Without doubt, a good classic tale of sin and redemption makes a powerful appeal to human emotions. Do you find yourself with an overwhelming sense of guilt, and a yearning for atonement and salvation? A very large number of humans do. Plenty of others will listen seriously when accused of sinning. And in this era when traditional religion is fading fast among the trendy set, the favored sin and redemption narratives tend to revolve around the environment and the "planet." For decades, the number one such narrative has been the global warming story: By our use of fossil fuels to power a modern industrial society and to develop great wealth, we have sinned against the planet, leading to a future of irreversible catastrophic warming! Redemption lies in the collective commitment to give up our use of energy and our modern ways and to cede control of our lives to our environmental priests and priestesses!
Unfortunately, after a good run of several decades, this narrative has recently run into a serious problem, namely the failure of global temperatures to increase in accordance with official predictions of catastrophe and doom. Just a couple of weeks ago, in a post titled "Why 'Climate Change' Seems To Have Faded From The News," I noted that world temperatures had declined by more than half a degree C over the past couple of years, thus giving back about half of all of the twentieth century "global warming." The frequency of press stories banging the global warming drum has inevitably declined dramatically, with the few remaining stories relegated to trying to keep up the alarm by cherry-picking a handful of record high temperatures from somewhere around the world, while omitting any mention of corresponding record lows or the decline in the overall average. The main piece of reporting that I criticized in that post came from the Washington Post.
So what is the New York Times to do? I mean, they have about 85 reporters covering the climate beat, and all those people need something to write about; and that something better not be that average temperatures are declining. Surely an operation as eminent and sophisticated as Pravda can find a story line to guilt you for your climate sins in a way that is far more clever and effective than WaPo's amateurish serving up of obviously unrepresentative record high temperatures. It's time to come up with a new twist and write the climate story to end all climate stories!
And thus we find that this week's edition of the New York Times Magazine, just out yesterday, is entirely given over to one story. The title is "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change," and the author is Nathaniel Rich. The piece addresses "the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change." The theme is that "humankind" knew all the basics about impending global warming doom back during that critical decade, and had the chance to stop the doom in its tracks, but blew it. Now the punishment for your sins will be oh so much more horrible!
Rich and his editors seem to be completely unaware that today an internet exists out there where people can check assertions to see if they stand up. As you will see, this gets rather ridiculous. Credit goes to Tony Heller of the Deplorable Climate Science Blog for dredging up screenshots of New York Times articles from the 1970s and 80s.
First, from Rich's piece, here is your punishment -- it's somewhere between purgatory and hell!
If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. . . . Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.
And all for the sin of not "acting" when we knew everything and had the big chance, back in 1979 to 1989. Tell us what we "knew," Nate:
Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. By that year, data collected since 1957 confirmed what had been known since before the turn of the 20th century: Human beings have altered Earth’s atmosphere through the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels. The main scientific questions were settled beyond debate, and as the 1980s began, attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to refinement of the predicted consequences. Compared with string theory and genetic engineering, the “greenhouse effect” — a metaphor dating to the early 1900s — was ancient history, described in any Introduction to Biology textbook. Nor was the basic science especially complicated. It could be reduced to a simple axiom: The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet. And every year, by burning coal, oil and gas, humankind belched increasingly obscene quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Why didn’t we act?
Why, oh why, oh why? Are you feeling guilty yet? Well, one reason "we" didn't act might be this piece from the New York Times itself in 1978:
Go to the link for the full text of the Times's article. It includes this:
The report, prepared by German, Japanese and American specialists, appears in the Dec. 15 issue of Nature, the British journal. The findings indicate that from 1950 to 1975 the cooling, per decade, of most climate indexes in the Northern Hemisphere was from 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius, roughly 0.2 to 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
But what about CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere from human burning of fossil fuels? Wasn't that causing the earth to warm?
The observations come, at a time when a warming trend could have been expected from the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to extensive fuel burning. The gas inhibits the escape of solar heat from the earth. Dr. Kukla, in a telephone interview this week, said that the cause of the apparent cooling remained unknown and that no scientific attempt to predict whether the trend would continue was possible.
OK, then, but surely by 1989 the "global cooling" thing had been debunked, and everybody knew that the buildup of atmospheric CO2 had set the world on the road to climate disaster. If so, "everybody" emphatically did not include the New York Times. Here is their front page from January 26, 1989.
As you can see, the lead article has the headline "U.S. Data Since 1895 Fail To Show Warming Trend." From that article:
After examining climate data extending back nearly 100 years, a team of Government scientists has concluded that there has been no significant change in average temperatures or rainfall in the United States over that entire period. . . . The study, made by scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was published in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters. It is based on temperature and precipitation readings taken at weather stations around the country from 1895 to 1987.
But wasn't NASA's James Hansen already out in the 80s predicting coming apocalypse from greenhouse-gas warming? Sure he was! But, as the Times pointed out in 1989, others asserted that there was no definitive evidence that such warming was occurring or could even be detected:
Dr. James E. Hansen, director of National Aeronautic and Space Administration's Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, has reported that average global temperatures have risen by nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit in this century and that the average temperatures in the 1980's are the highest on record. Dr. Hansen and other scientists have said that that there is a high degree of probability that this warming trend is associated with the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other industrial gases that absorb and retain radiation.
But other scientists, while agreeing with this basic theory of a greenhouse effect, say there is no convincing evidence that a pollution-induced warming has already begun. Dr. Michael E. Schlesinger, an atmospheric scientist at Oregon State University who studies climate models . . . said he regarded the new data as inconsistent with assumptions that such an effect is already detectable.
So I'd say that it looks like time for Mr. Rich and his colleagues at Pravda to go back to the drawing board. Your new story line is just too obviously fraudulent! It's just getting too hard any more to make a credible sin-and-redemption story out of this whole global warming thing!
But others are pointing you in a better direction: Plastic straws! This is the new narrative of the moment, a perfect new environment-based sin-and-redemption story for the modern world. Your sinful unthinking use of these little straws is leading to accumulation of tons of debris in the oceans and to imminent danger for the whales and dolphins.
This is truly the new cause of the moment. Stories about it are filling the internet. You can join the campaign "For a Strawless Ocean!" Or you can join the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Take the Pledge! California and New York City have new laws in the works. The Washington Post reports that the new movement is "sucking in thousands of converts."
And the best part about the new movement is that it somehow does not require transforming the world economy and sending civilization back to the Stone Age. I say, go for it!