Roger Pielke Jr. must be embarrassed by the timing of his latest op-ed piece. Let me explain.
We just had Hurricane Harvey, which set all kinds of records. Last week San Francisco registered its highest temperature ever, 106, which is insane for the City by the Bay. Wildfires are burning across the West. And now, here comes Hurricane Irma, the largest hurricane in Atlantic history.
You don’t have to be a climate scientist to suspect something’s awry with our weather.
The scientific issue is complicated, I know, but politically-speaking, it’s simpler to understand. Democrats believe in the Al Gore theory that human activity is radically altering the Earth’s climate. Republicans disagree, and the more conservative they are, the more they insist—not only that man isn’t the cause of climate change—but that there isn’t any climate change at all.
I, myself, think that many Republican politicians fully understand that something is wrong with our climate, and that human activity certainly is involved. But they’re afraid to say so publicly. You see, the Republican base is so under-educated, so ignorant of so many realities, so steeped in their various resentments and superstitions—resentments that the Republican Party has stoked for years–that GOP politicians dare not educate them, for fear of being primaried out of office. So the Republican Party goes along pretending all is well with the climate.
What’s particularly sad, though, is when scientists join the climate-skeptic crowd. Most scientists, reports NASA, acknowledge that climate change and warming are real, and are major, life-threatening issues. But there’s always going to be a handful who say there’s no problem. Just as the tobacco industry still manages to dig up the occasional “expert” who says smoking doesn’t cause cancer, so too the right wing will unearth someone with scientific credentials to bolster the fossil fuel industry’s contention that climate change is (to quote Trump) “a hoax invented by the Chinese.”
Enter Roger Pielke Jr. He works at the University of Colorado, where he teaches environmental studies. He’s not dumb enough to deny that something may be wrong with the climate. But he is known as a “climate heretic” (his own words) due to his belief that “There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally.”
In his online piece—written before we knew about Irma–Pielke airs his many grievances. He has been attacked by “thought police” and “activist groups funded by billionaires” [like Tom Steyer]. John Podesta (Hillary’s campaign chairman) mounted “a campaign to have [him] eliminated” as a published writer because of his “inconvenient research”—a pun on Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. His bottom line: There have been “no long-term increases in the frequency or strength of hurricanes in the U.S.”
Hurricane Harvey obviously threw a curve ball at Prof. Pielke. The size and scope of Harvey was a real challenge for Pielke, so he felt the need to do a little ‘splainin’ in the Wall Street Journal, where his op-ed piece, “The Hurricane Lull Couldn’t Last,” ran on Aug. 31.
There, he rolled out another of his contentions: Despite Harvey’s historic rainfall levels and thousand-year flooding, proof “that hurricanes [are] more common and intense” than they used to be “hasn’t happened.” Therefore, “Without data to support their wilder claims,” Pielke writes, “climate partisans have now resorted to shouting that every extreme weather event was somehow ‘made worse’ by the emission of greenhouse gases.” Pielke’s advice going forward? “President Trump should…appoint a science advisor…to coordinate federal science agencies,” as if there’s not already enough evidence out there that extreme weather events are on the increase.
Unfortunately for Prof. Pielke, he wrote all this right before another inconvenient hurricane, Irma, arose in the Atlantic. As of yesterday, it was “one of the powerful hurricanes ever recorded,” and threatens to smash into the U.S. somewhere around South Florida this weekend.
If Prof. Pielke had waited another week before writing his op-ed piece, he might have toned it down. He would have known about Irma, and perhaps not have been as stubbornly defensive. I mean, back-to-back historic superstorms hitting America within days of each other? Wow. What does it take for people like Prof. Pielke to question their conclusions? Scientists are supposed to change their minds when contrary evidence piles up. Doesn’t it seem like there’s powerful evidence that hurricanes (and droughts and heat waves and torrential rainstorms) are more frequent, and getting worse? Why are people like Prof. Pielke so resistant to the evidence?
It’s a puzzle, but it’s not puzzling why the Wall Street Journal loves him. The Journal is the mouthpiece of capitalist, Wall Street business interests. They’ve been cheerleading the “no global warming” rally for years. Business does not want to admit the severity of climate change. Neither, apparently, does Pielke. Two peas in a pod: Pielke gets a soapbox to sell his books, and the Wall Street Journal continues along its embarrassingly stupid path of climate skepticism.