The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion NYT: Climate change impact is happening now. NYT: Eh, maybe not that big a deal.

(Julie Kray/USFS)

The New York Times is very proud of the debut column from Bret Stephens, the op-edder that it recently pulled away from the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper sent out push notifications, emails and the like — just to circulate “Climate of Complete Certainty.”

The gist is a bit difficult to tease out because the column is vague, but here’s a go at it: Yes, climate change is real, established science. But skepticism about projections and the claims of activists is warranted. Here’s a key graph:

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) 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.

And the kicker: “Perhaps if there were less certitude about our climate future, more Americans would be interested in having a reasoned conversation about it.”

Now to familiarize Stephens with the work of one of his news-side colleagues, Justin Gillis. Back in September, Gillis wrote a big Sunday piece seeking to shift the debate away from some fuzzy future, and plop it right in the present. He focused on flooding along the East Coast, with a dateline of Norfolk, Va. After noting that scientists had long predicted that warming trends caused by humans would cause ice melt and rising oceans, the impact is no longer a matter of projection:

Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

Need evidence? Miami Beach, as Gillis reported, had hatched a “$400 million plan that includes raising streets, installing pumps and elevating sea walls.” Norfolk has a $1.2 billion “wish list” to fund anti-flooding measures; and scientists have documented a boost in so-called “sunny-day flooding” on the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

People are getting wet, right now.

To establish the disagreement between the op-ed and news pages of the New York Times: The former, via Stephens, discusses the “possible severity of [climate change’s] consequences.” The latter has already documented the severity of climate change’s consequences.