The day before activists took to the streets to blame humankind for causing climate change, a federal court granted President Trump’s request to essentially freeze the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature climate policy. Trump signed an executive order in March that instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to review the plan (already tied up in the courts), which sought to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2050. It’s expected that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will gut if not entirely rescind it.
That same day, the EPA announced its website is “undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt” and specifically mentions “content related to climate.” This is kinda like when your boss tells you the company is going in a new direction right before she fires you. Happy marching!
But the real knife in the back came in the form of a column posted by Bret Stephens, a new columnist for The New York Times. On the eve of the Climate March, the Times ran Stephens’s first column since it poached him from the Wall Street Journal, and it sent the climate mob on a virtual stampede to the Times’ headquarters with torches ablaze. The Times hired Stephens, a neoconservative, for his virulent anti-Trump stance. As Byron York noted after the announcement, “seeking diversity, NYT editorial page wants anti-Trump opinion from left, right, and center.”
But the move backfired. Stephens has been labeled a climate denier for his past comments on the issue, such as calling global warming a “mass neurosis” and a “sick-souled religion.” Since the Times announced their hire, people have been demanding Stephens’s ouster; a petition on Change.org to fire him earned more than 28,000 signatures and many more threatened to cancel their subscriptions.
Rain on the Climate Parade Produces Hissing Steam
His April 28 column is a partial retort, if not a slight olive branch, to the climate congregation outraged that a heretic is now singing from their climate hymnal. (The Times just opened an entire bureau dedicated to climate change, brooding that “as the earth’s temperature continues to break records, climate and environmental reporting is taking on new urgency.”)
Stephens makes the wholly logical point that “claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.” He writes how the extremism and arrogance of climate leaders have fueled doubt if not total indifference about manmade climate change among the general public: “Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts,” he wrote. Irony alert here; keep reading.
If Stephens was trying to advise — if not appease — the climate mob, it didn’t work. The climate Twitterverse imploded Friday afternoon. California billionaire Tom Steyer, whose deep pockets fund climate activism around the world, tweeted that Stephens’s column “is straight out of Exxon playbook” and that it was “no different than a columnist arguing that tobacco use might not cause cancer. Dangerous.”
Gavin Schmidt, a leading climate scientist and head of realclimate.org, has been on a Twitter bender since Friday, calling the column “pathetic. If you want ‘real conversations’ have it w/real people (& scientists) instead of cardboard cutout caricatures.” Stephens was even slammed by Andy Revkin, a climate journalist Stephens favorably cites in his column: “The column also features the kind of straw men and other familiar foils used by those more wedded to a world view or policy position than committed to a deep examination of a complex and consequential problem.” Hundreds of climate activists and science journalists slammed the Times, cancelling their subscriptions and comparing the Times to flat-earthers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers.
Savor the Moment With Me
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Stephens is perhaps the most vicious of the Never Trump conservatives. He routinely launches nasty attacks against Trump advisors, supporters, and voters. He called Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway trashy and a thug. In 2015, Stephens wrote how “Mr. Trump is a loudmouth vulgarian appealing to quieter vulgarians.”
During a debate against The Federalist’s Ben Domenech, Stephens portrayed Trump supporters as racists and bigots, and said Trump appealed to the “pornographic instinct of a part of the American population.”(Stephens lost the debate, bigly.) While he now warns against treating skeptics as deplorables, he said Clinton’s comment about Trump supporters being deplorables was true.
Ironically, his rhetoric against Trump and Trump voters during his days at the WSJ led some to cancel their subscriptions. He offered a brief mea culpa after the election, admitting he “took too many shots at Mr. Trump’s voters…they deserved less scorn and more understanding.” So it was hard to conjure up sympathy when he tweeted this:
Stephens is not a sympathetic figure. But to his credit, by unleashing the demagogic fury of the climate mob (which undoubtedly voted for the same candidate he did), Stephens has exposed their utter totalitarianism on the subject. No debate or dissent is allowed, regardless of how mild or banal it might be. The science is not just settled. It is an orthodoxy not to be questioned or challenged, even by an anti-Trump soulmate.
My guess is that this will be the first and last column Stephens will write about climate (I wouldn’t be surprised if Stephens becomes a climate convert eventually). He will proceed to do what he was hired to do: bash Trump, his administration, and his supporters. That should get most, if not all, of those cancelled subscriptions back.