Liberal writers have predictably claimed conservative columnist Bret Stephens’s first column for The New York Times is a form of stealth global warming “denial” disguised as asking reasonable questions of environmental activists and climate scientists.
Writers at The New Republic (TNR) and Vox argue Stephens’s “reasonableness” and platform makes him more dangerous than someone who outright denies the existence of man-made global warming.
“What Stephens is doing is still a form of climate-change denial, just stealthier,” TNR’s Emily Atkin wrote Tuesday. “And his faux-evenhandedness has earned him a major platform from which to push bad-faith, misleading interpretations of the science, providing intellectually lazy excuses for America to keep kicking the can down the road while the planet slowly burns up.”
Vox’s David Roberts tweeted Stephens is “just another off-the-shelf conservative hack desperately groping for new ways to obscure this issue.” Roberts said “Stephens’ presence on the most valuable real estate in journalism just helps ensure that the climate debate remains dumb kabuki.”
The NYT’s hiring of Stephens sent off alarm bells among left-wing environmental activists. Some journalists and activists canceled their subscriptions, and others called on the paper to fire the former Wall Street Journal writer.
Liz Spayd, The NYT’s public editor wrote that “[n]o subject since the election has come close to producing this kind of anger toward The Times,” adding that some of Stephens’ colleagues were critical of his being hired.
Stephens’ first column — “Climate of Complete Certainty” — urges more skepticism in the global warming debate, arguing climate activists carry an air of pretentiousness.
“But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism,” Stephens wrote. “They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”
Stephens wrote that he believes global warming is real and mostly caused by mankind, even admitting it could be a crisis. Stephens, however, urged more skepticism and understanding in the scientific debate.
“Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong,” he wrote. “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.”
The immediate reaction from the left was hysteria over a new form of climate denial.
Slate’s Susan Matthews wrote that Stephen’s column was “all the more insidious” because “the goal of this column is not to help readers learn how to reason with people who are skeptical about climate change.”
“Instead, the column reinforces the idea that those people might have a point,” Matthews wrote.
“This is a form of climate-change denial: It denies the need for action, which is, like climate science, based on overwhelming evidence,” Atkin wrote in TNR, adding the “denial” was so insidious because it was “simply asking questions.” [Italics in the original text]
“Stephens, who used to deny climate change, has found that acting slightly more reasonable on the subject has earned him a coveted perch at the paper of the record,” Atkin wrote. The column may have sounded reasonable, but it wasn’t based on scientific reason. There’s a difference—and the fate of our planet depends on it.”
Stephens didn’t take the criticism lying down. He wrote a whole column to answer questions readers posed about global warming, and he repeatedly rebuffed critics on Twitter.
Readers “thought it was a pugnacious move on Stephens’s part to choose climate change as his first target,” Spayd wrote. However, she basically told them all to chill out.
“But I believe steadfastly that The Times should be giving readers a range of views — not just from conservatives but also populists left and right, women, blacks, Latinos and Asians. All are in short supply,” Spayd wrote.
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