Introducing Newsweek's Aug. 13 cover story on global warming "denial," editor Jon Meacham brings up an embarrassing blast from his magazine's past: an April 1975 story about global cooling, and the coming ice age that scientists then were predicting. Meacham concedes that "those who doubt that greenhouse gases are causing significant climate change have long pointed to the 1975 Newsweek piece as an example of how wrong journalists and researchers can be." But rather than acknowledge that the skeptics may have a point, Meacham shrugs it off.
"On global cooling," he writes, "there was never anything even remotely approaching the current scientific consensus that the world is growing warmer because of the emission of greenhouse gases."
Really? Newsweek took rather a different line in 1975. Then, the magazine reported that scientists were "almost unanimous" in believing that the looming Big Chill would mean a decline in food production, with some warning that "the resulting famines could be catastrophic." Moreover, it said, "the evidence in support of these predictions" — everything from shrinking growing seasons to increased North American snow cover to record-setting tornado outbreaks — had "begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it."
Yet Meacham, quoting none of this, simply brushes aside the 1975 report as "alarmist" and "discredited." Today, he assures his readers, Newsweek's climate-change anxieties rest "on the safest of scientific ground."
Do they? Then why is the tone of Sharon Begley's cover story — nine pages in which anyone skeptical of the claim that human activity is causing global warming is painted as a bought-and-paid-for lackey of the coal and oil industries — so strident and censorious? Why the relentless labeling of those who point out weaknesses in the global-warming models as "deniers," or agents of the "denial machine," or deceptive practitioners of "denialism?" Wouldn't it be more effective to answer the challengers, some of whom are highly credentialed climate scientists in their own right, with scientific data and arguments, instead of snide insinuations of venality and deceit? Do Newsweek and Begley really believe that everyone who dissents from the global-warming doomsaying does so in bad faith?