NY Times’ Stephens can’t see the elephant in the room on climate change.

There was tremendous outcry when the New York Times hired opinion columnist Bret Stephens, who has a long history of making misinformed comments about climate change. Stephens didn’t assuage those fears when he devoted his first column to punching hippies, absurdly suggesting that our lack of progress on climate policyClimate change policy and legislation drives the transition to a low carbon economy, creating opportunities and risks to which businesses must respond to succeed. is a result of greens being too mean to climate deniers.

Stephens lamentably stayed on the subject of climate changeClimate change is a lasting change in weather patterns over long periods of time. It can be a natural phenomena and and has occurred on Earth even before people inhabited it. Quite different is a current situation that is also referred to as climate change, anthropogenic climate change, or ... in his second and third Times columns as well. In those pieces, he used corn-based ethanolEthanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. Ethanol is abbreviated as EtOH, using the common organic chemistry notation of representing the ethyl group (C2H5) with Et.Bioethanol is a readily available, clean ... subsidies as an example of where climate policy has gone wrong:

So let’s talk about ethanol and other biofuelsLiquid fuels and blending components produced from biomass (plant) feedstocks, used primarily for transportation.Bio fuels are liquid fuels that are produced of plant material or herbal remains., a subject some climate-change activists might prefer to forget. In 2007, George W. Bush used his State of the Union speech to call for huge increases in the production of renewable and alternative fuelsMaterials or substances other than conventional fossil fuels or nuclear materials which may be burned in order to generate energy. such as ethanol. Democrats were firmly on board, and President Barack Obama pursued a largely similar course in his first years in office.

This is a clear case of cherry picking. There are hundreds of examples of climate policiesClimate change policy and legislation drives the transition to a low carbon economy, creating opportunities and risks to which businesses must respond to succeed. with varying degrees of effectiveness; why focus on just one? Many environmental groups and “climate-change activists” have long opposed corn-based ethanol subsidies, as Stephens himself noted. Politicians of both political parties supported those subsidies because they were popular in corn-growing Midwestern states. It had little if anything to do with climate efficacy. So why blame “climate-change activists” for these politically-motivated subsidies?

For his next misleading argument, Stephens shifted to German electricity costsCost: The consumption of resources such as labour time, capital, materials, fuels, etc. as the consequence of an action. In economics, all resources are valued at their opportunity cost, which is the value of the most valuable alternative use of the resources. Costs are defi ned in a variety of ...:

The country is producing record levels of energy from windWind occurs due to different temperature levels in the atmosphere (troposphere) which are heated up by the sun. A typical example are the trade winds at the equator where the sun is most powerful. and solar powerPhotovoltaics (PV) is the field of technology and research related to the application of solar cells for energy by converting sunlight directly into electricity. Solar power is sometimes used as a synonym to refer to electricity generated from solar radiation., but emissionsEmissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land-use changes, livestock, fertilisation, etc. (IPCC) are almost exactly what they were in 2009. Meanwhile, German households pay nearly the highest electricity bills in Europe, all for what amounts to an illusion of ecological virtue.

Stephens’ comparison to 2009 is another example of blatant cherry picking. German carbon emissions that year were particularly low, due in part to the global recession. The long-term trend is unmistakable:

Stefan Rahmstorf

Just asking @nytimes: why would @BretStephensNYT compare latest German greenhouse gas emissionsGreenhouse gas emissions cause dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Emissions include CO2, fluoridated gases, methane which are emitted by human activity such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, and water vapour. with 2009, of all years? Delicious cherries! pic.twitter.com/r0J6slelpc

May 4, 2017

It’s also odd that Stephens criticized Germany for its electricityElectricity generation includes all technologies that turn some form of energy into useful electric energy. Electricity is a form of energy that has magnetic, radiant and chemical effects. Electric current is created by a flow of electrons. bills, given that the report he referenced shows they’re a bit lower than what Americans pay. The difference is that while German electricity rates are 3.3 times higher than Americans’, their electricity consumption is 3.4 times lower. In other words, German policies have been successful in cutting the nation’s carbon pollution while still keeping their electricity bills a bit lower than Americans’.

The country is far from perfect – they still rely on coal for a significant amount of that electricity generationElectricity generation includes all technologies that turn some form of energy into useful electric energy. Electricity is a form of energy that has magnetic, radiant and chemical effects. Electric current is created by a flow of electrons. – but from a climate policy perspective, Germany is mostly a success story. America’s per-person carbon pollution is nearly twice as high as Germany’s.

Although his columns are riddled with these sorts of misleading cherry picks, worse yet is that Stephens’ arguments are red herrings, distracting from the elephant in the room.

On American climate policy, the GOP is the problem

Stephens’ columns worry that America will jump on the bandwagon of any feel-good climate policy. If only we lived in a world where that were a legitimate concern. In reality, the Trump administration is taking every possible step to undo all American climate policies. They’re considering withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement because they believe it won’t allow America to increase its carbon pollution.

The administration has effectively declared war on the Earth’s climate and our future well-being. Noam Chomsky has called the Republican Party the most dangerous organization in human history because of its climate denial and policy obstruction.

BBC Newsnight

The Republican Party is the most dangerous organisation in human history due to its lack of action on climate change, Noam Chomsky tells us pic.twitter.com/zkFppzso3C

May 11, 2017

Stephens’ focus on corn-based ethanol is like a cancer patient worrying about a hangnail. Certainly, all parties should debate the best and most effective policies to address climate change. We’ve been pleading with Republicans for years to engage in that debate. Democrats have proposed all sorts of different policy solutions – government regulations, free market cap and tradeEmissions trading (or emission trading) is an administrative approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. It is sometimes called cap and trade. The idea of cap and trade system is to cap the amount of emissions that ... systems (a Republican invention), small government revenue-neutral carbon taxes – you name it. They’re not the problem.

There are a few GOP climate leaders

Fortunately, some prominent Republicans have stepped up to engage in the climate policy debate. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham authored past climate legislation. 19 House Republicans have joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, 12 of whom just introduced The Climate Solutions Commission Act that would establish a commission to recommend economically viable climate policies. And a group of Republican elder statesmen on the Climate Leadership Council met with the White House to recommend support for a revenue-neutral carbon taxA carbon tax is a levy on the carbon content of fossil fuels. Because virtually all of the carbon in fossil fuels is ultimately emitted as carbon dioxide, a carbon tax is equivalent to an emission tax on each unit of CO2- equivalent emissions. An energy tax - a levy on the energy content of ....

However, while deserving of great praise and encouragement for their efforts, these climate realist Republican Party leaders are in the minority. The question is whether they can wrest control of the party away from the climate deniers and policy obstructionists before too much damage is done to the Earth’s climate and the future prospects of the GOP.

Republicans are no longer conservative on the environment

The Republican Party used to be conservative on environmental issues, as Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley has noted:

Debbie Dooley explaining for Vox how to win over Republicans on renewable energyRenewable energy is power generated from infinite sources, such as wind or solar power. Conventional energy is generated from finite sources, such as natural gas or fossil oil..

On this issue, the conservative approach requires major efforts to cut carbon pollution. Merely investing in research and clean technologies, as Stephens supports, is grossly insufficient.

It’s worthwhile to challenge New York Times readers’ notions and worldviews, but not if it’s done in an intellectually dishonest way on the greatest existential problem we face today. Stephens could use his platform and influence to try and reverse his party’s policy obstruction; instead he’s chosen to concern troll Times readers. They expect and deserve much better.

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