The New York Times's confessed climate activist (and journalist) Justin Gillis made Tuesday's front page with a 2,500-word story on what he called the last line of defense for climate change skeptics: "Clouds' Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters."
Gillis, a true believer, proudly told the Columbia Journalism Review in April that it was a "scandal" the media was failing to connect the dots between "weird weather" events and permanent climate change, and compared climate-change skeptics to people who don't believe in evolution.
On Tuesday, Gillis tackled clouds:
For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.
Over time, nearly every one of their arguments has been knocked down by accumulating evidence, and polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk.
Yet in recent years, the climate change skeptics have seized on one last argument that cannot be so readily dismissed. Their theory is that clouds will save us.
They acknowledge that the human release of greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm. But they assert that clouds -- which can either warm or cool the earth, depending on the type and location -- will shift in such a way as to counter much of the expected temperature rise and preserve the equable climate on which civilization depends.
Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading proponent of the view that clouds will save the day. His stature in the field -- he has been making seminal contributions to climate science since the 1960s -- has amplified his influence.
Gillis noted Lindzen's "idea has drawn withering criticism from other scientists, who cite errors in his papers and say proof is lacking."
However, politicians looking for reasons not to tackle climate change have embraced Dr. Lindzen and other skeptics, elevating their role in the public debate.
Gillis nodded along to scare-mongering scientists.
While the scientific majority acknowledges that the lingering uncertainty about clouds plays into the hands of skeptics like Dr. Lindzen, they say that he has gone beyond any reasonable reading of the evidence to provide a dangerous alibi for inaction.
Dr. Lindzen is “feeding upon an audience that wants to hear a certain message, and wants to hear it put forth by people with enough scientific reputation that it can be sustained for a while, even if it’s wrong science,” said Christopher S. Bretherton, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Washington. “I don’t think it’s intellectually honest at all.”
With climate policy nearly paralyzed in the United States, many other governments have also declined to take action, and worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases are soaring.
Among the many climate skeptics who plaster the Internet with their writings, hardly any have serious credentials in the physics of the atmosphere. But a handful of contrarian scientists do. The most influential is Dr. Lindzen.
Gillis laid out Lindzen's theory that what surface temperature rises, the number of cirrus clouds will decrease, counteracting the increase of greenhouse gases.
Today, most mainstream researchers consider Dr. Lindzen’s theory discredited. He does not agree, but he has had difficulty establishing his case in the scientific literature. Dr. Lindzen published a paper in 2009 offering more support for his case that the earth’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low, but once again scientists identified errors, including a failure to account for known inaccuracies in satellite measurements.
Gillis advocated panic as the logical choice:
Dr. Lindzen blames groupthink among climate scientists for his publication difficulties, saying the majority is determined to suppress any dissenting views. They, in turn, contend that he routinely misrepresents the work of other researchers.
“If I’m right, we’ll have saved money” by avoiding measures to limit emissions, Dr. Lindzen said in the interview. “If I’m wrong, we’ll know it in 50 years and can do something.”
But mainstream scientists counter that society’s impulse to wait only heightens the risks.
Ultimately, as the climate continues warming and more data accumulate, it will become obvious how clouds are reacting. But that could take decades, scientists say, and if the answer turns out to be that catastrophe looms, it would most likely be too late. By then, they say, the atmosphere would contain so much carbon dioxide as to make a substantial warming inevitable, and the gas would not return to a normal level for thousands of years.