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Twinges of Climate Realism at the New York Times (Stephens, Douthat vs. the rest of the paper)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 7, 2019

Joe Romm, founder of ClimateProgress (now part of ThinkProgress) at the Center for American Progress, is the bully man against anyone daring to challenge the narrative of man-made climate peril and the affordability of government-forced transformation away from mineral (dense) energies.

His ire has included two editorialists at the New York Times who are not buying climate catastrophe–Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat. But with the losing politics of carbon dioxide (CO2) rationing, not to mention the open scientific questions of climate sensitivity, these two opinion-molders have the high ground.

Bret Stephens

Romm lambasted the Times in 2017 for hiring “extreme climate science denier” Bret Stephens, a characterization that brought rebuke from the Washington Post and other Left outlets. [1]

Most recently, Romm complained about Stephens’s interpretation of Nancy Pelosi’s rejection of the Green New Deal as incrementalism. His “Is Nancy Pelosi a Climate Skeptic? was subtitled “It’s time to reckon with the internal contradictions of climate policy”.

Stephens’s sin? Recognizing the Green New Deal as a politically preposterous yet logical development in the church of apocalypticism. He adds:

Endorsements of the Green New Deal may have rolled in from Democratic presidential hopefuls, but the chances of them enacting any of it if they take office are about as great as Scott Pruitt being elected to the board of the Sierra Club. Even Barack Obama didn’t endorse a gas tax when he had a chance to do so in 2009.

All of this means that climate activists should get wise to a central fact: If Pelosi is skeptical of their policies, where do they imagine the rest the country is?

Expect every Stephens column on climate to be insightful and realistic, weakening a shared narrative that is getting harder and harder to maintain.

Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat has been labeled by Romm a “hard-core climate misinformer.” Typical comment: “… the Times’ editors decided to let their other conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, publish his own piece of un-fact-checked nonsense this weekend….”.

A look back at Douthat’s argument and positions is worthwhile. Five years ago–and 26 years into the Great Climate Alarm–Douthat shared his skepticism about the doom-and-gloom narrative. He wrote:

I do, however, believe that the contours of the climate policy debate do not merit the “fate of the earth” framing they’re often given, and I also think (and have argued previously) that events since 2007 have substantially weakened the case for a McCain or Paulson-style climate bill. So I’m pretty comfortable being associated with a political mini-movement that doesn’t have “figure out a market-friendly plan for limiting greenhouse gases” that high on its policy agenda.

And also:

Do the climate policy options on the table pass a searching cost-benefit analysis? Not so far as I can tell, no. Are we flush at the moment, with plenty of fiscal and economic room to make bad policy bets? No, I do not think we are.

Is there a case for focusing first on areas where the problems in our common life are more immediate, and the benefits from wise policy to our household/nation are much clearer — focusing on finding and creating, as it were, more “room to grow” — before we lock ourselves into anti-growth measures with highly uncertain returns? Yes, I think there is.

Is there reason to hope that this broadly-shared-prosperity-first approach might actually yield better returns, a better hedge against risk, than a regulation-first strategy? On the evidence of recent history, I’d say yes again.

Two years ago, Ross Douthat found his intellectual/policy home as a global lukewarmer. In “Neither Hot Nor Cold on Climate,” he wrote:

Like a lot of conservatives who write about public policy, my views on climate change place me in the ranks of what the British writer Matt Ridley once dubbed the “lukewarmers.” … Lukewarmers accept that the earth is warming and that our civilization’s ample CO2 emissions are a major cause. They doubt, however, that climate change represents a crisis unique among the varied challenges we face, or that the global regulatory schemes advanced to deal with it will work as advertised.

Douthat goes on to question the do-nothing approach of the Republicans, a position that I would justify as a no regrets, first-do-no-harm policy.

