The Los Angeles Times has stirred a dust-up over global warming with a newly announced policy barring letters to the editor that deny the existence of man-made climate change.
"Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published," said Paul Thornton, letters editor of the editorial page, in an Oct. 8 column. "Saying 'there's no sign humans have caused climate change' is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy."
On the surface, climate-change skeptics say they have no problem with the policy, because nobody with any substance is saying that humans don't cause climate change. Cutting down a forest causes climate change. Planting crops causes climate change.
"Obviously, humans do have an impact on climate," said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading global-warming skeptic. "The question is whether burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas is leading to the rapid warming of the planet, and notwithstanding the Los Angeles Times' position on the issue, the evidence is that it isn't."
Whether that's enough to get Mr. Ebell bumped from the letters-to-the-editor page is unclear, but he says the newspaper's policy is emblematic of a broader debate.
In his column, Mr. Thornton also states that many letter-writers insist "climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom."
Indeed, skeptics have long argued that the extent of man-made global warming has been blown wildly out of proportion by climate-change alarmists in order to advance an agenda that includes more government control and less freedom.
By rejecting such letters, skeptics say the newspaper isn't merely avoiding factual inaccuracies, it's taking sides in a political debate.
"I do think the climate-change agenda is a scheme by leftists to curtail personal freedom, reduce access to energy and make the world poorer," said Mr. Ebell. "Apparently this means [the Los Angeles Times is] not going to let someone make a political point, and one of the things most interesting about the letters are their political points."
Among those who think claims surrounding man-made global warming have been greatly exaggerated are climate scientists Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
"I guess this means Richard Lindzen and John Christy wouldn't get published," said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.
The Los Angeles Times' policy comes as climate-changers find themselves losing ground in the public arena. A Pew Research Center poll released in June shows most Americans are relatively unconcerned about the impact of global warming, while skeptics point out that the global mean temperature hasn't changed in 16 years.
"The Times may be trying to confuse their readership about people's positions on science in order to hide that they are consistently losing the argument about the economics of proposed government global-warming policy schemes," said Mr. Kish. "The Times has been preaching about global warming for 15 years that, as it turns out, didn't happen. It was time for them to change the subject."
Mr. Thornton's column came a few days after L.A. Times editorial writer Jon Healey said in an article on the Affordable Care Act that, "Simply put, this objection to the president's healthcare law is based on a falsehood, and letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed."
That aside was picked up by the conservative website NewsBusters, which took the Times to task in a Sunday post.
"It's one thing for a news outlet to advance the as-yet unproven theory of anthropogenic global warming; it's quite another to admit that you won't publish views that oppose it," said associate editor Noel Sheppard.
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