Charles Krauthammer
The late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Charles Krauthammer.

Those steadfastly rejecting climate change science or arguments for “doing something” about the issue lost a strong voice with the passing of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, who died at age 68 on June 21.

An online search of Krauthammer’s columns and analyses over the past several decades when he was prominent shows no sign that he addressed the climate issue frequently. Only strongly, often in his role as a commentator for Fox News but also in his Washington Post columns. He was particularly critical of those, including President Barack Obama, who he characterized as having suggested that climate science in many ways is “settled science.”

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“There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to change,” Krauthammer wrote in a 2014 column. He pointed to changing scientific evidence on mammograms for reducing breast cancer deaths as an example: “And climate is less well understood than breast cancer,” he opined. “Why do its predictions keep changing?”

In his writings on the subject, Krauthammer was critical of climate scientists’ basing their predictions “on models they fall in love with,” seemingly rejecting many scientists’ views that models are but one means of reaching conclusions about the changing climate. He quoted University of Alabama-Huntsville atmospheric scientists John Christy and Richard McNider as saying climate models are “consistently and spectacularly wrong” … “and always, amazingly in the same direction.” That’s a conclusion strongly rejected, for instance, by climate scientists such as regular contributor Zeke Hausfather, in a recent Carbon Brief analysis re-posted in Yale Climate Connections.

Saw himself as neither a global warming ‘believer’ nor ‘denier’

“I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier,” Krauthammer wrote in that 2014 “Myth of ‘settled science’” column. “I’ve long believed that it cannot be good for humanity to be spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” But as for those scientists who he said “pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30, or 50 years”? They are “white-coated propagandists.”

Krauthammer pointed to the United Kingdom’s national weather service as agreeing there had been “no change” in global temperatures – a “pause” – over a decade and a half. There is no sign of his later having addressed that issue in his columns once a range of scientific evidence appeared to challenge his views.

Krauthammer strangely chose to point to tornadoes to buttress his position on climate science, even though few if any respected climate scientists have found evidence of a link to climate change. But “every time one hits, the climate-change commentary begins,” he wrote. He said a 30-year decline in extreme tornado activity, “F3 and above,” justified his reluctance to accept scientists’ precautions.

“None of this is dispositive,” Krauthammer continued. “It doesn’t settle the issue. But that’s the point, it mocks the very notion of settled science.” It’s an example of Krauthammer’s perhaps having taken that easily dismissed meme – settled science – to its illogical extreme, notwithstanding the science community’s more nuanced approach to that term.

In a 2005 commentary on energy policy, Krauthammer praised $3.50 per-gallon gasoline, but not “the catastrophic hurricanes that caused it,” as “the simplest way to induce conservation.” And doing so without “the waste and folly of an army of bureaucrats telling auto companies what cars in which fleets need to meet what arbitrary standards of fuel efficiency.”

In that column, Krauthammer complained that “for decades we’ve been dithering over drilling in a tiny part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Look, I too love the caribou. They are sweet, picturesque, and reputedly harmless.” He panned what he saw as extreme concerns over Arctic oil exploration and drilling, and drilling  on the continental shelf and said “the same logic applies to refineries.”

Finding “not a single national politician” daring to support higher gas taxes, Krauthammer wrote, “We are criminally unserious about energy independence, and we will pay the price.”

More recently, Krauthammer said on Fox News in May 2014 that it’s “absurd” that “we who have trouble forecasting what’s going to happen on Saturday in the climate could pretend to be predicting what’s going to happen in 30, 40 years.”

“You always see that no matter what happens, whether it’s a flood or it’s a drought, whether it’s warming or cooling, it’s always a result of what is ultimately what we’re talking about here is human sin with pollution of carbon. It’s the oldest superstition around. It was in the Old Testament. It’s in the rain dance of Native Americans. If you sin, the skies will not cooperate. This is quite superstitious, and I am waiting for science which doesn’t declare itself definitive but is otherwise convincing.”

Serious students of climate science can no doubt find shortcomings and seeming blind spots in Krauthammer’s familiarity with climate science, while at the same time acknowledging his overall brilliance and admiring him for having overcome physical challenges resulting from an accident in his youth. Toward the end of his highly productive career, he appears to have wielded his rhetorical sword more often on the air than in print when addressing climate change issues, and he pretty much aligned with those seen as unabashed “skeptics” in his Fox News appearances.

Krauthammer’s death marks the end of one strong, if not necessarily frequent, voice on the climate issue, in his case expressing views clearly aligned with those challenging the science or the need to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is Editor of Yale Climate Connections. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as Assistant Director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission on Air Quality,...