Titled “Climate of Complete Certainty,” the gray lady’s new op-ed writer Bret Stephens observes in his first-ever column entry, “We live in a world in which data conveys authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris.”
We then “respond to inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous.”
Referring most particularly to climate science politicization, Stephens wrote that “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.”
Citing an October 2016 Pew Research Center survey, Stephens said, “Despite 30 years of efforts by scientists, politicians, and activists to raise [climate] alarm, nearly two-thirds of Americans are either indifferent to or only somewhat bothered by the prospect of planetary calamity.”
Stephens also quoted New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin, stating last year, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass legislation.” Revkin noted that climate hyperbole “not only didn’t fit the science at the time, but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public.”
Wall Street Journal writer Holman Jenkins, Jr., featured Stephens’ New York Times article (although not his name) in a May 3 editorial titled “Climate Editors Have a Meltdown.” Commenting upon his former Wall Street Journal colleague’s admission of less certainty about scientific “data,” Jenkins reminds readers that in the 1980s, when climate alarms were first being sounded, reporters understood the speculative basis of computer models.
He recalls that, “We all said to ourselves: Well, in 30 years we’ll certainly have the data to know for sure which model forecasts are valid.”
But that hasn’t happened. Jenkins reflects that now, more than 30 years later, the UN’s most recent 2014 IPCC summary report claiming with 95% confidence that humans are responsible for at least half of the warming between 1951 and 2010 continues only to be “an estimate of an estimate.”
A larger unsettled question remains to be “how much warming should have taken place” if those failed climate models had been correct. As for that “95% confidence,” in 2013 the IPCC actually “widened its range of uncertainty in the direction of less warming.”
Jenkins directs appropriate attention to the fact that there has been no predictive climate modeling progress in 38 years. Meanwhile, as earlier science-minded reporters have come and gone waiting for answers that never came, “The job has been passed into hands of reporters who don’t even bother to feign interest in science.”
As Jenkins witnesses, this new generation of journalists “think the magic word ‘consensus’ is all the support they need for any climate claim they care to make.” Any questions to the contrary, or doubts regarding costs vs. benefits of futile efforts to have any measurable influence, are likely to get reporters suspected of “climate denialism.”
No informed person I know denies that climate changes, or that global mean temperatures haven’t been warming in fits-and-starts since the multiple-century-long “little ice age” (not a true Ice Age) ended in the 1850s. Incidentally, that was prior to the time when the Industrial Revolution introduced smokestacks and SUVs.
At the same time, satellite records available only since 1979 show that, other than naturally occurring 1998 and 2014-16 El Nino temperature spikes, no statistically significant global warming has occurred for nearly two decades.
Jenkins discerns that “climate advocacy has morphed into a religion, unwilling to deal honestly with uncertainty questions of cost and benefit.” This resulting “climate apoplexy, like many single-issue obsessions, is now a form of entertainment for exercised minorities, allowing them to vent personal qualities that in most contexts they would be required to suppress.”
Or as the non-profit, non-partisan Institute for Public Policy Research once observed, “Climate change alarmism typically employs a quasi-religious register of death and doom, uses an inflated or extreme lexicon with language of acceleration and irreversibility, and imports an urgent tone and cinematic codes which might even become secretly thrilling . . . effectively a form of ‘climate porn.'”
And as Bret Stephens concludes, ordinary citizens have a right to be skeptical of an “overweening scientism.” He wisely warns us to remember that “history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”