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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stefan Rahmstorf's letter to the editor of the New York Times cancelling his subscription due to their hiring Bret Stephens

To the Executive Editor
The New York Times
27 April 2017, via email

Dear Editor, 

I am a climate researcher, professor for physics of the oceans and have worked for eight years as advisor to the German government on global change issues. I regret to have to tell you that hereby I cancel my subscription to the New York Times in the wake of you hiring columnist Bret Stephens. Let me explain my reasons.

When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see. However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that the problem at the Times goes much deeper than a single error of judgement. It concerns its attitude towards seeking the truth.

The Times argued that “millions agree with Stephens.” It made me wonder what’s next – when are you hiring a columnist claiming that the sun and the stars revolve around the Earth, because millions agree with that? My heroes are Copernicus, Galilei and Kepler, who sought the scientific truth based on observational evidence and defended it against the powerful authority of the church in Rome, at great personal cost. Had the New York Times existed then – would you have seen it as part of your mission to insult and denigrate these scientists, as Stephens has done with climate scientists?

The Times has denounced the critics of its decision as “left-leaning.” This is an insult to me and was the final straw to cancel my subscription. There is no left-leaning or right-leaning climate science, just as there is no republican or democrat theory of gravity. I have several good climate scientist friends who have been lifelong republicans. Their understanding of climate change does not differ from mine, because it is informed by the evidence.

Quite unlike Stephens’ views on climate change, which run counter to all evidence. He is simply repeating falsehoods spread by various “think tanks” funded by the fossil fuel industry.

In December 2015, Stephens called global warming “imperceptible” and the Paris climate summit a “meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage.” My colleagues and I have analysed 150,000 temperature time series from around the world, finding that monthly heat records occur five times more often now as a result of global warming than in an unchanging climate (Coumou et al., published in Climatic Change 2013). One of those record-hot months was August 2003 in western Europe. 70,000 people died due to this heat wave. Was global warming “imperceptible” to these people and the ones they left behind? On 15 August 2003, the New York Times reported: “So many bodies were delivered in recent weeks to the Paris morgue that refrigerated tents had to be erected outside the city to accommodate them all.” Was that just a “notional” problem?

Stephens doubts that global warming will continue, claiming that in hundred years “temperatures will be about the same.” That is a shockingly ignorant statement, ignoring over a century of climate science. Our emissions increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, it is higher now than in at least 3 million years. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as demonstrated first in the year 1859 by physicist John Tyndall. CO2 traps heat – more CO2 means a warmer climate. That is basic physics, borne out by the history of climate. Denying these well-established facts is about as smart as claiming the Earth is flat, and best left to cranks, ideologues and fossil fuel lobbyists.

Stephens has claimed that “in the 1970s we were supposed to believe in global cooling.” That’s an age-old climate denier myth. It would have cost Stephens just 60 seconds with Google to find out it is wrong. (Try and google “Did scientists predict an ice age in the 1970s.”) But Stephens is clearly not interested in evidence or seeking the truth about matters.

Last Friday, you sent me an email with the subject: “The truth is more important now than ever.” It made me cringe seeing this in my inbox. It said “thank you for supporting news without fear or favor.” The hypocrisy of that is unbearable, and I will support your newspaper no more. Instead, I will give the money to, a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. It is much better invested there.

Best regards,

Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf 
Head of Earth System Analysis, PIK

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