Why the Hell Did the New York Times Just Hire a Climate Denier?

New columnist Bret Stephens writes drivel as the world burns.

Kate Aronoff

One of the people in this photo denies climate science. The other is Lindsay Graham. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In late March, the New York Times’ edi­to­r­i­al board called Pres­i­dent Trump’s move to dis­man­tle Oba­ma-era cli­mate pro­tec­tions deeply dis­may­ing,” cit­ing the rock-sol­id sci­en­tif­ic con­sen­sus that with­out swift action the con­se­quences of cli­mate change — ris­ing seas, more dev­as­tat­ing droughts, wide­spread species extinc­tion — are like­ly to get steadi­ly worse.” Today the paper announced it has hired a cli­mate denier as an op-ed columnist.

False equivalence has been a fatal flaw in much mainstream climate coverage.

Bret Stephens, cur­rent­ly the Wall Street Jour­nals deputy edi­to­r­i­al page edi­tor, has won a Pulitzer Prize. He has also writ­ten mul­ti­ple pieces cast­ing doubt on what in 2014 he called the pur­port­ed threat of glob­al warm­ing.” In 2010, fol­low­ing a hyped-up pseu­do-con­tro­ver­sy over a cli­mate researcher’s emails, he cheer­ful­ly announced that the sec­u­lar pan­ic” of glob­al warm­ing is dead, nailed into its cof­fin one dev­as­tat­ing dis­clo­sure, defec­tion and re-eval­u­a­tion at a time.”

Here­with, then, I pro­pose a read­ers’ con­test to invent the next pan­ic,” he urged. It must involve some­thing ubiq­ui­tous, invis­i­ble to the naked eye and prefer­ably mass-produced.”

To be fair, the New York Times opin­ion page could use a few fresh voic­es. And while it may have been nice not to go with yet anoth­er Gen X, mid­dle-aged and/​or old white man, con­trar­i­an (read: con­ser­v­a­tive) views do have a place in the nation­al debate.

But whether cli­mate change exists is no longer a debate. False equiv­a­lence has been a fatal flaw in much main­stream cli­mate cov­er­age: Offer­ing equal space to two sides of a con­tro­ver­sy that doesn’t exist, and has been fueled to the tune of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars by fos­sil fuel-fund­ed dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns.

On the Timesown op-ed page in 2014, cli­mate sci­en­tist Michael Mann described how this vir­u­lent strain of anti-sci­ence infects the halls of Con­gress, the pages of lead­ing news­pa­pers and what we see on TV.” Tonight, Mann tweet­ed at the Times, sug­gest­ing they make Stephens read his column.

Thanks to this indus­try-fund­ed anti-sci­ence infec­tion, Politi­cians, econ­o­mists, jour­nal­ists and oth­ers may have the impres­sion of con­fu­sion, dis­agree­ment or dis­cord among cli­mate sci­en­tists,” sci­ence his­to­ri­an Nao­mi Orestes writes. But after ana­lyz­ing the abstracts of 928 (928!) peer-reviewed arti­cles about cli­mate change in sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals, she deter­mined, that impres­sion is incorrect.”

So when an inter­na­tion­al pan­el of lead­ing experts con­cludes that con­tin­ued emis­sion of green­house gas­es will cause fur­ther warm­ing and … increas[e] the like­li­hood of severe, per­va­sive and irre­versible impacts for peo­ple and ecosys­tems,” they mean it.

We have an admin­is­tra­tion whose offi­cial posi­tion—by all accounts—is to deny that cli­mate change exists, and prop up the indus­tries try­ing to exac­er­bate it. To bring up the obvi­ous: EPA admin­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt has sued the agency he now runs 13 times, and a long­time Exxon­Mo­bil CEO is now run­ning the State Depart­ment (arguably, into the ground).

Trump’s cab­i­net and their poli­cies are a best-case sce­nario for the fos­sil-fuel indus­try, and a worst-case sce­nario for the plan­et and every­one liv­ing on it. They jus­ti­fy their destruc­tion on the basis of not just a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion, but an actu­al falsity.

If the New York Times wants to hire a con­ser­v­a­tive, so be it. But the paper of record shouldn’t spread the administration’s lies for it. 

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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