The Weekend Wonk: A Paid Climate Skeptic Wakes Up

November 18, 2017

“Radio lab” style interview with former Cato Institute climate denial hack Jerry Taylor. Now woke.


Older print interview here, I am reposting.

The Intercept:

Sharon Lerner: What did you think when you first encountered the concept of climate change back in the 1990s?

Jerry Taylor: From 1991 through 2000, I was a pretty good warrior on that front. I was absolutely convinced of the case for skepticism with regard to climate science and of the excessive costs of doing much about it even if it were a problem. I used to write skeptic talking points for a living.

SL: What was your turning point?

JT: It started in the early 2000s. I was one of the climate skeptics who do battle on TV and I was doing a show with Joe Romm. On air, I said that, back in 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen testified in front of the Senate, he predicted we’d see a tremendous amount of warming. I argued it’d been more than a decade and we could now see by looking at the temperature record that he wasn’t accurate. After we got done with the program and were back in green room, getting the makeup taken off, Joe said to me, “Did you even read that testimony you’ve just talked about?” And when I told him it had been a while, he said “I’m daring you to go back and double check this.” He told me that some of Hansen’s projections were spot on. So I went back to my office and I re-read Hanson’s testimony. And Joe was correct. So I then I talked to the climate skeptics who had made this argument to me, and it turns out they had done so with full knowledge they were being misleading.

SL: So that was it? You changed your mind?

JT: It was more gradual. After that, I began to do more of that due diligence, and the more I did, the more I found that variations on this story kept arising again and again. Either the explanations for findings were dodgy, sketchy or misleading or the underlying science didn’t hold up. Eventually, I tried to get out of the science narratives that I had been trafficking in and just fell back on the economics. Because you can very well accept that climate change exists and still find arguments against climate action because the costs of doing something are so great.

SL: And the economic case eventually crumbled, too?

JT: The first blow in that argument was offered by my friend Jonathan Adler, who was at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Jon wrote a very interesting paper in which he argued that even if the skeptic narratives are correct, the old narratives I was telling wasn’t an argument against climate action. Just because the costs and the benefits are more or less going to be a wash, he said, that doesn’t mean that the losers in climate change are just going to have to suck it up so Exxon and Koch Industries can make a good chunk of money.

The final blow against my position, which caused me to crumble, was from a fellow named Bob Litterman, who had been the head of risk management at Goldman Sachs. Bob said, “The climate risks aren’t any different from financial risks I had to deal with at Goldman. We don’t know what’s going to happen in any given year in the market. There’s a distribution of possible outcomes. You have to consider the entire distribution of possible outcomes when you make decisions like this.” After he left my office, I said “there’s nothing but rubble here.”

SL: How do you feel about the work you did in those years?

JT: I regret a lot of it. I wish I had taken more care and done more due diligence on the arguments I had been forwarding. I also introduced one of my brothers, James Taylor, to the folks at the Heartland Institute. Heartland’s rise to dominate market share in climate denialism largely occurred under my brother. Boy do I regret that.

SL: And he still is still a climate denier. So what is that like? Do you talk about climate change at Thanksgiving?

JT: We agree to disagree and don’t discuss it. And we don’t spend a lot of Thanksgivings together.

SL: Having been so central to Republican thought and leadership on energy, what can you say about what doesn’t work to convince conservative climate skeptics that climate change is real and important?

JT: If you talk about the need to transform civilization and to engage in the functional equivalent of World War III, you may as well just forget it. To most conservatives, that’s just nails on a chalkboard. Or if you say, you’re corrupted and a shill and ignorant. That’s no way to convince anybody of anything. What are the chances they’re going to say, Gee, you’re right? All that does is entrench someone in their own position.

SL: So what does work?

JT: In our business, talking to Republican and conservative elites, talking about the science in a dispassionate, reasonable, non-screedy, calm, careful way is powerful, because a lot of these people have no idea that a lot of the things they’re trafficking in are either the sheerest nonsense or utterly disingenuous.

I also make the conservative case for climate change. We don’t call people conservative when they put all their chips on one number of a roulette wheel. That’s not conservative. It’s pretty frigging crazy. It’s dangerous, risky. Conservatives think this way about foreign policy. We know that if North Korea has a nuclear weapon, they’re probably not going to use it. But we don’t act as if that’s a certainty. We hedge our bets. Climate change is like that. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Given that fact, shouldn’t we hedge?

SL: I frequently hear about Republican lawmakers who don’t believe their own climate denials. Do you know many people who are in that camp?

JT: I have talked to many of them in confidence. There are between 40 and 50 in the House and maybe 10 to 12 in the Senate. They’re all looking for a way out of the denialist penitentiary they’ve been put into by the Tea Party. But they’re not sure what the Republican response ought to look like exactly and when the political window is going to open.


