attempts at cherry-picking data to support your confirmation bias aside. But thanks — I just don’t know how I could carry on without your response and its supposed contribution to my relevancy. 😄

          • OWilson

            I’m always here for you, snowflake!

  • carolannie

    Too bad that we get a boring rehash in these comments of what was said on the NYT. Thanks for taking the time to review this. And i am bothered by the pressure on rational people to accept emotional arguments from adults as equivalent to fact based arguments. And then being told we are intolerant and biased if we point out the lack of facts in those emotions.

  • mem_somerville

    I’ve been fascinated to watch this play out in real time. The issue of terrible information coming wrapped up in the Gray veneer has been a problem on health and science issues for a long time. Not long ago a column cited the noted crank Mercola. There was outrage, but not cancellation.

    NYT is consistently terrible on agriculture science issues. The scientists and farmers I know are regularly dismayed by their staff reporters like Stephanie Strom and Danny Hakim, and how they run conferences for food issues that excludes farmers but celebrates prominent opponents of ag tools. But nobody ever tried the subscription cancellation strategy.

    But people always point me to the skills of the climate scientists in public outreach. I’m curious to see what the impact of this will be. Should the ag scientists and farmers try this too? Or can we make change by calling out the bad info? Or will it make no difference at all?

  • John C

    Does anyone who just read those words fail to understand that projections about the future involve probabilities, not certain fact? If so, please raise your hand.

    Uhm, hold ’em up higher, I don’t see any hands…

    —–

    You’re kidding, right? You think the vast majority of liberal politicians, Twitter screamers, journalists and democrat voters see climate projections in terms of cool, goatee-stroking statistical probabilities rather than dead certain hair on fire eco-prophesy? Did you see the signs at the March of Liberals for Science?

    But all that aside, and even if the most hysterical Climatereligionist claims and predictions are factual, the Big Question is:

    What is to be done?

    That is, without causing massive global social and economic dislocation?

    Natgas / fracking can help us use less oil and coal. But the Greens are against it.

    State of the art fission can help us use less oil and coal. But the Greens are against it.

    Windmills, conservation and solar panels can’t power a modern global economy (see Germany and Spain). It’s just physics.

    China and India won’t forgo raising billions of their citizens out of subsistence poverty because fat, rich Westerners lecture them about Arctic ice.

    So, the Greens offer a lot of posing, eco-virtue signaling and “solutions” not backed by science and callous to the human aspirations of billions of people.

    • OWilson

      It’s no secret what they are marching for :)

      What they want is your money, lots of it. And the first thing on their agenda is a change of government who will give it too them!

  • Siwanoy2

    “Publicly cancelling subscriptions because of one stupid column…”. I think the cancellation was triggered by the column only to the extent that it exemplified the very poor choice the Times made in hiring Stephens as a regular op ed contributor and putting him on the editorial board. The explanations/justifications for this decision we have since heard from the Times do nothing to allay the fear that it has essentially a financial not an editorial reason. Those who cancel their subscriptions are reacting with financial pressure and that is not so emotional as you claim.

  • http://cosmic.lifeform.org/ Thomas Lee Elifritz

    Bret Stephens at the New York Times will last just about as long as Roger Pielke Jr. lasted at Nate Silver’s 538. Not ever long. The truth is like that.

  • Chuck Kutscher

    Tom Yulsman make some interesting points in taking issue with climate scientists who have canceled their New York Times subscription, concluding with the statement: “More speech. Not less.” The problem is that this is a statement about quantity, not quality. I believe a newspaper of the Times’ reputation has a responsibility for ensuring that its readers receive the highest-quality information possible. In the case of climate change, that means information that is backed up by peer-reviewed science, not based on opinions derived from political posturing.

    The fact is that the climate change disinformation campaign is based largely on producing a great quantity of false information that obscures the scientific truth. Calling for more speech, not less, without proper attention to the quality of the speech, plays directly into that strategy. Ironically, the Times hired and defended Stephens at the same time it is running an advertising campaign with the slogan, “Truth: It’s more important now than ever.” But their action makes clear that expanding their readership is what’s really important. Sending a strong message to the Times that departing from the truth can also have negative impacts on readership is hence an appropriate action. (And perhaps newspapers like The Washington Post, which is doing an excellent job of covering climate science, will gain from the Times’ loss.)

    Also, while Tom Yulsman generally does a good job of summarizing the climate science, I would take issue with his statement, “Luckily, since the temperature of the oceans rises slowly, so does sea level. And that means we have time to adapt to the changes already in the pipeline.” Climate change is occurring so rapidly that species are becoming extinct precisely because they can’t adapt quickly enough. Humans are also faced with severe adaptation challenges. I suggest, for example, that Tom ask James White how South Florida, with its porous limestone topography, will ultimately be able to adapt to the relentlessly rising sea level.

  • chucksav

    ” I greatly respect Stefan Rahmstorf, and will defend his right to free speech — whatever he says (as long as it’s not crying fire in a crowded theater) — passionately.”

    But isn’t Rahmstorf claiming there is no fire, when, in fact (or in all ‘likelihood’), the theater is on the verge of flashover?

    • OWilson

      How about shouting “fire” in a crowded planet? :)

    • Mike Richardson

      That’s a good analogy, much better than the tired and overused “shouting fire in a crowded planet,” argument for silencing those warning of the danger posed by out-of-control global warming. Freedom of speech may be a valued right, but it is not without responsibility.

  • jmac

    Very interesting. Good stuff.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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