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“In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall” (NYT article revisited)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 20, 2023

Ed Note: This week is the 35th anniversary of the exaggerated climate alarm, which began with James Hansen’s June 1988 testimony before the Senate. Meanwhile, far-too-many scientists remain quiet about the climate model problem and psuedo-scientific attribution studies, while the campaigners link all extreme weather events to mankind’s consumption and energy habits.

“In a paper being published in the March-April [2009] edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet … said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight … ‘as global-warming alarmism….’” – Andrew Revkin, NYT (2009).

“There has to be a lot of shrillness taken out of our language. In the environmental community, we have to be more humble. We can’t take the attitude that we have all the answers.” – Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund (2011).

Alarm becomes its own enemy when the data does not back it up. Repeated exaggerations cause a backlash as credibility shrinks. And it is well documented, as in Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never, building on his argument presented in a Forbes column, Why Climate Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Bjorn Lomborg’s best-seller False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet,” also demoted the climate scare at the time the climate elite wanted us to panic.

The alarmists, meanwhile, declare themselves to not be alarmist! Wiki blocked an entry on Climate Alarmism, bowing to the offended alarmists. My climate opponent Andrew Dessler cut off email communication with me because … I called him an alarmist in print!

Not an alarmist? Consider this:

If ‘some humans survive’ is the only thing we care about, then climate change is a non-issue. I think it’s certain that ‘some’ humans will survive almost any climate change. They may be living short, hard lives of poverty, but they’ll be alive. (November 20, 2018)

Here is the email exchange between us (February 16, 2020) where Dessler labels me a “denier” but rejects the “alarmist” label:

I don’t feel like talking to someone who insults me on their widely read blog. When you publicly apologize for calling me an “alarmist”, then I’ll consider answering….

I answered:

I did not understand your offense with being called an alarmist. What would you describe yourself as in the sense of seeing a dire future of climate and the need for short-term forced energy transformation? Can one buy into “the existential threat” and not be labeled an alarmist?

I assume you would call me a “denier” (those who view the future of climate optimistically under BAU).

He ended the exchange with this:

You’re absolutely a denier, Rob.  The difference between us is that I don’t call you out about it.  If you want a civil discussion with someone, don’t begin it with an insult.

Dessler knows that Malthusian gloom is a short-run strategy at best. Does he realize that his scare today is straightlined from Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 The Population Bomb, which began:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…”

Mass starvation … Mineral resource famines … global cooling … global warming. Doomsday has had many different colors but a common flaw: no theory of entrepreneurship, or human ingenuity to tame the bad (anticipate, adapt!) and capitalize on the good (more atmospheric CO2!) in wealthy free societies.

The climate debate, after all, is all about high-energy society powered by mineral energies increasing human betterment in a variety of climates.

Revkin: 2009

This gets me to a 14-year-old piece by the then New York Times climate scribe Andrew Revkin, In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall. This article (below, highlighted in green) is timely for the debate today where the alarmists tip-toe between dire predictions and losing the general public on the issue.

Revkin compares Al Gore’s message of impending catastrophe with eco-complaints against George Will (see this defense of Will’s article in reference to the points below).

In the effort to shape the public’s views on global climate change, hyperbole is an ever-present temptation on all sides of the debate.

Earlier this month, former Vice President Al Gore and the Washington Post columnist George Will made strong public statements about global warning — from starkly divergent viewpoints.

Mr. Gore, addressing a hall filled with scientists in Chicago, showed a slide that illustrated a sharp spike in fires, floods and other calamities around the world and warned the audience that global warming “is creating weather-related disasters that are completely unprecedented.”

Mr. Will, in a column attacking what he said were exaggerated claims about global warming’s risks, chided climate scientists for predicting an ice age three decades ago and asserted that a pause in warming in recent years and the recent expansion of polar sea ice undermined visions of calamity ahead.

Both men, experts said afterward, were guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements.

Mr. Gore removed the slide from his presentation after the Belgian research group that assembled the disaster data said he had misrepresented what was driving the upward trend. The group said a host of factors contributed to the trend, with climate change possibly being one of them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said he planned to switch to using data on disasters compiled by insurance companies.

Mr. Will, peppered with complaints from scientists and environmental groups who claimed the column was riddled with errors, has yet to respond. The Post’s ombudsman said Mr. Will’s column had been carefully fact-checked. But the scientists whose research on ice formed the basis for Mr. Will’s statements said their data showed the area of the ice shrinking, not expanding.

The events illustrate the fine line that advocates on all sides walk — and sometimes cross — in using science to bolster their arguments over what should or should not be done about global warming, the buildup of emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists have linked to rising temperatures.

President Obama has not been immune from the lure of hype. As president-elect, Mr. Obama, making a video appearance at a California climate conference, began by saying that the science pointing to human-caused warming was beyond dispute — a statement backed by a strong consensus among scientists. But he went on to push the point, taking the same step as Mr. Gore onto shakier ground.

“We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season,” Mr. Obama said, linking this to global warming.

While climate scientists foresee more intense droughts and storms, there is still uncertainty, and significant disagreement, over whether recent patterns can be attributed to global warming.

Social scientists who study the interface of climate science and public policy say that campaigners and officials who seek to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases face an uphill battle in changing people’s minds about the issue. Even with the success of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Oscar-winning 2006 documentary featuring Mr. Gore, and widely publicized images of melting Arctic ice, surveys show that most Americans are either confused about climate change, mildly concerned about it or completely disengaged from the issue.

A variety of surveys show that roughly 20 percent of Americans are in Mr. Gore’s camp and another 20 percent in Mr. Will’s, rejecting the idea that humans could dangerously alter global climate. That division is unlikely to change any time soon, said David Ropeik, a consultant on risk communication who teaches at Harvard University.

Once science moves from the laboratory or ice caps into fights over policy and the economy, Mr. Ropeik said, the issues are mainly framed by polarizing figures who tailor their message to people who already strongly support their views.

“Gore and Will will rally their supporters and entrench their opponents, and we will be no closer to progress,” Mr. Ropeik said. “They are merely two leaders of their tribes waving the tribal flag.”

In a paper being published in the March-April edition of the journal Environment, Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor of communications at American University, said Mr. Gore’s approach, focusing on language of crisis and catastrophe, could actually be serving the other side in the fight.

“There is little evidence to suggest that it is effective at building broad-based support for policy action,” Dr. Nisbet said. “Perhaps worse, his message is very easily countered by people such as Will as global-warming alarmism, shifting the focus back to their preferred emphasis on scientific uncertainty and dueling expert views.”

But Dr. Nisbet said that for Mr. Will, there was little downside in stretching the bounds of science to sow doubt.

Criticism of Mr. Will’s columns, Dr. Nisbet said, “only serves to draw attention to his claims while reinforcing a larger false narrative that liberals and the mainstream press are seeking to censor rival scientific evidence and views.”


It’s summertime 2023. Expect every heat record and drought anomaly to be highlighted and publicized as “global warming.” Never mind that air conditioning has tamed the heat for almost all, and the world’s warming is well below (alarmist) model-predicted. Expect, too, that hurricanes this season (it began June 1) will be hyped as “climate change.” The exaggeration continues with fundraising and political power as the prize.

One Comment for ““In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall” (NYT article revisited)”

  1. Russell  

    Robert , climate hype is as worthy of denunciation as sharp dealing in energy arbitrage.
    To avoid ending up as an apologist for the smartest guys in the echo chamber yet again,
    you had best deal with what they conspicuously ignore :



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