People Aren’t Buying NYT Magazine’s Claim We Could Have Stopped Global Warming In The 1980s

Michael Bastasch | Contributor
  • New York Times Magazine dedicated an issue to how humanity was on the verge of stopping man-made global warming in the 1980s but didn’t succeed.
  • The 30,000-word article published Wednesday after much hype.
  • Many policy experts and journalists aren’t buying the narrative.

New York Times Magazine dedicated an entire issue to an article called “Losing Earth” that alleges humanity was on the cusp of stopping man-made global warming in the 1980s, but then didn’t.

Writer Nathaniel Rich narrative focuses around the failed efforts of “a handful of people, among them a hyperkinetic lobbyist and a guileless atmospheric physicist who, at great personal cost, tried to warn humanity of what was coming.”

“Their efforts were shrewd, passionate, robust. And they failed,” Rich wrote in his 30,000-word article published Wednesday after much hype.

The problem is — many policy experts and journalists aren’t buying Rich’s narrative.

University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr., who’s been involved in climate policy for decades, said the magazine article “brings together alternative history with a disaster movie plot.”

NYT reporter Brad Plumer was also skeptical the world was really ready to “stop” global warming in 1989, asking the obvious question, “how would we convince China to forego coal?”

Rich’s article follows a cast of characters, including former Friends of the Earth lobbyist Rafe Pomerance and former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who worked to sound the alarm on catastrophic global warming and convince world leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions — and, yes, former Vice President Al Gore is in there too.

Hansen is remembered for his 1988 congressional testimony where he told lawmakers “greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” His testimony made waves in the media, despite being contradicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change two years later.

The narrative crescendos in 1989 when Rich claims the world was poised to sign a global agreement to stop global warming — but didn’t. Rich suggested human nature was to blame for failing to stop global warming. (RELATED: The Media Is Predictably (And Incorrectly) Linking Global Warming To Wildfires)

Former New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin noted a major presumption of the article is “exploded” in the first few paragraphs.

Many environmental activists and journalists were quick to attack Rich’s article for not laying blame at the feet of the fossil fuel industry for waging a misinformation campaign against climate science.

Rich mentions the theory, but says fossil fuel companies didn’t start campaigning against climate policies in earnest until after 1989. Environmentalists disagreed.

Other activists took to social media to caution supporters not to lose hope in mitigating global warming, arguing that action can still be taken today to avert catastrophe.

Of course, none of them mentioned that many of the dire predictions about global warming made during this time have not come true, including Hansen’s own projections of temperature increases.

Two recent analyses found that observed temperature increases most closely followed Hansen’s lowest and “least likely” scenario for warming. This scenario also assumed carbon dioxide emissions flat-lined after the year 200, which didn’t actually happen.

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