Last Friday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an editorial titled "Earth to Congress: The cost of future Sandy disasters will only rise." The piece urged Congress to pass legislation limiting our output of carbon dioxide. The editorial was in accord with the vast majority of climate scientists and scientific bodies the world over, who for years have agreed that climate change is real and largely caused by human activity, and that we must act urgently to curb it.
But on Monday, by the P-G's op-ed page ran a a syndicated piece by Washington Post columnist George F. Will mocking the idea that climate change is even happening.
By way of assailing President Obama's priorities — you'll recall that the president spent a whole paragraph of his second inaugural addressing climate change — Will argues that the extreme higher temperatures, tropical storms, droughts and wildfires we're seeing are not part of a shift in global climate patterns. Repeat: are not.
Will backed up his argument with some misleading statistics and a citation of his lone "expert" — Holman Jenkins, of the infamously climate-denying editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.
Will himself is a longtime climate-denier. (The same is true of P-G columnist Jack Kelly.) The question is, why do otherwise sane publications continue to waste everyone's time with Will's scientifically groundless and repeatedly discredited blather about the issue?
I rang up Greg Victor, the P-G editor who chooses the columns that run on the op-ed page. His answer: "We try to run a variety of viewpoints" on different issues.
But what if a columnist's viewpoint on a matter of science disagrees with the conclusions of every major scientific body on Earth? (Including the National Academy of Sciences and all their sciencey colleagues.)
Victor admitted that Will-style denialism "is becoming more and more fringe scientifically."
So is the issue even debatable any longer? "It is still a debate," Victor contended — even if one side, he acknowledged, no longer has much science to back it up.
At what point would the science be so settled that it was no longer a debate? "I don't know if I can define a point," Victor said.
In fact, much as with flat-earthers and Holocaust-deniers, there is no debate to be had on this issue. Example: Last year, geochemist and educator James Powell cataloged 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific papers on climate change from 1991-2012, and found that 24 rejected man-made global warming. That's a "fringe" of roughly .0018 percent ... and that's rounding up.
In fairness, Victor did point out that Will's column was less about questioning the science behind climate change than it was about linking particular weather events — Superstorm Sandy, say — to the phenomenon.
But even here, there's a lot less disagreement than Victor seems to think. Scientists do debate how much climate change affects different kinds of weather. But they largely agree that thanks to climate change, weather is already getting more severe — and that it will continue to do so.