Jim covered Congress and The White House during the George W. Bush administration for The Washington Times, and worked as a reporter, editorial writer and columnist for newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California. He has appeared on the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, and many local and national talk radio shows to talk politics and policy.
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On Wednesday afternoon, Salon’s Lindsay Abrams — who declined to cover Heartland’s latest climate conference — upbraided the NewYork Times for recently profiling “skeptic” climate scientist John Christy and not sufficiently denouncing him and his views.
It’s a weird thing. Against all odds, the Times committed an act of objective journalism — or what passes for that in today’s politicized MSM — with a classic contrarian piece titled “Though Scorned by Colleagues, a Climate-Change Skeptic Is Unbowed.” Maybe it was an accident on the part of the Times, but Abrams didn’t want it to go unpunished. Can’t step out of line, you see.
I read both the Times piece and Abrams’ critique of it at Salon titled “New York Times’ Climate Skeptic Debacle: How a New Profile Sets Back Science.” The subhead at Salon makes sure (literally) that no one misses the point:
Paper of Record Issues Bizarrely Sympathetic Treatment of Prominent Skeptic John Christy, Totally Misses the Point.
Having recently returned from working with the media for Heartland’s Ninth International Conference on Climate Change in Las Vegas — and having already written two rebuttals to prominent journalists to set the record straight about what happened there — I couldn’t resist sending an email to Ms. Abrams. Enjoy it, below:
Interesting article today. I had hoped to simply put aside your distaste for the New York Times committing the journalistic sin of reflecting the tiniest bit of sympathy for the esteemed Dr. John Christy and get right to critiquing your essay. But that is impossible because your objections to what was a reasonable and fair New York Times piece seem so small and baseless to me. What is so objectionable — what “missed the mark” — about the following?
[Paraphrase] A soft lead that opens with Christy relating how scientists who disagree with his analysis of the climate data refuse to shake his hand.
That is certainly true, and a great way to frame for readers of the Times how Christy is willing to listen to and be cordial towards “the other side” of the climate debate. Should the Times have not mentioned this because it portrays Christy as the better man? You seem to be saying: Yes. That is rather uncharitable. Indeed, Christy was quite the gentleman for not embarrassing the rude, contrarian scientist by revealing his name.
But in speeches, congressional testimony and peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, he argues that predictions of future warming have been greatly overstated and that humans have weathered warmer stretches without perishing.
This is demonstrably true in the scientific record. See the presentation by Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore at Heartland’s latest climate conference.
Christy’s willingness to publicize his views, often strongly, has also hurt his standing among scientists who tend to be suspicious of those with high profiles.
This is laughable. To use just one high-profile alarmist scientist as an example, James Hansen has leveraged his former position at NASA to publicize himself without shame. Hansen has certainly testified more frequently in front of Congress than Christy has, and even got himself arrested on purpose to draw attention to his view that human CO2 emissions have doomed future generations to eco-calamity.
For these offenses, Hansen was punished with more attention, including a high-profile “Ted” lecture. I think it’s safe to say Hansen’s antics didn’t “hurt his standing” among his alarmist peers.
The Times continues, quoting Christy:
“I detest words like ‘contrarian’ and ‘denier,’ ” [Christy] said. “I’m a data-driven climate scientist. Every time I hear that phrase, ‘The science is settled,’ I say I can easily demonstrate that that is false, because this is the climate — right here. The science is not settled.”
Dr. Christy was pointing to a chart comparing seven computer projections of global atmospheric temperatures based on measurements taken by satellites and weather balloons. The projections traced a sharp upward slope; the actual measurements, however, ticked up only slightly.
Such charts — there are others, sometimes less dramatic but more or less accepted by the large majority of climate scientists — are the essence of the divide between that group on one side and Dr. Christy and a handful of other respected scientists on the other.
What is the objection? That the New York Times allowed Christy to deny that he is a “climate denier”? That’s the truth, as the Times story acknowledges by noting the difference between the observed climate data and the “sharp upward slope” of the climate models that have been wrong for decades. (BTW: The scores of “other” published alarmist models were wrong at least 95 percent of the time.) For a larger discussion of these dynamics, see presentations by Dr. Roy Spencer and Dr. Patrick Michaels at Heartland’s latest climate conference.
“Where the disagreement comes is that Dr. Christy says the climate models are worthless and that there must be something wrong with the basic model, whereas there are actually a lot of other possibilities,” Dr. Mears said. Among them, he said, are natural variations in the climate and rising trade winds that have helped funnel atmospheric heat into the ocean.
So there is a dispute. Dr. Christy says there is “something wrong with the basic model” the “consensus” scientists use — they are nearly universally and dramatically wrong, after all — and other scientists say the heat they predicted is hiding in the ocean. The larger burden of proof in this dispute is on the “consensus” scientists, who have yet to find the hidden heat in the oceans. Why? Because they can’t find compelling data to support it.
