December 6, 2018

Time To Wake Up: The Wall Street Journal and the Playbook Reboot

As-prepared for delivery

Mr. President, I’m here today for the 214th time to urge that we wake up to the effects of carbon pollution on the Earth’s oceans and climate. 

An obstacle to action on the threat that we face from climate change, however, is the manufactured doubt that so often surrounds this issue.  We find this manufactured doubt, a fossil fuel industry product, flowing even from the editorial page of one of our nation’s leading publications, The Wall Street Journal.  Whenever the issue is harmful industrial pollutants, the Journal’s editorial page has a long record of misleading its readers, denying the legitimate science, and even ignoring its own news pages’ reporting, all to shill for the polluting industry.

A pattern of science denial repeats itself in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal on environmental issues; issues like acid rain, and depletion of the ozone layer and, now and for years, climate change.  This editorial page has persistently published editorials against taking action to prevent manmade climate change.  For example:

  • In June 1993, the editors wrote that there is “growing evidence that global warming just isn’t happening.”
  • In September 1999, the page reported that “serious scientists” call global warming “one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.”
  • In June 2005, the page asserted that the link between fossil fuels and global warming had “become even more doubtful.”  This is June 2005, and The Wall Street Journal editorial page is questioning whether there is a link between fossil fuels and global warming.

More recently: 

  • A December 2011 editorial said that the global warming debate requires “more definitive evidence.”
  • And in October 2013, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal warned that in addressing climate change, “interventions make the world poorer than it would otherwise be.”  Maybe the world of Exxon shareholders is the world they had in mind.

You would think that as the evidence mounted over the past several decades, the Journal would have wised up and begun to publish editorials based on real science and data.  To put it mildly, that has not been the case.  Instead, the editors have doubled down on climate denial. 

Just last month the Journal published a piece titled, “The Sea is Rising, but Not Because of Climate Change.”  The piece is riddled with scientific errors and ignores all the legitimate science on climate change.  The author of the article, Fred Singer, is not only a notorious climate denier, but has for years been affiliated with or funded by the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute, and others.  He’s been funded by a rogues’ gallery of climate denial front groups that have themselves been funded by ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers’ network. 

Dr. Michael Mann and Dr. Andrea Dutton, both actual, legitimate climate scientists, wrote a response to the Journal.  Their article, titled simply, “Water’s Rising Because It’s Getting Warmer,” directly addresses the factual problems with Singer’s piece.  

Mr. President I ask consent to submit it for the Record. 

In response to Singer’s claim that ice sheets are getting bigger, the actual climate scientists write, “No, ice is not accumulating on Earth—it is melting.  No, Antarctica isn’t too cold for melting—warming oceans are eroding the ice from beneath, destabilizing the ice sheet.  And no, legitimate scientific conclusions are not reached in op-ed pieces, but through careful peer-reviewed research.”

Singer also erroneously claims that sea levels are not rising due to warming temperatures.  In response, Drs. Mann and Dutton explain, “That research shows that sea levels are rising and human-caused climate change is the cause.  Don’t take our word for it; help yourself to the mountain of scientific literature showing as much.  When water warms, it expands.  When ice warms, it melts.  To deny these facts is not just to deny climate change.  It is to deny basic physics.” 

The Trump administration’s own Climate Science Special Report that found that “it is virtually certain that sea level rise this century and beyond will pose a growing challenge to coastal communities, infrastructure, and ecosystems.”  The Climate Science Special Report will serve as the scientific backbone for the Fourth National Climate Assessment due later this year.  The authors list is a who’s-who of top university scientists and agency experts from NOAA, the EPA, NASA, our National Labs, the National Science Foundation, and the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Commerce, Interior, and State; in all, thirteen federal agencies and departments. 

Or you can believe the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.  The Journal continued its climate denial spree in June, publishing another piece titled “Thirty Years On, How Well Do Global Warming Predictions Stand Up?”, in which Patrick Michaels and Ryan Maue argue that Dr. James Hansen’s 1988 climate change warnings were overestimated.  

