Energy & Environment

The New York Times Botches a Climate-Change Story

(Reuters: Eric Thayer)
A ‘secret’ report was already public.

If the day ends in a y, the New York Times will run at least one breathless, apocalyptic story about how man-made climate change is destroying the planet and the future of our children. The paper has an entire propaganda section devoted to articles about climate change; the headlines usually include something like, “Hottest Ever! Worse than Feared! Scientists Warn! Time is Running Out!”

The Times’ overzealousness is usually met with wailing and pearl-clutching from the scientific establishment and environmental activists. But this week, the paper’s hyperbole about a government climate report was called out not only by other journalists and a Republican member of Congress, but also by scientists who were quoted in the article itself.

On Tuesday, the Times published “Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report,” which detailed key findings from the draft of a routine climate assessment conducted by several federal agencies every four years. Reporter Lisa Friedman claimed the study had been exclusively obtained by the newspaper and suggested the reason for publishing it was that “scientists say they fear that the Trump administration could change or suppress the report.” Friedman cites an anonymous scientist (of course) who told her “he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed” and that the authors “are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.” (The White House is expected to complete its review next week.)

The climate clan took their cue and went ballistic on social media, peddling the line that Trump was planning to hide this secret climate report under his gold-plated pillow. Al Gore tweeted, “I call on the Trump Administration to make this inconvenient report public.” The Environmental Defense Fund made a number of absurd accusations based on the Times article, tweeting that “someone leaked a major federal climate change report before Trump and Pruitt can cook the books.”

Funny thing, though: The report was already made public earlier this year. Katharine Hayhoe, a university scientist who worked on the report and was quoted in the article, was asked by the BBC whether she had leaked it to the Times. She responded, “I said, NO — why bother? It was publicly available during review.” She then furnished a link to the National Academies Press website where the full draft was available for free.

Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, was not as kind. He issued a harsh statement Tuesday afternoon:

The alarmist climate media is at it again. In its latest reporting of a so-called leaked climate assessment, the New York Times relies on exaggerated statements and false allegations of cover-ups in order to push an agenda. To treat a climate report that has been public for months and is currently undergoing official comment by numerous federal agencies as a final document does a disservice to the American people.

Backed into a corner, the Times issued a correction on Wednesday morning: “An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.” We’re kinda sorry?

So, what’s in the clandestine report? The government scientists found that “stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and oceans.” The report concludes it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” This “rapid” warming, according to the report, is a rise of about one degree Fahrenheit Between 1901 and 2015 in the U.S., mostly due to an increase in temperatures in the western half of the country. Even though the increase is essentially negligible, the scientists warn that without major reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, the temperature in the U.S. will rise nearly nine degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

But the report also says that “crucial uncertainties remain.” Roger Pielke Jr., a scientist attacked by the climate tribe for daring to (correctly) challenge whether global warming is causing extreme weather events, offered up a tweetstorm response to the report. Pielke said former Obama science adviser John Holdren was “wrong” about human influence on droughts because there has been no increase in droughts in the U.S.

As far as hurricanes, Pielke is again vindicated with the report’s acknowledgement of a “hurricane drought” — no major hurricane in the U.S. in the past eleven years — which is “unprecedented in the historical records dating back to the mid-19th century.” (After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many scientists warned global warming would lead to stronger hurricanes. Capitalizing on the tragedy, Al Gore said days after Katrina that “the scientific community is warning us that the average hurricane will continue to get stronger because of global warming.”)

The climate clan is already hunkering down, planning to use the report to push for more federal climate policies and smear Trump.

“In my area of expertise, it underscores that there is very little support for claims of increases in hurricanes, flood, drought, tornadoes,” Pielke told me via e-mail. “The science says what is says, with something welcomed and unwelcomed by all political sides here. After the news cycle is over, we’ll be right back where we were before on the climate issue.”

And of course, the climate clan is already hunkering down, planning to use the report to push for more federal climate policies and smear Trump, his administration, and his supporters as “deniers.” The day after the Times article, the paper ran another piece claiming the report will force Trump to “choose between science and his base.” California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer tweeted that, “The Administration cannot legally ignore this report. It compels action to prevent climate change.”

It’s unclear what, if any, impact the report will really have. What is very clear is that the New York Times has lost any sense of objectivity on the issue.


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— Julie Kelly is a writer from Orland Park, Ill.

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