22 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: A Paid Climate Skeptic Wakes Up”

  1. realthog Says:

    Congrats to him, obviously, for having the integrity to change his mind and the courage to acknowledge this publicly. But will he now work equally hard to undo all the damage he’s done?

    • webej Says:

      It is easy to forget that the climate science community and the science community in general only gradually came around to the terrifying realization that a large part of progress is also threatening to life on earth. People need time to adjust to this somewhat dismal appraisal of past progress and a more uncertain future.

      That said, a huge part of current denial is based on politics and ideology. Fighting it is very difficult, and relies entirely on publicly exposing the bad faith of its exponents. That in turn depends on overcoming the political control of the MSM and other “official” channels. The last part is essentially a struggle between oligarchic and democratic control.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        National Academy of Science made the determination in 1979 that Climate change was a big problem. Almost 40 years ago.
        Coming up on 30 years since James Hansen’s declaration to Congress.
        Exxon, of course, knew in the late 70s.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    WOW! And WOW again!!

    Perhaps the best 40 minutes i have spent in a long time listening to/viewing a piece on the web. Jerry Taylor is smart and eloquent, and the ladies at Reckonings did an excellent job. It’s long, but it’s a MUST HEAR.

    Let’s hope that some of the other paid denier whores develop an adequate understanding of the science and (more importantly) a conscience and make the same move that Taylor did.

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot of dirty money flowing into Stink Tanks like Heartland, so it’s going to take a while (and it’s interesting that Taylor helped his brother get a job as a denier whore at Heartland and they are now on opposite sides of the fence).

    PS Russell Cook is always talking about “exit strategies”. Here’s one for him—-follow Taylor across the line. That will be hard, since Russell knows no science, is not too smart, has no conscience, and is only “eloquent” when talking about how he is a “bottom of the barrel guy that was just pulled in off the street” to pose as an expert at a Heartland conference.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      the process of self examination that Taylor went thru is rare in human beings – and even in his case, took 3-5 YEARS.
      So how do we replicate that in other people? You can’t force someone to grow a conscience.

      • indy222 Says:

        Yes – that is exactly our tragic situation. I’ve taught my students for 30+ years my first law: “People Learn the Hard Way”. It takes strong pain before a person is willing to get out of denial. You have to “hit bottom”, and we haven’t hit bottom or anywhere near. So far it’s just some lurid headlines happening to someone else. The deeper into denial one has sunk, the more severely you have betrayed the requirments for genuine self-respect (integrity, raising vs lowering your awareness when danger enters the horizon…) then the more it will feel urgent to bury head further. The Republicans have buried their heads so deep that it does not seem likely they can come back. The required self-confrontation would be too painful. Imagine trying to do psychotherapy on Adolf Hitler. Impossible, not because he is “crazy”, but because he couldn’t possibly put into full awareness what he did, without in the next moment feeling desperate to commit suicide.

      • I do so enjoy living rent-free in “d.o.g.”‘s mind.

        But have any of you posed that “self examination” at yourselves, when it comes to accepting the words of your leaders without question? Take for example that multi-repeated story Naomi Oreskes puts out about when she first met Erik Conway at that little German science conference, who alerted her to who the attackers were of her Science paper on consensus. None of you ever checked the date of the conference, did you? Or that other time in one of her guest book chapters where she said in regard to a specific set of leaked industry documents, “scholars wishing to consult these materials should contact the AMS.” Did any of you call the AMS archivist to inquire about those docs? Then there was her claim about “when I got a phone call from a reporter at the Tulsa Register” on Senator Inhofe — “He read to me from this speech that this Inhofe was making, and it was part what we all are very familiar with now, that I was part of the global conspiracy, the scientific conspiracy to bring down global capitalism.” Did any of you try to find the specific words in his speech about that?

        These are questions you can ask yourselves, no need to rely on me to ask them. Pretend I don’t exist, and try posing these yourselves. Ask yourself why it is that Erik Conway flat contradicts Oreskes’ account of when they first met. You have literally no curiosity why these inconsistencies exist all over the place in the political side of the issue on your side? Don’t you wonder why it is that Al Gore said Ross Gelbspan discovered the strategy phrase in that same set of docs Oreskes mentions, but Gore himself quotes from those leaked memos literally years before Gelbspan ever mentioned them?

