Leading US Publications Mislead on Climate Change. Together.

Does journalism get more lame than this? Increasingly, yes.

Does journalism get more lame than this? Increasingly, yes.

In just one week, TIME Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have published pieces that say, respectively, that the earth might be cooling, not warming; that there is no limit to how many humans can live on earth; that there is no “scientific” connection between global warming and extreme weather; and that “most experts” believe that the benefits of global warming will outweigh the harm. What are we to make of the fact that these colossi of traditional journalism (not to mention Britain’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Australian papers) are all singing from the same sheet music, on virtually the same day? Has there been some epic paradigm shift away from global climate change? Or is the rising tide of destruction and human suffering around the world driving the industrialists — industrial journalists included — closer to panic?

Oh, and is there any connection between the sudden shouts of denial and the fact that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, is about to issue its fifth assessment of the state of the world’s climate? Its reports are the largest, broadest-based and most reliable appraisals of the best science on the subject. Leaked drafts of the upcoming report state, among other things,  that it is now certain that humans are causing global warming and that sea level rise as a result will be double — more than three feet — what it estimated in its last report issued six years ago.

Such unvarnished bad news, presented to a world beset by rising water, spreading drought, savage storms and famine, might incline a government agency or leader here and there to actually try to do something about the real and present and rising danger. Anything along those lines would be injurious to the present profit margins of industry. What’s a beleaguered industrialist “community” to do?

Fortunately, there’s an SOP (standard operating procedure) for that. You trot out one of the six or so remaining humans willing to argue publicly that global warming is a myth, who are famous not because of their achievements but because they have been quoted in every discussion of the issue by the 50,000 or so legitimate scientists who see climate change as an existential threat to human civilization. This anti-expert either misquotes or misinterprets the work of the legitimate scientists, or simply makes stuff up. The industrial journalists headline this crap, and the under-informed, who by now ought to be on barricades screaming for help, simply mutter that the jury’s still out and go back to “Dancing with the Stars.”

As familiar as the gambit is, this week’s chorus was unusually strident, apparently orchestrated, and, in the useful British phrase, bloody-minded.

TIME was perhaps the silliest of all — if you can call misleading people on a matter of life and death “silly”. In a blurb on its “Briefing” page, the magazine said the following: “60% increase in ice-covered ocean since last year, leading some scientists to believe that the planet is actually undergoing ‘global cooling.’” How many ways is this wrong?

  • The reference is not to all ocean ice cover, but Arctic Ocean ice, despite the fact that the illustrating graphic shows a penguin (they don’t live in the Arctic) dressed fo cooling.

  • The 60% reference comes from comparing a certain point this year to a certain point last year, during which ice cover hit an historic low. True, the ice cover rebounded a bit this year, but is still far below the ten-year average, and does not change the fact that ice area and especially volume in the Arctic are headed drastically downward.

  • “Some scientists” now believe in global cooling? Name one. In the blurb, the words “global cooling” are in quotes. Who is being quoted? No one, of course. Like the useful “some observers,” this non-attribution is used when reporters make stuff up.

(See also Discover’s expose, “With Climate Journalism Like This, Who Needs Fiction?”)

It is as if it were August 30, and so far the average high temperature for the month is the highest ever recorded. But on August 30, the high is 20 degrees lower than the previous day’s. Would this justify a headline saying “some scientists think August may be cooler than normal”?

The New York Times constructed a tortured silly-gism that said, roughly, 1.) since technological innovation has in the past raised the carrying capacity of the earth, and 2.) since we cannot know what technology will invent in the future, therefore 3.) there is no reason to think there is a limit to the earth’s carrying capacity. Let the good times roll!

This is equivalent to saying that since it is impossible to predict exactly when our vehicle will run out of gas, therefore we should act as if our vehicle will never run out of gas. Drive on!

The other pieces are similarly devoid of facts and logic, and fail utterly to meet even the lowest standards of journalistic acceptability. But that is not the only reason they stink to high heaven; it is the smell of betrayal of trust, and of malice, on the part of our major journalistic institutions.


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One Response to Leading US Publications Mislead on Climate Change. Together.

  1. SomeoneInAsia says:

    I’ve also come across Youtube videos claiming overpopulation is a myth. An issue of THE ECONOMIST from these recent couple weeks also had a feature article claiming economic growth can help save global biodiversity. Yeah, right.

    Given the lengths we’re prepared to go to to deceive ourselves and others, it won’t surprise me if one fine day an article appears somewhere claiming that the late Albert Bartlett had it wrong and the arithmetic of exponential growth actually allows such growth to continue indefinitely in a finite world. Or that technology will enable us to achieve the impossible by rewriting the laws of arithmetic so that the said absurdity above can finally become reality.

    It takes all sorts to make a world. All sorts of nutcases, that is.