This is the question that Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy magazine is asking on his blog. You can read it for yourself here; it makes me want to paraphrase something FDR once said when an official sent him a nasty resignation. “Tell him to go find out from Dean Acheson how a gentleman resigns,” said FDR. If you want to disagree with me, go talk to Blake Hounshell. He knows how to do it well.
But I do think Blake misses the point. I’m not criticizing the Times for failing to cover the science angle of the story. I have said many times in my posts that I don’t think much has happened on the science front.
But the global warming controversy at this point is about much more than science: it’s a politics-and-policy story, and it’s a story about the collision of the worlds of science and politics.
What I’m blogging about, and what I’m berating the Times for missing, is the political implosion of the movement that seeks to do something about global warming. That is not the same thing as the erosion of the science.
The climate skeptics haven’t won the intellectual argument, but a combination of foolish missteps, poor political strategizing and sloppy work (by the IPCC and the East Anglia CRU) have given skeptics enough ammunition that the prospects for serious climate legislation in the US before November are, as far as I can see, dead.
That is the story I think the Times needs to share with its readers. The scientific case for anthropogenic global warming is pretty much what it was three months ago. But the prospects for effective US action to do anything about it have drastically changed. If Congress tries to go forward with cap-and-trade, a volcano of public resistance and Tea Party rebellion will erupt now, and in the current political climate, the environmental side will not be able to prevail.
That is news and it is important news, whether human action is causing dangerous global warming or not.
Readers of the New York Times don’t need to know about all the brouhaha in the British press because a bunch of reporters are trying to bring down the science behind global warming. What they need to know is that a bunch of reporters have succeeded in making the leading figures in the climate change movement look like incompetent, unreliable self-promoters whose evidence cannot be trusted.
Blake writes that I’ve linked ‘uncritically’ to these overheated press reports. I am not linking to endorse the journalistic attacks on climate science; more than once in these posts I’ve restated my own conclusion that the ‘revelations’ don’t affect the core scientific case. But I link to these press reports as evidence of what happens when science meets journalism — especially when the scientists are clueless about the nature of the game being played.
The science hasn’t broken down, but the interface between the scientific process and the political process has broken down completely. The Times needs to report on this not to protect itself against charges of liberal bias, but because it’s an important development on a major issue of great concern to its readers.
The problem, I think, is that like Blake, the Times can only see the story in scientific terms. If an interview like Phil Jones’ interview with the BBC doesn’t break scientific ground, then it’s not newsworthy. If there are a few embarrassing snafus in the IPCC report, that is unfortunate but it is not intellectually serious enough to be a major story.
But climate change has moved beyond the ivory tower. It’s a political issue now and believe me, from a political point of view, Phil Jones’ troubles and his troubled interview have made the news. If you don’t believe me, go watch Fox News and see how the interview is being used.
Let me say this again one last time: the story here is that the movement to stop climate change is being swift-boated right before our eyes. And just as Senator Kerry and the journalistic establishment failed to see the importance of the swift boat attacks and develop a counter strategy early, so the Times along with the climate change establishment is, yet again, missing the boat on a major piece of news.