The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Should the New York Times Fire Their Climate-Denying Columnist?
For years now, we've been calling out for the removal of denial from mainstream media. But today we want to talk about free speech.
First and foremost, it bears repeating that the editorial separation between opinion and reporting means hiring a denier on the opinion side of the New York Times has no influence on the Times's top-tier climate journalism. One bad opinion hire among dozens of outstanding reporters does not justify canceling a subscription; that's shooting yourself in the foot.
That said, the outrage caused by the Times's decision to hire Bret Stephens, which we've covered before, is well deserved. Joe Romm is absolutely right in his (many) criticisms of the decision and responses of the public editor to the initial criticism and further comments Stephens made in a Vox interview.
Stephens published his first column on Friday. The piece suggests that if scientists and advocates told the public the science is less certain than it actually is, they would be more likely to believe it. Romm and Dana Nuccitelli at the Guardian have already done a nice job handling the factual failings with the column. We'd also like to point out that Stephens's thesis flies in the face of the social science showing consensus messaging is key to accepting the reality of climate change.
But should he be censored, his views silenced?
For some time now, the right has been building a case that the left wants to shut down free speech it doesn't like (Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel even wrote a book on it). This argument is a deliberate distortion of the difference between silencing and ignoring speech. And there's a difference between not wanting to propagate factually inaccurate statements and shutting down opinions.
Just because a columnist is not given an audience to deceive does not mean they have been silenced. A news organization has an obligation to tell the truth. It has no obligation to provide a platform for deception. An institution has a right to exercise its editorial judgement. This is why we have no issue with a denier speaking at an event with actual experts: An informed audience knows better than to believe him and can laugh right in his face.
But for the general public readership of the Times opinion page, should Stephens be allowed to publish factually inaccurate columns, for sake of free speech? No. The Times has no obligation to deceive its own readers. Is there some value to being aware of opposing opinions? Yes, of course. Is there value in reading lies? After years of writing the Denier Roundup, we can tell you: No, we've not had any grand epiphany or uncovered any unexpected avenue for disarming deniers.
Should the Times fire Stephens? Probably not—we should see if he can learn from these mistakes. Should they fact check his columns? Absolutely. If Stephens' editors tell him not to lie about climate change or he'll be fired, is that censorship? Not at all. Should he be mocked and ridiculed for his ridiculousness? Absolutely. (And by his new colleagues no less).
There is a difference between silencing someone and choosing not to hand them a microphone. There is a difference between suppressing speech and not offering a liar a stage. There is a difference between free speech and fake speech. We hope that the Times's readership can use Stephens's upcoming columns as valuable lessons in distinguishing between the two.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Deanne
Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.
By Lorraine Chow
Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.
States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
By Kristin Ohlson
From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.
Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.
By Hans Nicholas Jong
Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.
It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."