The newest columnist at The New York Times is Bret Stephens, a 43-year-old Never Trumper and the former editor-in-chief of the The Jerusalem Post. The Times picked him up from The Wall Street Journal, where he helped edit the opinion section. Five years ago, Stephens won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Stephens mostly writes about foreign policy, but for more than a decade, he has also weighed in on climate change. In the best world, the world where his views resemble Theresa May’s or Angela Merkel’s, he could be a terrific asset to the Times’ climate-starved editorial section, the most important opinion page in journalism. An American conservative who understands modern climate science is a rarity.
That may be too much to hope for. After he was hired, some critics labeled Stephens a “climate-science denier.” Stephens rejects this charge, but in fact his views are not even so coherent as to be ruled denial. Instead, without him ever acknowledging it, his opinion on climate change has evolved considerably over time. The only constant is his repeated reassurances to the reader not to worry: It’s the environmentalists who are wrong.
Stephens hasn’t written a column for the Times yet, but he has revealed what presuppositions he brings to the job, leaving behind hundreds of columns at the Journal. On Wednesday, he gave an exceptional interview to Jeff Stein at Vox. Here’s a tidbit:
Stephens: Since 1880—and I’d have to look it up—but according to the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], we’ve had about 1.7 degrees of rising temperatures.
The best scientific evidence suggests temperatures are rising, and the best scientific evidence suggests man-made anthropogenic carbon emissions have some substantial thing to do with that.
However, does that mean the trend will continue forever? We don’t know. Does this mean we will reach the upper bounds of what climate scientists fear? We aren’t sure. There are uncertainties in all of this.
There is an astonishing leap between the second and third paragraph. Stephens is arguing the following: The meteorological data shows that the world is getting warmer. Anthropogenic carbon emissions are causing that warmth, just as scientists have been warning for decades. But if we keep emitting carbon emissions, or do anything to limit our release of them, well, then, who knows what will happen?