The climate wars continue on the Wall Street Journal and New York Times opinion pages
Is global climate disruption as plain as “high school physics”?
September 23, 2011Published: September 23, 2011
By Steven T. Corneliussen
In his 14 September New York Times column, Tom Friedman asserted that global climate disruption “is not a hoax” but in fact is so obvious that it’s merely “high school physics.” A few days later, as discussed in another science-and-the-media report, the Wall Street Journal offered the editorial “‘High school physics’: Another Nobel laureate breaks from the climate change pack”. Now the Times has continued this occasionally rancorous technocivic discussion by publishing six letters to the editor.
Friedman’s column began with a broadside at climate-consensus disbelief:
Every time I listen to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota talk about how climate change is some fraud perpetrated by scientists trying to gin up money for research, I’m always reminded of one of my favorite movie lines that Jack Nicholson delivers to his needy neighbor who knocks on his door in the film “As Good As It Gets.” “Where do they teach you to talk like this?” asks Nicholson. “Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here.”
Thanks Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann, but we really are all stocked up on crazy right now.
The column added an assertion that Texas’s current wildfires reflect the global climate disruption that Friedman likes to call “global weirding.” To back up this weather-climate linkage, Friedman quoted, among others, the Texas Forest Service: “No one on the face of this earth has ever fought fires in these extreme conditions.”
One of the subsequent letters takes issue with Friedman’s weather-climate linkage:
There’s just one little problem. The previous temperature record was set in 1934. This raises the question, if hot weather and droughts today are a result of climate change caused by increased manmade carbon emissions, what were the hot weather and droughts (remember the Dust Bowl?) in 1934 caused by? Maybe the science isn’t so irrefutable.
Three of the letters offer commonly made arguments. Another offers this political quip:
I can’t help but note that politicians like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, who demand absolute scientific proof that climate change is real, are the same ones who treat as undisputed fact the assumption that tax cuts for the wealthy create jobs for the unemployed.
And one of the letters cites an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in contending “that 97 percent of the most published climate researchers—the group of people on the planet most knowledgeable about the subject—agree that human activities are causing rapid climate change.” The cited paper’s abstract says in part:
Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the ﬁeld support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientiﬁc prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
That letter to the editor ends with this:
The problem is that their denial of reality is a byproduct of a culture that marginalizes the scientific method as a way of thinking and promotes faith as a virtue, even if it is in direct opposition to the facts. Changing their minds about climate change will take more than presenting the evidence for it. It will require a seismic shift in the way they choose to understand reality.
Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. His reports to AIP are published in "Science and the media." He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.