NY Times’ new columnist: Global warming can’t be serious if activists have kids

The New York Times’ indefensible hire of a climate denier keeps getting worse.

CREDIT: AP/Mark Lennihan
CREDIT: AP/Mark Lennihan

The New York Times’ effort to stem the growing criticism they have received for hiring extreme climate science denier Bret Stephens is going about as well as United Airlines initial attempts to defend dragging a customer off one of their planes.

It has been so counterproductive, in fact, that leading climatologist Michael Mann said in an email to ThinkProgress, “it really is time for people to cancel their subscriptions. I’m now convinced that the NY Times is part of the problem.”

Stephens was most recently deputy editorial page editor for Rupert Murdoch’s deeply conservative, climate-denying Wall Street Journal. In 2015, he wrote that climate change — along with hunger in America, campus rape statistics, and institutionalized racism — are “imaginary enemies.” They aren’t.

When Vox interviewed Stephens this week, and asked him to defend his extreme denial of climate science, he replied with this jaw-dropper:

A guy I know just had a baby and he’s a big global warming, climate change activist. If he thinks in 20 years we’ll be heading toward unsustainable climates and there will be tens of millions of people being displaced, presumably including himself, at the most apocalyptic level, then presumably he wouldn’t be having children.

It contradicts the belief that we are heading ineluctably for an apocalyptic environmental future.

Stephens seems to be arguing that, because a person he knows, who is a climate change activist, just had a baby, it somehow disproves climate science. So one birth undermines the basic scientific finding that continuing on our current path of carbon pollution emissions — a path Stephens himself promotes — will be disastrous.

Such anecdotal illogic shouldn’t need detailed rebutting. But it’s coming from a person who has just been handed one of the most powerful media megaphones on the planet. Editorial page editor James Bennet recently defended Stephens, saying, “I have no doubt he crosses our bar for intellectual honesty and fairness.”

Stephens’ absurd reductio ad absurdum is neither intellectually honest nor fair. The science does not say that in 20 years “there will be tens of millions of people being displaced” including this guy and his kid. It does project that unless we cut emissions sharply and quickly, tens of millions of people will be displaced in the coming decades; most of that will come after 2050 and the vast majority of those displaced first will come from poorer countries.

Stephens then goes on to apparently flip-flop on the extreme climate science denial of his writing of the last decade by saying the “best scientific evidence suggests temperatures are rising, and… man-made anthropogenic carbon emissions have some substantial thing to do with that.” But then he immediately goes back to science denial:

However, does that mean the trend will continue forever? We don’t know. Does this mean we will reach the upper bounds of what climate scientists fear? We aren’t sure. There are uncertainties in all of this.

… But now if you say there are uncertainties, you are akin to what’s called “a denier.”

Actually we do know. If we listen to Stephens, the trend will continue for hundreds of years or longer. After all, the major uncertainty by far right now is how much carbon pollution we are going to dump into the atmosphere in the coming decades.

Since Stephens repeatedly refuses to offer Vox a single new climate policy he would endorse, one can only assume he supports business as usual. Right now, business as usual means total warming of 7°F or more, sea level rise of several feet, and extreme Dustbowl-ification here and abroad — to name a few impacts.

As recently as November 2015 Stevens made a “climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.”

Again, to assert there will be no temperature rise over the next hundred years if we keep doing what we’re doing and that the threat posed by climate change is “imaginary” is to go further than the vast majority of professional deniers.

Stephens’ entire interview with Vox’s Jeff Stein is filled with anecdotal illogic and out-right falsehoods. When Stein tries to get Stephens to identify some new policy we should enact, even as insurance against the threat posed by climate science, he responds by spouting falsehoods:

When you have a dire prognosis about what might happen, you then take steps that you then come to regret. My wife is German, so I know something about German energy policy. About 15 years ago, Germany opted to have an energy revolution where 30 percent of their energy needs would be met by wind and solar….

What is their solution to having a base supply? Coal. So now Germany is dirtier in terms of carbon emissions than it was at the beginning of this.

Stephens cites the fact his wife is German as foundation for his expertise, claiming that 15 years ago Germany embraced a clean energy revolution but is now “dirtier in terms of carbon emissions than it was at the beginning of this.” Except it isn’t.

As the above chart shows, in the past 15 years, German energy industries — and the country as a whole — have cut emissions by 10 percent. Stephens isn’t alone in this confusion: Energy Secretary Rick Perry made the same blunder earlier this week. But then again, I don’t think the New York Times would give Rick Perry a job as columnist.

Over and over again, Stephens defends his most ridiculous statements with irrelevant anecdotes and hand-waving dismissal of statistics he disagrees with.

How does he defend calling the “campus rape epidemic” one of the country’s “imaginary enemies”? He says “the statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted on college campuses is a highly dubious statistic. If it were a true statistic, it would probably create a very different environment.”

He doesn’t offer any countervailing facts or statistics of his own. He simply asserts it can’t be true because then young women would not be flocking to these colleges.

In fact, there are lots of studies backing the one-in-five number. Maybe, as Vox says, women chose to take the risk because they see attending these schools as “necessary for… for their economic and educational advancement.” And maybe some women don’t know know about or believe these statistics because major media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, and now the New York Times, have senior columnists who dispute them.

Screenshot of a typical pop-up ad in the NY Times new ad campaign.
Screenshot of a typical pop-up ad in the NY Times new ad campaign.

Tragically, while the Times has been running a major ad campaign claiming there is no alternative to the truth, it just hired a columnist who doesn’t just deny widely accepted climate science, but who denies widely documented statistics and well-established facts — for no fact-based reason whatsoever and often based solely on illogical anecdotes.

Nonetheless, the paper’s public editor slammed critics of the hire in a column offensively headlined, “Seeking more voices, even if some don’t want to hear them.”

So the Times is proud of hiring a voice who parrots the nonsense of the most well-funded disinformation campaign in human history — nonsense routinely debunked by its own news section. And the public editor, who is supposed to be responsive to readers’ views, is instead dismissive.

Climate scientist Michael Mann was especially outraged that the public editor dismissed critics of the Stephens hire as “left-leaning,” and mocked them for not following through on threats to cancel their subscriptions.

And so he decided to cancel his subscription.