“Learning is a process, not a destination. Bret Stephens should reconsider his reconsideration to educate his readers on the benefits of CO2 enrichment and positive weather/climate trends (including global lukewarming). And do it in such a way that instead of trying to fire him, the alarmists have to answer (not duck) the hard questions about their position.”
The intellectual case against climate alarmism and forced energy transformation has always been strong. Recent events have made this case stronger with more data contradicting climate model projections. The statistics of extreme weather events and global (luke)warming are hard to ignore. In addition, the “fat tail” of worst-case, extreme warming have been scaled back in the mainstream literature. All this is good news and an antidote for ‘climate anxiety’.
Given all this (isn’t this typical of neo-Malthusian scares?), I have been highly critical of those who claim special, new knowledge to convert from skepticism to alarmism; from let-the-consumer decide, leave-the-taxpayer-alone to Net Zero-type thinking. Jerry Taylor (from Cato Institute to the Niskanen Center) was the worst, a story of cashing in for revenge, prestige, and big bucks itself.
Jonathan Adler is a classical liberal who claimed an about-face based on improbable catastrophic events from the human influence on climate, an argument that, as mentioned above, has weakened considerably. (But no reversal of a reversal for Adler, who is doing well with his own environmental research center at his university). As it stands, Adler’s new position is ably refuted by what he wrote before becoming an academic player.
There is also the look-the-other-way professed classical liberal Lynne Kiesling, who is wed to a technical field that is premised on climate alarmism, renewables integration, and central wholesale planning of electricity.  She has collected academic appointments for her, shall we say, flexibility. (I get it.)
The good news is that any of the above can change their minds as their case gets weaker and climate politics becomes more and more untenable. But the incentives need to change to allow scholarship against the ‘climate consensus’ grain. And a real change of heart must come from within, as Milton Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom (1962):
The only person who can truly persuade you is yourself. You must turn the issues over in your mind at leisure, consider the many argument, let them simmer, and after a long time turn your preferences into convictions.
The latest to proclaim conversion to climate alarm is New York Times columnist Bret Stephens: see Changing My Mind on Climate (November 21, 2022).
He chalks up his conversion to 1) a trip with (alarmist) climate scientists to Greenland and 2) the nature of the Pandemic. In his words:
I went to Greenland thanks to an invitation by this marvelous guy, an oceanographer, who, by his own rueful admission, signed one of the various petitions that circulated at the time of my first column, to have me fired from my job. And then he … thought … maybe I should try to reach out to him, instead. He brings groups of influential people up to Greenland for really scientific tours with a lot of emphasis on science to the western coast of Greenland.
Actually being there was key to Stephens:
And lots of people will tell you, “Well, you could just listen to scientists to give you this data and you believe them.” It makes a big difference actually see it in person. It makes a big difference to see how there is a trim line similar to the bathtub rings in places like Lake Mead, showing just how extensive, massive the depletion of ice has been in the vast Greenland ice sheet.
Greenland and catastrophic sea level rise? This begs for a lot more investigation about causality, effects, and policy options, none of which Stephens addresses to the satisfaction of his critics. True, a heat wave last summer triggered an extreme melt, before which little change was detected. But is this anomaly the new normal? Might a temperature reversal support the century-old sea level rise of about an inch per decade?
And outside of Greenland, what about all the other data metrics of climate change, from temperature to hurricanes? Bret Stephens has cherry-picked to embrace alarmism, skipping a host of other arguments that he might have previously held.
Stephens further explains:
The trip was itself just part of kind of an extended process on my part to think through issues of climate and what are known as high-impact, low-probability events. Which is to say that even if you think that it is unlikely that sea levels will, say, rise by eight feet in the next century, the impact of it would be so overwhelming if they did that you have to think about it much more—or I have to think about it much more—seriously than I had.
