Earlier this week I blogged about the publicâ''s growing skepticism on the subject of climate changeâ''â''more people less concerned about climateâ''â''and provoked some aggressive pushback. What particularly aroused many a readerâ''s ire was my claim that the debate over the basics of warming is essentially over. More than one reader seemed to propose that I should be stripped of my IEEE membership, or that IEEE should bar people like me from expressing my opinions online or in print. Under the circumstances, some further clarification and amplification of my position may be in order.
First, I am not, have never been, and never will be a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Nor am I an engineer. I am a journalist, one who was hired in the 1995 by IEEE Spectrum, the organizationâ''s flagship monthly, to cover energy and the environment. Iâ''d like to think I was hired because I had a solid track record in the field.
Let me digress for a moment to say something about journalists and journalism. It been a commonplace observation among people who do this work that top journalists often start their careers covering sports in small towns. (The late James Reston of The New York Times was an oft-noted case in point.) The reason for this frequent leap from small-time sports to big-time geopolitics is not hard to fathom. If you can report accurately and fairly the action and score of a Little League baseball game in Wichita, Kansas, then you can also report accurately and fairly on the Reykavik Summit, where President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev sought to agree on the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
What journalists do is keep score.
About this time last year, I reported in this space about a conference of climate skeptics held here in New York City. I was surprised to note that the skeptical science faction still had a lot of life in it, and that it still was getting a lot of support from a variety of organizations around the world.
This year, when the same conference was held again, I was unable to attend. But Andrew Revkin of the New York Times covered the event and reported--again rather to my surprise--that the skeptical scientists all seemed to be throwing in the towel. When I took note of Revkinâ''s observations in this blog, several readers indignantly suggested that he had not characterized the event correctly. Of course Revkin has his personal opinions about climate and so do I. But the reactions to his reporting and my reporting of his reporting made me wonder: If readers have so little respect for what we journalists do, why do they bother to read us at all?
Last year, Exxon, which had been the worldâ''s leading funder of climate skepticism, announced it was cutting support to some groups, suggesting that it was about to get out of the game altogether. By this time, every advanced industrial country in the world except for the United States had signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, committing to sharp reductions in carbon emissions. In the 2008 elections, both candidates for the U.S. presidency were known to take the climate problem very seriously, explicitly rejecting the attitude that had governed U.S. policy for the previous eight years. Barely two weeks after his election, as reported here, President Obama gave a videotaped speech to the bipartisan Governors Climate Summit in which he said: â''The science is beyond dispute, and the facts are clear.â'' From now on, said Obama, any governor seeking to reduce emissions or develop green technology would have an ally in the White House.
Obama did not mean, and I donâ''t either, that people are not entitled to continue disputing the science and debating the facts. Some very eminent people continue to do so, including Freeman Dyson, and they have every right to do so. But until they elect a national leadership that agrees with them--and let me tell you frankly, as somebody has followed the game closely, that this is not likely to ever happen againâ''their views are politically irrelevant. The climate alarmists have won the game.