By Joe Romm
9 April 2014
The bad news is the Times has published an error-riddled hit-job op-ed on the series that is filled with myths at odds with both the climate science and social science literature. For instance, the piece repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie, An Inconvenient Truth, polarized the climate debate, when the peer-reviewed data says the polarization really jumped in 2009 (see chart above from The Sociological Quarterly).
As I said, Years Of Living Dangerously — the landmark 9-part Showtime docu-series produced by the legendary James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — has been getting great reviews. Andy Revkin, often a critic of climate messaging, wrote in the NY Times Monday:
… a compellingly fresh approach to showing the importance of climate hazards to human affairs, the role of greenhouse gases in raising the odds of some costly and dangerous outcomes and — perhaps most important — revealing the roots of the polarizing divisions in society over this issue….
George Marshall, “an expert on climate and communication,” — who is also often a critic of climate messaging — wrote me:
What impressed me about the two episodes I watched was the respect that it showed to conservatives, evangelicals and ordinary working people … it is still the best documentary I have seen.
The New York Times op-ed is from the founders of the Breakthrough Institute — the same group where political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. is a Senior Fellow. It pushes the same argument that Pielke made in his fivethirtyeight piece — which was so widely criticized and debunked that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws and ran a debunking piece by an MIT climate scientist.
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two widely debunked eco-critics who run The Breakthrough Institute (TBI), begin by asserting “IF you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime.” But they never cite anything other than the trailer in making their case, dismissing the entire enterprise on the basis of 2 minutes of clips!
They base their entire argument on a misrepresentation of climate science and a misrepresentation of social science. They assert:
“But claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science.”
I asked one of the country’s top climatologists, Michael Mann, to respond to that, and he replied:
The statement is disingenuous, very carefully worded to imply doubt where there is none. The term “the latest” is used as a sleight of hand. Of course, we don’t attribute individual meteorological events to climate change in a purely causal manner, because the link is statistical. It is like the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, or the link between a baseball player taking steroids and the number of home runs he hits in the season. We don’t talk about any one home run being caused by the steroids. Its the wrong question, the wrong framing. We know that statistically, the player hit more home runs because of the steroids. And, analogously, we know that we’re seeing more severe and prolonged heat waves and drought, extreme flooding, and more devastating hurricanes, because of human-caused climate change. Just the opposite of what the authors appear to want you to think.
We need good faith discussions of climate risks in leading media outlets like the New York Times. To quote Winston Churchill, we’re living in an age of consequences. There is no room for misleading screeds which seem intended at distracting and confusing the public about human-caused climate change at a time when it poses a critical threat to our planet.
In fact, the show isn’t about “the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane.” It does show the impact of some specific record-breaking extreme weather events that have been documented in the scientific literature to have been worsened by climate change (as I discuss here). These include the Hurricane Sandy storm surge, the record Texas drought and heat wave of 2011, and the drying out of the Mediterranean, particularly Syria.
TBI’s Nordhaus and Shellenberger assert of human-caused warming, “there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.” If that argument sounds both very familiar but wrong, that’s because it is. TBI Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr. made the same exact argument in his opening piece for Nate Silver’s website fivethirtyeight, which quickly became one of the most debunked posts of the year.
Why the NY Times would publish an article pushing such a widely debunked scientific thesis is truly inexplicable. [more]