      • Torsten Says:

        Back in August Russell posted some comments here and amongst them he challenged us to “go through my collective work at my GelbspanFiles blog or the numerous online articles I have about the smear of skeptic climate scientists”, and he didn’t like my response to that. It was in the comments thread here:

        But I don’t think he saw my final reply. It relates to what he has written here again, so I repost it:

        Russell wrote: “Clearly, you do not even read my blog or my articles at any depth, thus your creation of a strawman argument. An case you never noticed among all the other writing you HAVE read on the notion of industry-corrupted scientists, none of the most prominent people making the accusation are scientists at all. So, why do you embarrass yourself by digging a hole you can’t get out of there?”

        Oh dear, my bad. Yes, it’s been so long since I explored your blog that I’d forgotten your emphasis on Oreskes, Gore, Gelbspan, etc, in which you seem to believe that attacking them is the equivalent of attacking the science, or, to paraphrase your slogan, “questioning AGW”. But I’m not embarrassed by it – your reaction underscores my point that you are unable to understand the science, yet believe your description of timelines of who said what, and when, somehow undermine the validity of climate research and the mainstream conclusions drawn from it. I don’t care about your sideshow. I regularly read a small portion of the primary literature and more often, perspectives by those who understand it. There are so many lines of research that complement each other and tell a story of human-driven climate change that your little sideshow is irrelevant.

        An example of your irrelevancy is the article “Monumental fault in manmade global warming notion hiding in plain sight” at Steve Milloy’s site, dated December 24, 2011. You wrote “This monumental problem only becomes evident when we point to skeptic scientists claiming human activity is not a significant part of global warming.” You made zero effort to explain to your readers what evidence your supposed scientists have and instead headed off into your usual whining about Gore, Gelbspan and others. All you had about the science was an empty assertion, no citations, no quotes – nothing. It’s pathetic, and the gist of it is the same as most of the crap you’ve written that I’ve bumped into on the web. It’s a total waste of time.

        Russell wrote: “As I said before, I’m not a climate science expert. But the challenge remains for you: bring all you have to the next Heartland climate conference and stand toe-to-toe with skeptic scientists and see how well your material holds out. What do you have to lose, and what can you gain with a clearly superior presentation?”

        Why would anyone here waste their time attending a conference with a bunch of old culls whose clear purpose is to sow doubt rather than seek truth? To illustrate, the open letter your leader Joe Bast wrote to Ivanka Trump in May. It’s not intended to be read by her, rather, to spread more mis-representations about climate science. Just one tiny example of mis-representation is how he describes the concentration of atmospheric CO2 as 0.04%, or “400 parts per million“. While this is correct, the italicized emphasis on “per million” is meant to suggest that this is a small amount (it is), without explanation that this small amount is why our planet does not presently have a “snowball climate”. This is physics, only disputed by the likes of Tim Ball and his circle of physics-denying twits. Bast continues with the statement that in the past century, the concentration has only gone up by 0.01 percentage point. Sure, but relative to where it was, that is, rising from ~280 ppm to over 400 ppm since industrialization, it’s a change of over 40%. Perhaps Joe Bast wouldn’t mind sitting in a room where the chlorine gas concentration is only 2 ppm, or 40% more, 2.8 ppm. It makes a difference. But Bast is counting on his readers to simply accept, uncritically, his dismissal of the rise, just as you likely do, and it amounts to a lie. I could continue with the numerous other faults in his letter, but this takes more time than I’m willing to take, and I think I’ve made my point for people with the ability to understand. Bast has engaged in a Gish Gallop.

        Now, you and Bast have had time to understand this issue properly. So his having carefully written this mis-representation, and your standing by it (in general – even if you were unaware of this particular one, Heartland pumps out this shit on a regular basis and you surely see it), means you are devious liars, or utterly stupid, and thus a waste of time. (I believe the first applies to Joe, and the second to you.) You’re a blight on all the good work done by many dedicated people, and you’re too inept to understand why.

        • Geez louise, anonymous Torsten. Any particular reason why you couldn’t link straight to those comments to save folks the time of digging up the full context of what was going on. And any particular reason why it is you felt a compulsion to only reproduce half of my challenge? Allow me to add in the words you left off from your “go through my collective work” quote of me: “… find at least 5 instances where I clearly come in with a preconceived notion and then concoct stuff out-of-the-blue to support it.”

          Meaning, as if it wasn’t obvious enough, “person ‘x’ said ‘y’ at place ‘1’, which is contradicted by person ‘z’, where you or “dumboldguy” or Peter Sinclair could categorically state that I not only took statement ‘y’ out of context, but also that it never happened at place ‘1’ and person ‘z’ never said what I claimed he said. If I spew those kinds of lies, then it ought to be a cakewalk for any one of you guys to blow me out of the water that way. But what was your only bit of devastating “evidence” against me? That I didn’t support my contention about something I spend practically zero time on in my collective work – namely the existence of skeptic climate scientists and their detailed assessments. In case you didn’t notice it, I was writing at a blog where you literally do not need to source who the skeptics are because the audience already knows full well about it there.

