For Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and science writer, the United Nations' latest climate report hit hard. Holthaus, who used to write the Wall Street Journal’s weather column and is now an editor at Quartz, flies frequently and holds a pilot’s license. But after reading the report—which finds humans are contributing more than ever to global warming even as the crisis worsens—he was overcome with grief and remorse.
“I just broke down in tears in boarding area at SFO while on phone with my wife,” he tweeted. “I’ve never cried because of a science report before.” And then he resolved to take action. “I realized, just now: This has to be the last flight I ever take. I’m committing right now to stop flying. It’s not worth the climate.” Holthaus went on to explain his decision, and how he plans to implement it, in a blog post on Quartz.
Reasonable people can take issue with Holthaus’ response to the report, and some did. As the Washington Post chronicled, Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman criticized Holthaus for reacting emotionally rather than dispassionately and analytically. But others supported his resolution, and a few were even inspired to give up flying themselves.
And then, on the other end of the spectrum, there was good old Fox News. On its talk show The Five, one of the nation’s most-watched cable news programs, co-host Greg Gutfeld offered some dispassionate analysis of his own. “Guy’s a kook,” he said of Holthaus. “Someone should tell him that planes are better than driving, as their nitrous oxide causes cooling in the air.”
I'm not sure where Gutfeld came up with the claim that planes are better than driving, but my best guess is that he misunderstood some fascinating recent research on the relative climate impacts of different forms of transportation. In fact, Jens Borken-Kleefeld and others have found that air travel is by far the biggest contributor to warming in the short term, but that its warming effects may be moderated on a 20-year-plus time scale, potentially bringing them more in line with those of gas-guzzling cars. Regardless, both remain far greater contributors to climate change than other modes of travel, no matter how you slice it.
Anyway, Gutfeld wasn’t interested in delving into the science. No, he was interested in delving into Holthaus’ manhood.
“But hey, he says he’s the expert,” Gutfeld went on, warming to his monologue. “In what: beta-male sniveling? Seriously, is there anyone who can verify seeing this dweeb crying at SFO? I’m calling B.S. on this drama queen. This is what dooms environmentalism. Dishonest hysterics who put drama before data. When hysterics talk of getting vasectomies to save the earth, I say, ‘please do.’”
That's right, alpha males don't cry over the destruction of the environment. Alpha males go on Fox News and refer to people they disagree with "dweeb" and "queen." But Gutfeld got one thing right, at least: Dishonest hysterics who put drama before data are part of what dooms environmentalism—and they’re great for ratings, too. Aren’t they, Fox News?