By Joe Romm
Experts label 30,000 word piece “historically inaccurate” and “based on logical non sequiturs.”
The New York Times Magazine is hyping a massive new story claiming that the period from 1979 to 1989 was “The decade we almost stopped climate change.”
But the just-released, roughly 30,000 word article by Nathaniel Rich is already being widely criticized by leading scientists, historians, and climate experts. As physicist Ben Franta, who studies the history of climate politics, put it, “Rich’s exoneration of fossil fuel producers as well as the Republican party seem based on logical non sequiturs.”
Bob Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist and author of numerous studies on climate politics and lobbying, said in a media statement, “This article strikes me as a highly selective historical account that omits key facts that run counter to its overall narrative.”
In particular, “its treatment of industry actors is limited to their official statements, and neglect their political actions,” Brulle said. Those political actions have always been to oppose action on climate change and spread disinformation.
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The article’s thesis is that the reason we failed to act during this supposedly “decisive decade” was neither Republican intransigence nor Big Oil’s efforts to downplay the issue and block action, but just human nature.
But the claim that “nothing stood in our way” is simply ahistorical. The article asks and answers the key question:
Why didn’t we act? A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado… But the coordinated efforts to bewilder the public did not begin in earnest until the end of 1989. During the preceding decade, some of the largest oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.
As Dr. Franta explains, this is not the full picture.
“For the record, the American Petroleum Institute [API] publicly downplayed the dangers of global warming as early as 1980 — check out ‘Two Energy Futures: A National Choice for the ’80s‘ which argues fossil fuel production, including coal, could be expanded without deleterious effects on the environment,” he said in a media statement. This publication came at the same time API’s own analysis warned that, absent immediate action, the world faced “globally catastrophic effects.”