NYT Contributor Rattles Readers About Climate Change


Bret Stephens, a new columnist for The New York Times, has provoked outrage among liberals by suggesting that climate change believers tone down their rhetoric. His column is an interesting read, and provokes debate over whether or not he was intending to provoke liberal ire.  Stephens presents readers with a cautionary tale about being “too certain” about things, claiming that liberals are doing themselves a disservice by insisting that the issues of climate change and global warming are 100 percent settled. 

Whether Stephens believes in man-made global warming, or supports legislation to attempt to limit it, is unclear. The columnist takes great pains to insist that he is not denying climate change, but declares that the general public has a right to be skeptical of scientific certainty. These citizens, he notes, “know – as all environmentalists should – that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”

Stephens does not offer any such errors, nor does he present many facts and figures at all. Aside from referencing some recent reports, the column is pretty sparse. It is also brief. Frankly, it does not seem like an article that should inspire such hand-wringing among liberal readers.  Obviously, it is the fact that the article was published by a left-leaning newspaper that has spurred anger. 

If Stephens was trying to kick a hornet’s nest, he did a pretty good job. He does have a good point about being overly devoted to specific data and figures: If those figures are ever disproven, critics will savage your entire argument. Indeed, conservatives are eagerly waiting for any previously-hypothesized global warming figures to fail to meet predictions. If any numbers are slightly off, politicians and lobbyists who support pollutant-rich industries will loudly declare the whole “man-made climate change thing” a sham.

Liberal politicians will be accused of pushing job-killing regulations on the back of “bad science,” and many voters will agree. 

But how else can one try to persuade the public about the dangers of global warming without resorting to hard data? Skeptics will demand numbers and will not accept “soft” answers like “well, it’s getting hotter every year” and “we’re seeing more and more extreme weather events.” An example of this can be seen whenever climate change skeptics point to the fact that it’s still snowing. Snowstorms are “soft” and in no way disprove that it is getting hotter every year. To fight conservatives’ argument that every cold snap disproves global warming, liberals must point to the steadily-climbing average and record temps.

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