Douthat recently participated in an Earth Day podcast climate discussion (at twenty minutes) with his colleague David Leonhardt, a climate alarmist, which inspired the latter to highlight the conversion experience of Jerry Taylor from skeptic (while at Cato) to alarmist (founding the Niskanen Center). Tomorrow’s post will present a buyers beware argument against the strange case of Jerry Taylor.


The climate math and climate politics are getting worse and worse for the climate alarmists. Meanwhile, we are certain about CO2 and photosynthesis and uncertain about climate sensitivity.

One can only hope that Stephens and Douthat continue to ask the hard questions and expose the futile crusade. This is exactly what open-minded Times readers deserve.


[1] VOX’s David Robert’s stated in response to Romm:

Predictably, the debate about Stephens has focused on whether he is a “climate denier.” That label, which has taken on such weighty culture-war implications, is mostly symbolic and mostly a distraction. Despite what people like Stephens like to say, climate change is not a religious doctrine. Attitudes toward it need not be binary, belief or apostasy. Different people might draw different conclusions from the available information.

A HuffPost article on the same controversy quoted James Bennet, the editorial-page editor of the New York Times:

The charge that Stephens is a “climate denialist” is “terribly unfair,” Bennet said. “There’s more than one kind of denial,” he continued. “And to pretend like the views of a thinker like Bret, and the millions of people who agree with him on a range of issues, should simply be ignored, that they’re outside the bounds of reasonable debate, is a really dangerous form of delusion.”

Joe Romm himself once questioned his own use of the term in a post titled Climate Science Disinformers Are Nothing Like Holocaust Deniers.

Since I lost many relatives in the Holocaust, I understand all too well the unique nature of that catastrophe. The Holocaust is not an analogue to global warming, which is an utterly different kind of catastrophe, and, obviously, one whose worst impacts are yet to come….

Over the years, I have explained why “denier” is not my preferred term. I tried to coin the terms “delayer” and “disinformer” for those who make a living spreading disinformation about climate science — and I still use the term ‘disinformer.’  But coining terms is nearly impossible, and the fact is that almost everybody has embraced the term “deniers” — including many, many disinformers.

But like an addict, he cannot quite change his ways.


  1. Ron Clutz  

    Thanks for seeing a silver lining with Stephens and the others. However, the cloud at NY Times continues to obscure and misinform. This week’s example is a NYT article “Climate May Slow the Flow of Maple.” Eric Felten did an excellent takedown showing how NYT pushes a climate narrative rather than reporting facts. My synopsis:

    “How did the New York Times get things so wrong? Is it carelessness? Or is there an ideological agenda at play, one that requires the reporting and writing to lead to a preestablished conclusion? On Twitter, the NYT reporter calls herself Kendra “Gloom is My Beat” Pierre-Louis. That is no doubt a gesture at self-aware humor. But it also suggests that her reporting is skewed: If you see gloom as your beat, by definition you ignore information that doesn’t advance the narrative of impending doom. And then there is the larger institutional bias. Pierre-Louis is officially a “climate reporter” for the Times; she leads NYT-branded “student journeys” to places such as Iceland (cost: $8,190 per high-schooler for 15 days) to teach the risks of a warming planet. In other words, the Times has a business built in part around Pierre-Louis that depends on her being a warning voice on warming.”

    “Those sounding the alarm about climate change do a lot of fretting over what may happen 50 to 100 years from now. Fair enough — or at least it would be if those delivering the warnings were in more of a habit of playing it straight. It would be much easier to credit their predictions of future catastrophes if they were more honest about what is actually, observably, happening right now.”


    • rbradley  

      Thanks Ron. Excellent example of the Times’s writers being on a climate crusade–happy to see the above article featured at RealClearPolitics too.

      It is an ends-justify-the-means religion magnified as an anti-Trump issue.


  2. The Left's Climate Policy Darling: Buyer Beware - Master Resource  

    […] post described two columnists at the New York Times, Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat, who have editorialized […]


  3. Michael ioffe  

    The properties of water:
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