A Special Place in Hell

People often rely on “trusted communicators” for information more than on individual experts they do not know, such as scientists. Trusted people and institutions in the media thus have a special obligation to get their facts right, because they reach millions of readers and viewers. But the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff repeatedly publishes error-laden, misleading editorials and op-ed pieces about climate change.

For example, just after the September 2014 climate march brought hundreds of thousands of people to New York City, the WSJ wrote about “exertions to save the planet from atmospheric carbon that may or may not have consequences that may or may not be costly in a century or more” [emphasis added]. The Arctic ice cap shrinks by 50 percent, there is flooding in Florida and around the world as sea levels rise, oceans are acidifying, and this year is on track to tie or break global temperature records – yet the editors choose a stance of outright denial of anthropogenic climate change?

By printing such nonsense the WSJ provides a convenient source of “authority” for free-market enthusiasts, or others, who believe the WSJ is an excellent newspaper. The editorial staff, led by Paul Gigot – as well as too many of the WSJ’s readers – simply ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus, and the evidence of their own eyes. Glaciers and the Arctic ice cap really are melting, as anyone with access to Google and the Internet can see. As the comedian John Oliver notes in a funny bit of video, if media outlets wanted to host an accurate “debate” about climate change they should invite 97 scientists representing overwhelming consensus, debating just 3 skeptical scientists. Instead, the WSJ prefers to reverse those figures (that is, if even as many as 3 percent of their op-eds present the true scientific consensus).

Fewer people believe in hell these days than in earlier centuries. But everyone has a right to be scandalized when a respected news organization flaunts the truth so blatantly. The editors could call on their own science writers, who know better. In response to a letter I wrote to Paul Gigot (never answered by the editorial staff, of course), one of the WSJ science writers I copied replied almost instantly to say that reporting and editorial are two separate functions; i.e., don’t blame the science writers for ignorant, misleading editorials!

A few intelligent readers of the WSJ say they long ago gave up reading the editorials. On the other hand, I recently engaged with a wealthy man who made bundles of money at Chase Bank and he was fixated on the fact that year-to-year global warming “paused” for some years, which he was convinced meant that global warming was not real.

The WSJ provides convenient intellectual cover for such people. Whether that is because Rupert Murdoch (the owner) simply wants to sell newspapers, or because the Journal is speaking for fossil fuel companies and free-market purists in denial about anthropogenic climate change, or for some other reason, I do not know.

Whatever the reason, as far as I am concerned there is a special place in hell for the WSJ editors responsible for promoting such ignorant, harmful fictions about climate change. These people do real damage to the public’s understanding of science, and to humanity’s chances of averting the worst impacts of climate change.

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