Did the Times “miss the mark” by merely suggesting to an informed reader like yourself that Christy might have a point? (BTW, many “skeptics” at Heartland’s latest climate conference are big “natural variation” advocates, so even the critical source the Times found to counter Christy concedes a key “skeptic” point.)
I’ll stop breaking down the Times’ profile of Christy with this last excerpt:
Dr. Christy has been dismissed in environmental circles as a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry who distorts science to fit his own ideology. (“I don’t take money from industries,” he said.)
He says he worries that his climate stances are affecting his chances of publishing future research and winning grants. The largest of them, a four-year Department of Energy stipend to investigate discrepancies between climate models and real-world data, expires in September.
“There’s a climate establishment,” Dr. Christy said. “And I’m not in it.”
Ask any of the scores of scientists who have presented at Heartland’s climate conferences: Finding the alarmist climate models wanting puts one’s career in jeopardy, and affects one’s “chances of publishing future research and winning grants.” Or, you could simply watch Pat Michaels’ presentation at our climate conference last week. He makes the point, from experience, quite emphatically.
Your objection to this last bit from the Times is this:
Wines dismisses that in a parenthetical comment from Christy (“I don’t take money from industries”), and leaves it at that.
This, again, plays right into Christy’s desire to be seen as misunderstood — he’s been careful to avoid associations not just with polluting industries, but with most of the groups dedicated to spreading climate denial. He doesn’t attend the Heartland Institute’s annual climate denial conferences, he told the Times’ Andrew Revkin several years back, because he wants to avoid “guilt by association.”
Christy is welcome at our conferences, because there is no “guilt by association.” As I explained to Slate’s Will Oremus the other day — and we explain in more detail here — Heartland is not funded by fossil fuel corporations. Indeed, no corporate gifts amount to more than 5 percent of Heartland’s annual budget, and no corporate gifts finance our climate conferences or the Climate Change Reconsidered series of scientific reports by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).
(BTW: I just have to note that the foreground of the photo that accompanies the Times piece on Christy features the latest NIPCC report, “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts.”)
Yet Christy’s perspective on global warming — that the effects will be mild, and potentially even beneficial — is more or less aligned with those voiced by the participants in Heartland’s most recent conference, which took place last week. Aside from a few remaining loonies, most deniers have by now conceded the two most basic facts of climate change: that the climate is changing, and that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are at least partially responsible.
Putting aide the “loonies” crack, this passage is accurate! Most scientists and policy experts who have presented at Heartland’s conferences haven’t recently “conceded” that truth. They have stated it plainly for years. As I explained to Oremus, if you came to our conference yourself, you would have heard that from scientists in the hall between sessions and been disabused of your wrong-headed thinking about scientific climate “skeptics.” You can still watch the video presentations yourself.
Speaking of Oremus, you write:
Christy’s not special in this regard. Instead, he’s part of a growing movement that Will Oremus, writing in Slate, describes as an effort to rebrand climate denial as “climate optimism”: the idea that climate change, while real, isn’t something worth worrying about — and certainly not worth making an effort to mitigate. In some ways, this is even more dangerous than flat-out denial, which is at least easy to shut down; climate optimism, instead, conflates science with conservative political ideology …
That “rebrand” was Oremus’ doing, not ours, but it has a nice ring to it: “climate optimism.” It accurately reflects the majority of viewpoints expressed by scientists — none of whom deny that climate change is “real” — who presented at Heartland’s latest climate conference, and the previous eight. To quickly sum up:
1. Global temperatures rose in the 20th century.
2. CO2 is a “greenhouse gas,” and it’s likely that human emissions of CO2 was responsible for some of the warming of the 20th century.
3. Global temperatures have not risen in the 21st century (and for nearly 18 years) according to observable data.
4. That fact suggests human CO2 emissions are not a primary driver of global temperatures, especially since even the warming of the 20th century is within natural variation — with natural factors being a much stronger force.
5. So we should think twice about re-ordering the world’s energy economy — and depriving the developing world of much-needed cheap energy to raise them from poverty — without stronger scientific justification.
For a fuller rebuttal of the myths climate alarmists falsely attribute to skeptics, a one-stop summary is provided in this excellent and humorous presentation by Christopher Monckton at our latest conference.
Here’s a bonus remarkable view by many climate “skeptics”: We are living in a world that is starving for even more CO2 in the atmosphere! Again, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore tackles that controversial subject rather well in his presentation.
But that’s the thing about “skeptic” scientists, such as Dr. Christy: They continually challenge each other with science from multiple disciplines to foster a greater understanding about what is really happening to our climate. To do otherwise — to think the “science is settled” — is what it really means to “deny science.”