This is the Union of Concerned Scientists’ rebuttal to the Wall Street Journal’s January op-ed piece (“No Need to Panic”) where 15 “scientists” (“dentists talking about cardiology” is how one climate scientist termed it) continued their war of disinformation on human-caused climate change. When will Murdoch and his products (WSJ and Fox News, for example) change? When he’s visited in Scrooge-like fashion by the Ghost of His Great-Grandchildren’s Christmas Future who prove him wrong for gambling with their future lives?
The Wall Street Journal today published an opinion piece from 16 scientists urging candidates for public office to ignore the looming threat of climate change. While it’s entirely appropriate for scientists, like all citizens, to voice their personal opinions on public policy, the op-ed repeated a number of deeply misleading claims about climate science.
To take just one example, the authors claim there has been a “lack of warming” for 10 years. Here’s what we know: 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record. Over the past decade, record high temperatures outpaced record lows by more than two to one across the continental United States, a marked increase from previous decades.
So where should decision-makers and the public turn to understand what the vast majority of scientists with relevant expertise really think about climate change?
They should start with the US National Academy of Sciences, established by President Lincoln to advise our nation’s leaders on matters of science. In May 2010, a major NAS report requested by Congress concluded that “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems”.
They might also turn to the nation’s leading scientific societies for their perspective. In 2009, the leaders of 18 scientific societies wrote to the U.S. Senate to state that
“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science…If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced.”
And they might turn to the United States Global Change Research Program, which represents the work of 13 federal agencies and independent academics. It explores the consequences of a changing climate all across the country. In a 2009 report, developed under the Bush Administration, it concludes:
“Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), with important contributions from the clearing of forests, agricultural practices, and other activities.”
For scientific advice on climate change, our nation’s leaders should turn to respected sources of credible science. That’s what the leaders of our nation’s military have done. That’s what forward-looking business leaders such as Nike, Starbucks, and other members of the Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy are doing. And that’s what my home state of California has done, with both its former Republican governor and current Democratic governor accepting the robust findings of climate science as a starting point for policies aimed at spurring clean energy innovation and preparing the state for some now unavoidable climate change. Isn’t it about time for the Wall Street Journal to do the same?
UPDATE January 30th 2:50 PM: The WSJ op-ed has unleashed a torrent of further criticism from scientists (see, for example here and here). More are forthcoming. Most notable, in my view, is the response from Yale economist William Nordhaus, whose work was described in the WSJ piece as follows:
“ A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.
Here’s Nordhaus’ response, published in Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth blog:
“The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others)…I can only assume they [are] either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings.”
I haven’t seen any responses from the business community yet – but they need to be heard as well. The Journal’s editorial board has completely over-reached here, and dangerously so – pieces like this provide continued high profile and faux respectable cover to those who wish to claim the fog of uncertainty as an excuse for inaction.
From a Huffington Post commentor (thanks Maxwells):
By contrast, the “No Need to Panic” group consists of one contrarian [and debunked] climatologist, Richard Lindzen, with 45 climatology-related papers during this millennium, one astrophysicist, Nir Shaviv, with 6 such papers, and fourteen others with a sum total of ZERO climate-related papers during this millennium. Among those fourteen are: a right-wing science policy guy with a bachelor’s degree and no science papers at all, a marketing and advertising professor, one medical researcher, one chemist, and variety of physicists who’ve never written anything peer-reviewed in climatology in decades or in several cases NEVER, as in no such papers at all.
UPDATE 3/20/2012: I was reading more of my infuriating book, “The Fox Effect,” last night. Get this: Murdoch, who is from Melbourne, Australia, which in the mid-to-late 2000s went through a hellish bout of environmental-wrought damage (droughts, etc.), has issued internal News Corporation memos that take the official stance that global warming is real and that humans are the cause — and that News Corporation would be carbon neutral by a date certain, as a result.
Yet, he lets Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes win the debate on Fox News, spreading lies, deceit and propaganda to the Fox Newsidiots, all in the name of making money. Sickening.