Climate Furies

By now, Andy Revkin must feel like a tackling dummy. All this week, numerous liberal bloggers have singed him for this piece he wrote on the misrepresentation of climate data, in which he essentially equated Al Gore with George Will.

Gore’s camp has taken offense, respected scientists have registered their disapproval, and  climate change ideologues have gone barking mad.

Today, it’s George Will’s turn to be offended. In this column, Will throws a few soft jabs at Andy’s reporting and then digs in his heels over this previous column that triggered the fracas several weeks back.  Taken together, both of Will’s columns play Twister with science data to claim that concerns over global warming are exaggerated. Anyone familiar with Will’s position on climate change knows that he has sung this tune for years.

Yet, the outrage hurled at the Washington Post for publishing Will’s columns is off the charts. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. This is not 1998, when the American public was still pretty fuzzy headed about global warming.  The debate today has moved past Is global warming happening to How do we de-carbonize the world economy. I don’t see anybody in Congress (besides Inhofe) arguing about the science. The battlefront has moved to policy.

Sorry, Joe Romm, but I think you’re stuck in mud, fighting an old war. You and your cohorts are working up frothy umbrage for naught. What’s more, it’s totally out of proportion to Will’s actual influence and reach. Sure he’s got a nationally syndicated column. But Thomas Friedman has a pretty large megaphone too and I’d argue that he’s been a whole lot more effective at bringing the nation’s thought leaders ( and politically moderate Americans) over to your side.

Now let me be clear about something, because I’ve been teeing off on Romm and a few others all this week. I agree that Andy’s equating Gore with Will was off base. My beef is with the way Romm and Brad Johnson went about it. I’ve already made my case for why I think Romm was out of line.

Johnson’s critique of Andy’s column, while civil in tone, is undermined by his irresponsible character distortions of David Ropeik and Roger Pielke, Jr. At least Johnson provided a link to Ropeik’s website so readers could make some kind of independent assessment. With Pielke, Jr., who, like Ropeik, Johnson characterizes as having “ties to corporate, right-wing America,” there is no substantiation offered for this broad and vague depiction, much less a link to Pielke’s homepage, which would reveal an impressive academic record.

Moreover, earlier this week Johnson conducted an interview with Pielke Jr., and didn’t see fit to post any of it in his “updates” of the Revkin critique post. (But he found space for Romm and Gore’s spokesperson and others.)  So let me direct readers over to Prometheus, where Roger has posted the entire interview with Johnson. I think Wonk Room readers would find it interesting reading.

I’m all for vigorous, fiery debate. But not ad hominum attacks and weasly, unsubstantiated guilt-by-association smears.

10 Responses to “Climate Furies”

  1. Steve Bloom says:

    Don’t forget who hosted that meeting Obama held with the wingnut pundits just before the inauguration. People with little remaining influence don’t tend to find themselves in such a role.

    IMHO the fact that Will feels free to continue writing that sort of garbage is symptomatic of a larger problem with the media, so in that sense the attack on him is similar to the forthcoming demonstration at the DC coal plant.

    To borrow Steve Chu’s phrase, far too many senior people in the media business have failed to grip the climate problem in their gut. That needs to change.

    BTW, RP Jr. is suspected of right-wing ties in part because he’s happy to have his material published by right-wing outlets (NCPA, e.g.). Really that’s probably just self-promotion, but he exposes himself to criticism since other people in the same business tend to draw the line at those sorts of associations.

    He also seems to like to trawl the internet looking for opportunities to attack or encourage attacks on prominent climate scientists and activists (as with going to Tierney with Gore’s transgression).

    There’s a longer list, but I’ll end with noting his peculiar promotion of air capture, which aside from being a 100% bad idea (as he conceives of it) isn’t exactly being an honest broker. Maybe that’s just the standard for climate scientists, though.

  2. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Steve Bloom’s comments have at least three outright lies, here they are:

    1. “RP Jr. is suspected of right-wing ties in part because he’s happy to have his material published by right-wing outlets (NCPA, e.g.).”

    I don’t know what he is referring to. I have never been asked much less requested to have any material published by NCPA (I don’t even know what the NCPA actually is).

    2. “He also seems to like to trawl the internet looking for opportunities to attack or encourage attacks on prominent climate scientists and activists (as with going to Tierney with Gore’s transgression).”

    Another lie. I never “went to Tierney” or anyone else. I posted my views on Gore’s use of the graph on my blog. Is it my fault for pointing out the error (which is related to my research over the past 15 years) or Gore’s for making it? Gore’s error was not found by “trawling the internet” — it was made in a speech at the AAAS, the largest and most important science meeting in the US. AAAS issued a press release.

    3. “I’ll end with noting his peculiar promotion of air capture, which aside from being a 100% bad idea (as he conceives of it) isn’t exactly being an honest broker.”

    My analysis of air capture is found in a peer reviewed paper. If he thinks it is wrong, then write up a response and send it to the peer reviewed journal as a commentary. It has nothing to do with my book titled The Honest Broker.

  3. Steve Bloom says:

    Will’s column should be considered in light of this purely political Post opinion piece by another of the attendees at that meeting. These people simply don’t care what the science says.

