Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Challenge to Journalists Who Cover Global Warming

Personally, I think we should all use more sustainable, healthier and environmentally sensitive power sources. In fact nuclear fission is currently my hands down winner for offering large amoutns of power, reasonably efficiently but still without harming the environment too much (and yes, you need to be careful of the waste products, but isn't that true of coal-burning powerplants too?).

However, I find myself sceptical when the someone claims that the relatively recent changes in climate are expressly due to human effects on the environment - not that these haven't been real - just that their actual net effect is not really well understood. It seems that I am not alone, as Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the US Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, has come out and laid down A Challenge to Journalists Who Cover Global Warming.

Inhofe particularly took aim at Al Gore's recent movie:
“Here is a sampling of some of the errors and misrepresentations made by Gore in An Inconvenient Truth:
  • He promoted the now-debunked “hockey stick” temperature chart in an attempt to prove man’s overwhelming impact on the climate.
  • He attempted to minimize the significance of the Medieval Warm period and the Little Ice Age.
  • He insisted on a link between increased hurricane activity and global warming that most scientists believe does not exist.
  • He asserted that today’s Arctic is experiencing unprecedented warmth while ignoring that temperatures in the 1930s were as warm or warmer.
  • He claimed the Antarctic was warming and losing ice but failed to note that is true only of a small region and the vast bulk has been cooling and gaining ice.
  • He hyped unfounded fears that Greenland’s ice is in danger of disappearing.
  • He erroneously claimed that the ice cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro is disappearing due to global warming, even while the region cools and researchers blame the ice loss on local land-use practices.
  • He made assertions of a massive future sea-level rise that is way outside any supposed scientific “consensus” and is not supported in even the most alarmist literature.
  • He incorrectly implied that a Peruvian glacier’s retreat is due to global warming, while ignoring the fact that the region has been cooling since the 1930s and other glaciers in South America are advancing.
  • He blamed global warming for water loss in Africa’s Lake Chad, despite NASA scientists’ concluding that local population and grazing factors are the more likely culprits.
  • He inaccurately claimed polar bears are drowning in significant numbers due to melting ice when in fact they are thriving.
  • He failed to inform viewers that the 48 scientists who accused President Bush of distorting science were part of a political advocacy group set up to support Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004”
Inhofe's sample of press clippings from the last 100 years is also very revealing as it shows the press going back and forth between global warming and cooling - and each time maximising the outrageous claims, and ignoring contrary evidence.

I think this reveals a basic human truth, when confronted with environmental cycles that take place on timescales well beyond a human's lifespan, people tend to overreact and misjudge the effect this will have on their personal lives. It's like finding out that the Earth swings into and out of Ice Ages - and then immediately worrying about every drop in temperature that we feel day-by-day.

The real issue here is that some business people have found a way to use the current hype over global warming to push for government legislation to change the current business regulatory environment. Whether this will help or harm the environment, no one knows, however you can bet that these people have a very good idea how it will help them make money and harm their competitors.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:28 am

    quote 'Whether this will help or harm the environment, no one knows'..

    who you bet the future of your children and grand children on that ?
    .. maybe you don't care , YOUR personal life is surely much more important to YOU !

    kad

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  2. Why is it that alarmists always assume they have the moral high ground?

    Seeing as we don't known whether we are heating up or cooling down the current climactic change, what business do we have trying to meddle with it?

    Go read the articles list of media headlines ... would you have reacted to each of those too? Perhaps we should have produced more carbon dioxide when we were worried about global cooling?

    And re-read my last paragraph - history will see this as more about resource grabbing and manipulating public opinion to get the govt to support certain businesses over others.

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  3. He inaccurately claimed polar bears are drowning in significant numbers due to melting ice when in fact they are thriving.

    Do you have evidence of this?

    Seems WWF agree with Al Gore:
    http://vincenze.com/?p=209

    If you don't believe me, read what realclimate had to say about the senator's claims back in '05... and these guys know their climate science.

    cheers,

    Vincenze.

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  4. Vincenze,

    Thanks for leaving a very civil disagreement with my post. I had come across some criticism of the senator over the last few days, so I needed to do some research anyway. Here is the gist of it.

    Inhofe's response to CNN is a doozy; about polar bears he says:

    CNN’s O’Brien also criticized me for saying polar bears are thriving in the Arctic. But he ignored that the person I was quoting is intimately familiar with the health of polar bear populations. Let me repeat what biologist Dr. Mitchell Taylor from the Arctic government of Nunavut, a territory of Canada, said recently:

    “Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.”


    For more of Dr Mitchell Taylor check here and here . However, Dr Taylor thinks climate change is a real problem.

    This American scientist explicitly says Inhofe is correct.

    An Aussie geologist doing paleoclimate research seems to think 'global warming' is a beat-up.

    And so does this French scientist.

    And so do these 60 scientists, enough to write an open letter about it. They say:

    We believe the Canadian public and government decision-makers need and deserve to hear the whole story concerning this very complex issue. It was only 30 years ago that many of today's global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe. But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it does not fit with predetermined political agendas.

    Speaking of which, Newsweek recently ate humble pie concerning their 1975 prediction of 'global cooling', and says:

    All in all, it's probably just as well that society elected not to follow one of the possible solutions mentioned in the NEWSWEEK article: to pour soot over the Arctic ice cap, to help it melt.

    However, they also say that:

    The point to remember, says Connolley, is that predictions of global cooling never approached the kind of widespread scientific consensus that supports the greenhouse effect today. And for good reason: the tools scientists have at their disposal now—vastly more data, incomparably faster computers and infinitely more sophisticated mathematical models—render any forecasts from 1975 as inoperative as the predictions being made around the same time about the inevitable triumph of communism.

    Great ... but as the 60 scientists above suggest, what about when we work out how wrong we are now (like say in another 30 years)?

    Now I know as well as anyone how easy it is to find support on the web for any argument, but this is a lot more than Inhofe's critics like to admit is there. I also find it worrying that big business has seized on global warming as something government needs to take action on - in my experience that usually means that big business is in fact using it as a lever to get what they want out of the government - not that they are actually operating in everyone else's best interest.

    RealClimate certainly seem to know their science, but I wonder whether most scientific proponents of global warming are missing the forest because of the trees. As I understand it, much of the science of climate change is still very new, and testing theories runs into the typical problems with global issues - you can test on a micro scale, but not on the macro scale that one wants accurate predictions for. The Earth is not a closed system, and it is not a simple system. Solar flares, cosmic climate changes, lunar effects, etc. must all be taken into account and over periods far longer than the actual time we have spent accurately measuring them. Understanding how a gas reacts with sea water at room temperature in a lab is great, but predicting how the actual climate will change based on that data is extremely risky. (I know that is over-simplifying the science ... but it makes my point)

    I think we should try to lower our environmental footprint, but that is not something that necessitates hasty or ill-considered changes, which is what the current alarmist reporting on global warming is pushing us towards. Climate change could be a very important issue, so let's try to understand it better.

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