          Thanks for reposting your entire August comment. All it does is emphasize how you and your pals here literally cannot dispute the core material I write about. How many times do I have to spell out for you? A person does not need to be a climatologist or a rocket scientist to check the veracity of political, non-science accusations and assertions. The details I write about aren’t concoctions fed to me out of Exxon offices relayed to me through Heartland conference rooms, they are THE WORDS OF YOUR OWN CLIMATE ISSUE LEADERS which fall apart when you compare them to your other leaders’ words and actions. Exactly what part of discovering that for yourselves are you afraid of?

          Sisdestep, sidestep, sidestep. It’s what you guys do when you can’t rise to a simple challenge posed to you. And you have the audacity to compare breathing increased CO2 to breathing increased chlorine gas? Is there any particular reason why you didn’t substitute oxygen for chlorine?

          What I perceive from you towards me is contempt and hate, but once again, you literally cannot support your justification for this, all I ever see is guesswork from you-all on what I supposedly know or what my motivations supposedly are. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I don’t hate any of you, I don’t know any of you personally, and perhaps each one of you has the potential to be heroes by running into burning buildings to save victims. I simply am baffled by the mindsets displayed here. Why on Earth would anyone call me a liar, shill, ignoramus, propagandist, etc and then expect any objective audience out there in the real world NOT to ask, “ok, what exactly did he lie about, how does his specific comparisons at his blog fit the definition of propaganda, how does the detail in his pieces display a general condition of stupidity about non-science narratives made by Oreskes, Gelbspan, etc, and what’s your proof that he would stop doing this if he wasn’t paid to do so?”

          Are you still not thinking that problem all the way through?

          • Torsten Says:

            Russell wrote: “And you have the audacity to compare breathing increased CO2 to breathing increased chlorine gas? Is there any particular reason why you didn’t substitute oxygen for chlorine?”

            You have a serious reading comprehension problem.

            While I believe you feel you have uncovered a serious flaw in Oreskes’ timeline, it is irrelevant to the problem posed by human emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels. Your steadfast inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the purposeful misdirection by your Heartland leader on this, and your continued alignment with these people, leaves me with nothing but contempt for you. You should learn from Jerry Taylor.

  3. mboli Says:

    My feeling is that what will enable Republican congresspeople to start dealing with climate change is when they figure out a way to blame their former inaction on Democrats.
    “We would have dealt with global warming, except that those extreme unpleasant alarmists gave it a bad name.”
    “We would have dealt with global warming, except that the Democrats kept insisting that big government central control was the only solution.”
    “Those guys were prematurely against global warming, when we were still rightly skeptical. Now that we understand it, we can also see that the premature-warmists were trying to hijack the issue for their own agendas.”
    Anyway some bogus argument like that. What will make it OK for Republicans to address climate change is if they can simultaneously claim the other side was wrong all along.

  4. indy222 Says:

    Mboli makes some sense. Maybe we should be seeking ways to help them find a (bogus) way to blame Gore and the Democrats as a strategy to get them finally acknowledging Reality and starting emergency action. At some point very soon, it doesn’t matter who ends up with egg on face as long as the future is somehow saved in time, before the ice dynamics doom us to the only solution being a damaging emergency COOLING to rebuild the Arctic Ocean ice in summer. It’s rapid climate change per se that is so harmful, heating OR cooling.

  5. juuggernaut Says:

    Among the most heartening things I’ve heard in two weeks – and that’s saying something because I just returned from the United Nations Climate conference in Bonn.


    [Part 1] Exposé | The 2º Death Dance – The 1º Cover-up
    December 10, 2010

    Exposé | The 2º Death Dance – The 1º Cover-up

    Part one of an investigative report.

    By Cory Morningstar

    December 10, 2010

    Published in Huntington News, December 18th, 2010

    “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

    Behind every tragedy there is a story. This story is non-fiction and begins in the 1980’s. It involves the Rockefeller funded Villach conferences, the entrance of the neoclassical economists, propaganda, and most importantly the disappearance of the 1ºC temperature threshold cited as the safe limit in 1990 by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases.

  7. Creeping insanity. So much harder to fix the leaking roof in a monsoon. Not to mention wading around in the kitchen.

  8. […] I posted an interview with Jerry Taylor, formerly a top-gun climate skeptic mouthpiece for the conservative Cato Institute, that drew a lot of comment. […]

  9. […] I posted an interview with Jerry Taylor, formerly a top-gun climate skeptic mouthpiece for the conservative Cato Institute, that drew a lot of comment. […]

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