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So if corporate shilling doesn't explain my stubborn skepticism about global warming, what does? Looking back over my reporting on the issue, I would argue the consistent theme is my reliance on temperature datasets as a way to either validate or invalidate the projections of computer climate models. Up until the last year or so, the satellite data and weather balloon data pointed to relatively modest global warming much below the trends predicted by most climate models. If those trends were correct then there was no imminent "planetary emergency." When the trends were shown to be incorrect last year, I "converted" into a global warmer. In the past year, a great deal of new evidence-reductions in arctic ice cover, growing Siberian lakes and so forth--has also tended to confirm the conclusion in my mind that man-made global warming may become a problem. Because of this accumulating evidence I am much less certain than Christy and Spencer are that the future warming is unlikely to be a significant problem.
And then there is also the matter of my intellectual commitments. We all have them. Since I work for a self-described libertarian magazine that should indicate to even the dimmest reader that I tend to have a healthy skepticism of government "solutions" to problems, including government solutions to environmental problems. I have long argued that the evidence shows that most environmental problems occur in open access commons-that is, people pollute air, rivers, overfish, cut rainforests, and so forth because no one owns them and therefore no one has an interest in protecting them. One can solve environmental problems caused by open access situations by either privatizing the commons or regulating it. It will not surprise anyone that I generally favor privatization. That's because I believe that the overwhelming balance of the evidence shows that centralized top-down regulation tends to be costly, slow, often ineffective, and highly politicized. As a skeptic of government action, I had hoped that the scientific evidence would lead to the conclusion that global warming would not be much of a problem, so that humanity could avoid the messy and highly politicized process of deciding what to do about it. Unhappily, I now believe that balance of evidence shows that global warming could well be a significant problem. Since it doesn't seem pertinent to the purpose of this column, I will leave the policy discussion of how to handle man-made climate change to another time.
So I didn't get any stacks of $20 dollar bills in brown paper bags from ExxonMobil (don't believe any photoshopped pictures you may see to the contrary). I also don't think that I was duped by paid-off scientists. Except for climatologist Robert Balling, as the embedded links above show, the sleuths at Exxonsecrets have uncovered no payments to the scientists I chiefly relied upon in my reporting over the years. But was I too skeptical, demanding too much evidence or ignoring evidence that cut against what I wanted to believe? Perhaps. In hindsight I can only plead that there is no magic formula for deciding when enough evidence has accumulated that a fair-minded person must change his or her mind on a controversial scientific issue. With regard to global warming it finally did for me in the last year. That was far too late for many and still too early for others. However, I can't resist pointing out that I became a "convert" on global warming nearly a year before some other prominent journalistic skeptics such as Gregg Easterbrook and Michael Shermer changed their minds.
So then not a whore, just virtuously wrong. Looking to the future, I can't promise that my reporting will always be right (no reporter can, but I will strive to make it so), but my reporting has always been honest and I promise that it always will be.