The problem here is that the low probability, high cost events have been demoted in the mainstream literature, as noted by Judith Curry and others. And what about the rest of the story? Why not take a trip with the ‘skeptics’ to other places relevant to the physical science debate (or just lose yourself in climate/weather data)? Or take a trip to energy poverty capitals to see what modern energy means compared to the status quo of wood and dung burning? And climate politics–do tell us about that in light of mitigation versus adaptation.
Pandemic to Climate Alarm?
Stephens turns to another, bizarre reason for his conversion.
I’ll say that the biggest single factor that changed my thinking about climate was the experience of the pandemic—the experience of a natural occurrence simply overwhelming the ability of a modern technological civilization to handle the problem without huge loss of life and disruption to our economies and our way of living.
Really? Did climate change induce the pandemic? Hearing ‘no’, then how did government activism and ‘consensus science’ worsen the event? New and more information about the Pandemic is coming out, but its lessons for global government climate activism are humbling.
So those factors combined to kind of prompt some fresh thinking. And I always said to myself, that I should never be afraid to change my mind in public, even on subjects where I’ve taken, you know, I’ve really put a stake in the ground. So that was, that was how that long 6,000-word giant piece came to life. . . .
Well, it is all there to change your mind again. But the incentives must be there at the New York Times and given the “in” crowd in New York City.
Stephens ends with a moment of clarity, a hint of skepticism.
One of the things that I thought very carefully about … was my conviction that even now the sorts of solutions that are offered for addressing climate change are really inadequate for a variety of reasons, either because the technology is unripe, or because they rely too heavily on state intervention, or because they are based on some kind of grand plan that tends to sound great in principle and then often fail for either political reasons, or technological reasons, or actually scientific reasons in practice….
It’s gonna be very difficult to transition swiftly away from a fossil-fuel-based economy to an energy economy based on other sources. But there are a lot of things that we can do that are really smart, that you wouldn’t think of as being important parts of a climate solution, like putting triple-paned windows into new-home construction to make homes much more energy efficient, because lots of homes are going to stand for 50, 80, even 100 years. And over time, energy-efficient homes are a really smart answer to the problems of energy usage. Most important point is that we need to make sure that economic growth and technological innovation are not treated as enemies of climate, but as essential parts of an ultimate solution to the challenges of a changing and warming planet.
Energy efficiency as a panacea? Amory Lovins promised this back in the 1970s. W. S. Jevons in 1865 explained how improving efficiency per usage led to more usage overall, negating some or all of the overall effect. How many decades of climate policy failure is enough to say, you can’t square the circle?
Call the Bluff
The fix was in, and Mr. Stephens is now politically correct on climate change. Now, it is time to play fair, Mr. Stephens. Host climate debates between optimists and alarmists. Participate in a discussion with, say, Alex Epstein or Robert Bryce, on the overall picture of climate and energy. Review the litany of (false) alarms for the last half-century from the neo-Malthusian, climate-change scientists.
Learning is not a destination but a process. Bret Stephens should reconsider his reconsideration to educate his readers on the benefits of CO2 enrichment and positive weather/climate trends (including global lukewarming). And do it in such a way that instead of trying to fire you, the alarmists have to answer (not duck) the hard questions about their position.
 A profile on Adler at Case Western, a Left bastion, shows how the climate alarmism and activism is necessary to play ball:
Despite his prominence as a right-leaning thinker and media pundit, however, Adler has earned a reputation among colleagues across the political spectrum for pursuing principle above politics; refusing to bow to pressure or conventional thinking from any direction; and eagerly pursuing dialogue, debate and, if possible, common ground with those who disagree with him…. He’s a libertarian who supports government intervention on climate change….
A libertarian on climate policy? I would like to know how a libertarian or classical liberal can support global governmental CO2 taxation and “border adjustments” (tariffs) between nations and regions. I would like to debate Adler on that at his environmental center at Case Western…. Please invite me John.
 I have repeatedly challenged Kiesling on her views on climate, renewables, and government-centralized wholesale electricity markets from a classical liberal perspective only to hear crickets. Let me just say that she cannot answer them in detail without exposing her lack of understanding of or belief in market process economics, Public Choice, and classical liberalism writ large.