Charles Krauthammer is upset with my organization, Forecast the Facts, which organized 110,000 people to sign a petition calling on The Post and other newspapers to stop publishing misinformation on its opinion pages about climate change. In his April 11 op-ed column, “Thought police on patrol,” Krauthammer said that, by asking for factual accuracy, we are exhibiting “intolerance” and a “totalitarian” attitude.
Krauthammer is missing the mark. We are not asking for censorship. We are asking The Post to apply basic journalistic norms before it publishes columns. It is not intolerant to ask a newspaper to give its readers a true and accurate accounting of the conclusions of climate scientists, whether it is printed in the news section or on the opinion page.
As Krauthammer is fond of highlighting, the science of climate change continues to evolve. No science stands still, and there is always more to learn. Questions vex us, such as, how much carbon pollution can the atmosphere handle if we are to stay below the internationally agreed warming threshold of 2 degrees Celsius? What will civilization look like if we hit 500 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What about 600 parts per million and beyond?
Scientists have different answers to these questions. They use scientific modeling and observed data to make educated guesses, and they ask colleagues to test their assumptions and validate their conclusions.
What is no longer in doubt, however, is that humans are warming the planet.
It is a fact that global temperatures have increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the industrial age, largely as a result of our use of hydrocarbons to run our homes, cars, businesses and places of worship. This is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says is fact. And NASA. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the U.S. military, which has issued several dire warnings about the impact of climate change on national security.
Not only will Krauthammer not accept this consensus, however, but he also communicates misleading information on climate change that unnecessarily confuses the issue. This is why The Post’s leadership should step in.
In his Feb. 21 op-ed column, “The myth of ‘settled science,’ ” Krauthammer lent credence to the common fallacy that warming has stopped. In fact, studies have shown that while the rate of the increase of the average global surface temperatures has slowed, oceans continue to warm. The notion that the warming “pause” that Krauthammer mentions suggests that climate changes may not be occurring has been debunked by several of the world’s most respected scientists and institutions, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the British National Weather Service. The fiction continues to be passed on by only those who either do not understand the science or who willfully ignore it.
In the same February column, Krauthammer said the link between extreme weather events and climate change has not been established with certainty. He is wrong. While the relationship between climate change and specific episodes of extreme weather is the subject of intense research, it is well established among experts that our changing climate is leading to changes in the frequency, intensity, extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general science membership organization, states it clearly: “Climate change is already happening. More heat waves, greater sea level rise, and other changes with consequences for human health, natural ecosystems, and agriculture are already occurring in the United States and worldwide. These problems are very likely to become worse over the next 10-20 years and beyond.”
There is plenty of room for reasonable disagreements about climate change, many of which play out on The Post’s opinion pages. How can we best plan for the uncertain outcomes of a changing climate? What are the costs and benefits of strategies to reduce our carbon pollution? But Krauthammer’s quarrel with well-established scientific conclusions is not only unreasonable but also built on misinformation that should have no place in a space intended to further an informed debate.
Brant Olson, Berkeley, Calif.
The writer is campaign director of Forecast the Facts.
For the second year in a row, we’ve had peak cherry blossoms later than the average date of March 31. In 2013, they were nine days late; this year they were 10 days late. That’s not a big surprise; after all, the usual peak date itself is just an average.
But what is curious is how The Post’s coverage of cherry blossoms veers into discussions of global warming in some years but not in others. In 2012, when the blossoms peaked on March 20, one front-page article was ominously headlined, “Much-too-early bloomers? As temperatures rise, scientists speculate that cherry blossom times could advance by a month.” A Capital Weather Gang blog post that month was headlined, “D.C.’s cherry blossoms have shifted 5 days earlier: What about global warming and the future?” Why enjoy an early spring when you can turn it into a teachable moment?
Needless to say, this news angle wilted a bit in the past two years.
When it comes to global warming, the recent late blossoms don’t prove much. But for that matter, neither did the early blossoms of years past.
Sam Kazman, Washington
The writer is general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.