Pull the curtain back on these two characters and you quickly see they are, to put it politely, aligned with the fossil fuel industry.  Patrick Michaels is a Senior Fellow at the Koch-founded and Koch-funded Cato Institute.  Michaels at one point admitted that 40 percent of his funding came from the fossil fuel industry.  His co-author Maue also joined the Cato Institute last year.  Yes, the fossil fuel industry still pays for this nonsense, even as fossil fuel CEOs claim to recognize climate science and support a carbon fee — that being the latest chapter in their long and ongoing campaign of fraud.

Thirty years ago, Hansen’s 1988 testimony outlined three scenarios.  The first scenario was a business-as-usual projection with accelerating emissions, yielding 1.5o Celsius warming by 2017; the second scenario showed drastic emissions cuts yielding 0.4o Celsius warming by 2017.  And a middle scenario of continued, but not accelerating, emissions resulting in 0.84o Celsius warming by 2017.  In his testimony, Hansen stated that the middle scenario was most likely.  Michaels and Maue claim that the scenario with the least amount of warming turned out to be correct and thus Hansen was wrong and climate models can’t predict climate change.  But the facts are otherwise.

Hansen’s analysis projected global surface air temperatures would increase by approximately 0.84o Celsius between 1988 and 2017 in this middle scenario.  Once you account for the effects of a slight cooling resulting from the success of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out chlorofluorocarbons, Hansen’s projected warming is 0.6 to 0.7 o Celsius by 2017, right on par with the observations.  This figure shows just that, the observational temperature changed from 1988 to 2017 and Hansen’s projection, adjusted for the effects of the Montreal Protocol that was adopted after his testimony.  I’d say they are a match.

Michaels and Maue did not bother to mention that Hansen also predicted which parts of the globe would warm more quickly than others.  Thirty years ago, he calculated the Arctic would warm faster, and there would be more warming over landmasses than over the oceans.  All of those things are happening.  Even hansen’s early climate models were accurate and reliable.  And global warming is proceeding, just as the scientists have warned. 

As the Journal continues to publish this nonsense, written by pseudo-scientists funded by the fossil fuel industry, it has been 30 years since the warnings of Hansen, and Congress still takes no action on climate change. 

The real irony is that the Journal claims to be the news source for businesses and financial investors.  Well, off the editorial page, out in the real world of business and finance, real decisions are being made by real executives backed by real money.  Are they buying what the editorial page is selling?  No, they are telling their clients:  you must take climate change seriously, and you must take carbon pricing seriously.  In fact, businesses are demanding better climate policies, and investors are demanding better reporting of climate risk.  Many companies are even setting their own internal price on carbon to account for the real-world costs of climate change.  The business community is acting because they know pricing carbon is a key part of the program.      
Increasingly, economists and regulators warn that we are hurtling toward an economic disruption—that we need to expect a crash of what they call the carbon bubble. 

This carbon bubble collapses when fossil fuel reserves, now claimed as assets by the fossil fuel companies, turn out to be useless as renewable energy sources grow more competitive and become what are called stranded assets.  How much gets stranded?

A publication by economists in the journal Nature estimated the following impacts in a 2 degree Celsius world: ‘‘stranded assets . . . around 82% of global coal reserves, 49% of global gas reserves, and 33% of global oil reserves.”.82% of global coal reserves gone, wiped off the balance sheets; 49% of global gas reserves gone; and 33% of global oil reserves gone.  Even the Bank of England in an official statement has warned, “investments in fossil fuels and related technologies . . . may take a huge hit.”

At some point, there has to be a grown-up in the room.  The fossil fuel industry obviously won’t do it.  They still pay for denial and obstruction.  The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page obviously won’t do it.  That page is still yapping on the industry’s leash.  This week, two House Republicans – at long last! – introduced a bill that would put a price on carbon emissions.  But we still await one Republican in the Senate — just one — who will face up to this problem.  Who will stand up for science.  Who will acknowledge what their own home state’s universities teach, and take some real action.  Climate denial is a dangerous and ultimately doomed game, and the Wall Street Journal should know better. Time to Wake Up! 

I yield the floor.