NYT Opens Climate Can of Worms


Fishermen often discovered how easy it was to open a can of bait worms, and how difficult it was to close them. Once the worms discovered an opportunity to escape, it became nearly impossible to keep them contained. Some experts say the metaphor is a modern extension of Pandora’s Box.

In a previous post NYT Readers Face Diversity I provided a background for New York Times newest columnist Bret Stephens, with emphasis on his climate change commentary.

Now his first column published in NYT appears Climate of Complete Certainty, an invitation to examine the facts about climate change. Excerpts below.

We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.

We ought to know this by now, but we don’t. Instead, we respond to the inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous. Ask Clinton.

With me so far? Good. Let’s turn to climate change.

Last October, the Pew Research Center published a survey on the politics of climate change. Among its findings: Just 36 percent of Americans care “a great deal” about the subject. Despite 30 years of efforts by scientists, politicians and activists to raise the alarm, nearly two-thirds of Americans are either indifferent to or only somewhat bothered by the prospect of planetary calamity.

Why? The science is settled. The threat is clear. Isn’t this one instance, at least, where 100 percent of the truth resides on one side of the argument?

Well, not entirely. As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.

By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. They shouldn’t, because there’s another lesson here — this one for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy. As Revkin wisely noted, hyperbole about climate “not only didn’t fit the science at the time but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public.”

Let me put it another way. Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. 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.

None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.


I’ve taken the epigraph for this column from the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who knew something about the evils of certitude. Perhaps if there had been less certitude and more second-guessing in Clinton’s campaign, she’d be president. Perhaps if there were less certitude about our climate future, more Americans would be interested in having a reasoned conversation about it.

New York Post (here) covers the nastiness of responses to Stephens’ first column. Stephens compares the blowback to what he got from Trump fans: “After 20 months of being harangued by bullying Trump supporters, I’m reminded that the nasty left is no different. Perhaps worse,” Stephens tweeted Friday afternoon, as the hateful messages kept rolling in.  New York Times used to be a “safe space”, maybe now not so much.

Bret Stephens

Update April 30

A response to Stephens article at Slate  Inside a True Believer’s Mind


Whenever I see those graphs of climate models projections, it reminds me of worms escaping.


  1. Hifast · April 29, 2017

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


  2. Climatism · April 29, 2017

    Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    “history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”

    Nice line.


  3. ArndB · April 29, 2017

    Bret Stephen seems to me more capable supporting a reasonable climate change debate, but only a bit. At least he is able to say: “But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.”
    Big doubts remain, whether he ever will be able and willing to recognize that scientific populism stands at the start of this debate and that within the last 30 years science has failed to scientifically define climate in an understandable manner.
    To cut a long story short, I cite from the Conclusion of a 42 page long paper published in 1992: http://www.whatisclimate.com/conditions-for-the-protection-of-the-global-climate.html
    QUOTE “…alone the fact that the term climate could not be given a substantial definition and the problem specifically described means that the efforts have failed to reach the target. The “average weather” has been the basis of the climate discussion for too long. The paraphrase “climate system” now used in the Climate Convention displays a certain amount of helplessness and lack of understanding (or a lack of will to make knowledge understandable) of the basis of the phenomenon known as climate.
    Some of the gaps and exaggerations in the previous climate discussion have been justified by the claim that immediate action is necessary. The reputation and importance of science has risen from one conference to the next and from press article to press article. The ocean has been given prominence only because a rise in the ocean level was helpful as a threat. The possibility of the oceans being the cause of the average increase in atmospheric temperatures was not a point. “ UNQUOTE ; cont.

    The problems today – IMHV – seem pretty the same. Best regards Arnd

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · April 29, 2017

      Thanks Arnd. Point taken. With the undefined effects of ocean oscillations, and indeed solar fluctuations, the contribution of human activity are unknowable. Some of us suspect those human effects are local, not global, but nothing has been proven.
      Some alarmists suspect that cooling could follow this current plateau, in which case selling global warming will really be an uphill battle. So they are against anyone suggesting to wait and see the evidence mount.
      I agree that Stephens is not deep into the science itself, but is more skeptical of the motives and agendas of climate crisis proponents. And that is a good place to start.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Bemused Bill · April 29, 2017

    Thanks to every one for your efforts re the great climate crap-off. Do I have to go and live in Russia to get away from the inane blathering’s of serious idiots? Since the end of the little ice age and the recovery from that and the whole of the industrial revolution we have increased Co2 by about 100 PPM to 400 PPM…..So bloody what?
    The geological average is about 2000 PPM and has been 6,000 PPM and more, and no runaway global warming then. The only time in the last 600 million years temps and Co2 levels were this low was during the Carboniferous-Permian epoch 300 million years ago, and at that time all life on Earth came perilously close to being extinguished…due to a lack of Co2. We were saved by a Co2 distributing miracle of the microbe world, what will save us this time when the ice returns? It wont be feral untermensch and their commo overloads dictating lies from upon high.
    I keep a laminated map of the geologic Co2 records in the car at all times to show the “believers” when they say they believe the science I show them the science. And guess what? They become very skeptical, and that’s when I laugh at them.
    I urge everyone to go to google and print a copy of one of the abundant geologic Co2 graphs in images and laminate it and put it in your glove box, you will have plenty of use for it sadly. But it is fun watching the emotions play out on their faces. Inevitably they will reject it as “hacked by the Russians” etc. but if so you can point out to them that they are now a science skeptic. And that can only be a good thing. I made and distributed dozens of them over Xmas, I believe a mass distribution of these things would have a very real impact if anyone out there can fund it?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. oiltranslator · April 30, 2017

    I beg leave to dispute the assertion. Tony Heller graphed temperatures from the thermometer stations that have been operating since 1920 and the graph oscillates about a horizontal line. Its trendline reveals a slight negative slope, showing falling temperature. This graph was posted Feb 16 or 17th at realclimatescience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · April 30, 2017

      OK. I don’t take issue with you. But the point here is that we simply do not know what the future temperatures will be, other than in the long run will be another ice age. And as the stock broker said, in the long run we are all dead.

      Liked by 1 person

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