Stephens's Times column is about climate change, but its first four paragraphs focus on the failure of Hillary Clinton's data-driven campaign. Stephens argues that we should doubt all data:
There’s a lesson here. We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris. From Robert McNamara to Lehman Brothers to Stronger Together, cautionary tales abound.Like a good defense lawyer who knows his client is guilty, Stephens has planted the general idea of doubt in the reader's mind. But he knows he's writing for The New York Times, so he does something he preferred not to do when he was writing for The Wall Street Journal: He concedes that climate change exists, even as he denounces calls for a serious response.
Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly....He's still telling readers that they're wrong if they accept the scientific consensus on global warming. He's still arguing that advocates for a strong response are tyrants drunk with power. But he's trying to sell this argument to people who believe the science, so he's conceding some of their points.
None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.
He didn't do that when he was writing for Fox-watching captains of industry on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. When he was writing for them, he told them that climate change isn't science, it's religion:
Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.(Stephens wrote that in 2011. It's 2017 now. Global warming still seems catastrophic and irreversible.)
As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers." And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.
... Great religions are wise enough to avoid marking down the exact date when the world comes to an end. Not so for the foolish religions. Expect Mayan cosmology to take a hit to its reputation when the world doesn't end on Dec. 21, 2012. Expect likewise when global warming turns out to be neither catastrophic nor irreversible come 2017.
Previously, in 2010, he'd mocked climate change believers for "panicking" about a "dead" crisis:
So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we're going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place....Why isn't Stephens writing like this anymore? Because he doesn't have the intellectual honesty -- or possibly because it's been made clear to him that he shouldn't. He's selling the same lies, but he's soft-selling them. That's sneaky and deceitful.
The world is now several decades into the era of environmental panic. The subject of the panic changes every few years, but the basic ingredients tend to remain fairly constant. A trend, a hypothesis, an invention or a discovery disturbs the sense of global equilibrium. Often the agent of distress is undetectable to the senses, like a malign spirit. A villain—invariably corporate and right-wing—is identified.
Then money begins to flow toward grant-seeking institutions and bureaucracies, which have an interest in raising the level of alarm. Environmentalists counsel their version of virtue, typically some quasi-totalitarian demands on the pattern of human behavior. Politicians assemble expert panels and propose sweeping and expensive legislation. Eventually, the problem vanishes.
... I propose a readers' contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it. The winner gets a beer and a burger, on me, at the 47th street Pig N' Whistle in New York City. (Nachos for vegetarians.) Happy panicking!
If the Times wants to publish Stephens, we should get him at full strength. His columns should be dripping with contempt for climate change believers, the way they were when he wrote for the high-end cigar bar that is the Journal's editorial page. As bad as the first column is, it's Stephens as Eddie Haskell, pretending to be civilized in Mrs. Cleaver's presence.
To hell with that, Bret. Tell Times readers what you really believe.