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    How does one highlight links in comments here, BTW?

  5. Keith Kloor says:


    I’ll let Roger speak for himself.

    Regarding the supposition that “far too many senior people in the media business have failed to grip the climate problem in their gut”:

    I’m not sure I agree with that. Until gas prices hit four bucks a gallon last summer and the economy went belly up, climate change was receiving increasing coverage in media outlets.

    That said, climate change is very problematic to write about, in terms of connecting the dots to actual disasters or environmental damage– other than melting icepack and receding glaciers and changing migrating patterns, etc., etc.

    I’m not one of those people that believes you can link the latest wildfire, drought, hurricane to global warming. That doesn’t mean I don’t view climate change as real or potentially catastrophic down the road. And I think global action is warranted to prevent continued greenhouse gas build-up.

    But as Andy Revkin has pointed out many times, climate change is a “slow-drip” story. It doesn’t pack the visceral punch like a river exploding in flames or birds dying from DDT or an oil spill.

    Absent such smoking guns, I fear we’ll continue to get bogged down in diversionary, divisive debates such as the ones spurred by George Will’s column.

    As John Kerry recently wrote about the Will controversy in the Huffington Post: “Dragging up long-discredited myths about some non-existent scientific consensus about global cooling from the 1970s does no one any good. Except perhaps a bankrupt flat earth crowd.”

    Of course, he was taking Will to task for this, but my larger point is that it does climate advocates no good either to get suckered into this debate.

    As for a way to highlight links in comments, bear with me on that–I’m working on it.

  6. Steve Bloom says:

    Roger, the NCPA reference was from memory and was wrong. Will Cato and Energy and Environment do instead? This note on your SourceWatch page (link) is informative: “Pielke has been noted for sensitivity that any mention of links between himself and conservatives not be noted on his wikipedia entry. A look at the history of his wiki site shows that he continuously removes citations that link him or his writings with conservative politicians or bloggers.” I believe my underlying point stands.

    Re the Gore incident, I will agree that you trawl more broadly than just the internet, and that to all appearances you’re right that your means of letting Tierney know was to post the information on your blog. But again that ignores the underlying point: Why not email Gore and ask for a correction rather than put an attack on him in a place where you know the likes of Tierney will see it? It seems unconstructive.

    Re air capture, your paper has indeed been peer-reviewed. That is not at all equivalent to an endorsement of the idea by the reviewers or the publication. My point on the “honest broker” business was that someone who pushes particular policy options as you do isn’t much of one as you define it. To be clear, my objection here is not with you expressing views on policy, rather it’s that the whole “honest broker” concept is useless. As far as I can tell, the climate science community seems to agree.

  7. Steve Bloom says:

    I’ll reply at greater length later, Keith, but for now I just wanted to note that the campaign against Will seems to have borne fruit with the WaPo ombudsman.

  8. Roger Pielke, Jr. says:


    It is funny that you offer up a lie about me having a relationship with NCPA and then complain about my sensitivity at being linked by people like you to groups like NCPA.

    Joe Romm published with Cato last year and participated at an event they sponsored, and so what? They are arguably are the leading libertarian group in the country, with a distinguished group of people who publish in Regulation, including Cass Sunstein and many others. Libertarians believe it or not engage in policy discussions. So what? Should I never communicate with people you find somehow objectionable? I’m proud of the piece. Get over it.

    My Energy and Environment paper (from 1998, well before its more recent problems) is a damn fine paper, Bill Nordhaus used it as the basis for his hurricane paper. Do you have any substantive issues with it? Or are you again trying to smear by association? (Really, is that all you’ve got?)

    Regarding my blog — get over it — it exists. Rather than shooting the messenger who points out a flaw in Gore’s work, why not blame Gore for making the mistake in the first place?

    I doubt you’ve read my book, so you probably have no clue as to what is meant by “honest broker” but if you do, ask a substantive question about the book and I’ll answer. In the book I say that individuals can’t be honest brokers, and that includes me.

    So please stop misrepresenting the book as well as my views and connections. If you want to debate policy, I’m all for it.

  9. Keith Kloor says:

    At best, pointing up associations of an individual is a dubious tactic. Nat Hentoff recently joined the Cato Institute. James Carville is married to Mary Matalin. Ted Kennedy has worked closely with Republicans throughout his career. I have cousins who voted for John McCain.

    I also wouldn’t cite a wiki as an authoritative source. I’m not knocking them, because I use them too. I’d just be real selective in your specific citations. As any journalism instructor will tell students, it can be the first source you go to, but not the final one.

    Finally, I’d really prefer it if you used your comments in this blog to make or rebut arguments related to the post, not as a vehicle for maligning individuals.

  10. Steve Bloom says:

    But Keith, why not blame Roger for making mistakes? 🙂 You’re right, though, it’s mostly OT relative to the post. The only other point I’ll make is that while Brad (and myself) may have been a little unfair to him, someone reading your defense of him wouldn’t have learned that many climate scientists and environmentalists have a very bad reaction to Roger because of the way he goes around picking fights.

    As for the perniciousness of the libertarian philosophy, it speaks for itself, rather loudly just now.

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