Ducking Climate Warming Evidence

Exclusive: Over the past few decades, many U.S. mainstream journalists have learned to protect their careers by not offending the Right’s powerful attack apparatus. That caution (or cowardice) has now infected coverage of the looming crisis over global warming, as Sam Parry notes.

By Sam Parry

The U.S. mainstream news media does not seem to have the foggiest idea how serious the climate crisis is (or at least many journalists pretend not to). That is the only conclusion one can infer based on the abysmal track record of climate-related news reporting.

A recent eight-paragraph story in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper,  helps illuminate the point. It cites what is called “a new tactic” among Republicans for scuttling the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas rules demanding that the White House to block them.

Graphic on “The Greenhouse Effect” from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site

The article quotes House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, as telling President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget that “further increasing electricity costs by requiring commercially unproven technologies, or forcing a transition away from coal, will send thousands more U.S. jobs overseas at a time when the nation can least afford it.”

The article also quotes another letter by two other senior Republicans, Joe Barton of Texas and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, regarding EPA’s alleged “use of costly technologies.”

There is a line in the article saying “EPA has pushed back against GOP and industry attacks on its plans, calling them inaccurate and arguing that it is taking measured steps to fight global warming” and the story goes on to offer some details about where the EPA rules stand. However, The Hill omits any background on the looming crisis of global warming.

And, sadly, this story’s lack of climate crisis context is only too common in mainstream media coverage of global warming. This is partly why the American public isn’t screaming at their political leaders to take the climate crisis seriously.

Reading the story, you get little sense of why EPA is developing these rules or why we would need to limit greenhouse gases. Nor would the reader know that Republicans are mostly responsible for blocking any effort over the last quarter of a century to limit America’s climate pollution?

Readers aren’t even given the basic context that the EPA is legally obligated under the Clean Air Act and the Supreme Court’s 2007 “Mass vs. EPA” ruling to limit global warming emissions.

The tone of the article is also noteworthy. By choosing to frame this story as House Republicans trying yet again to block EPA climate action, the subtle impression created is one of dutiful members of Congress doing their darnedest to rein in the Obama administration’s excesses.

Though one might say it’s just one story in one news outlet, the larger problem is that this kind of reporting is all too typical in the U.S. mainstream media when it comes to climate change. Numerous studies over the years have examined the mainstream media’s inability to grapple with the severity of the threat posed by global warming. Several flaws have been identified, among them:

–Mainstream journalists tend to exhibit a lack of scientific understanding, either of the scientific process or of scientific research, methodology, and findings.

–Mainstream journalists tend to shift the focus of their coverage and reporting from what the science says to how ordinary people and political leaders are debating the science. This flaw, apparent in The Hill story, frequently overuses the “political horserace” framing that fails to tell the broader climate crisis story.

–Mainstream journalists attempt to achieve a false “balance” by quoting the views of non-scientists and/or devoted skeptics. This “he said, but she said” approach to journalism often presents media consumers with a false sense that the science isn’t settled and that there is room for honest disagreement.

And so, while about 97 percent of climate experts agree that climate change is happening and humans are causing it a scientific consensus that has steadily increased over the last decade a 2005 study found that a majority (52.7 percent) “of prestige-press articles featured balanced accounts that gave ‘roughly equal attention’ to the views that humans were contributing to global warming and that exclusively natural fluctuations could explain the earth’s temperature increase.”

Other studies have found similar biases and flaws in mainstream reporting on climate change as well as an overall collective disinterest in the climate issue among mainstream journalists which is evident in the sharp 42 percent decline in mainstream media coverage of global warming since a peak in 2009 following the so-called “Climategate” email hacking scandal (which later investigations concluded raised no serious issues about the consensus scientific view on global warming).

And none of this even accounts for the right-wing echo chamber of denial, which is well-funded and well-organized in its constant barrage of repeatedly debunked myths, including:

–The planet has natural variations in climate and whatever warming that is happening now is just part of those natural cycles.

–Scientists in the 1970s thought the planet was cooling. Now everyone thinks the planet is warming.

–Scientists are merely saying what big-government liberals want them to say in order to justify government grants.

–This is all just a scam promoted by Al Gore and other big investors who will make lots of money off of clean energy investments.

–There was a warming trend in Medieval times that is much greater than what we are seeing today.

I could go on, of course, but you get the point. These are all myths with very specific rebuttals that have been offered repeatedly by climate scientists. Yet, the denial-o-sphere does not care. They’re not here to engage in open and honest debate. They are here to manufacture doubt, delay action, and attack real climate scientists.

Typical of the denial-o-sphere tactics is the latest coal-industry sponsored effort to intimidate and harass Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. This astroturf advocacy campaign is targeting the Penn State Speakers Forum for allowing Mann to speak about the climate change challenge.

Yet, in spite of the media’s penchant of looking at the climate crisis through the prism of human interest stories, this attack on Mann has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media. A Google News search returned only one article in the U.S. on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog run by science journalist Andrew Revkin.

With the American media seemingly ignorant, lazy and disinterested in what will be the biggest crisis facing humanity in the 21st Century, it is perhaps not surprising that political leaders, like the House Republicans in The Hill story, feel no pressure to take the climate crisis seriously.

Unfortunately for all of us, when it comes to the climate crisis, denial isn’t a strategy that will have any influence on the unyielding laws of climate physics.

Sam Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.

17 comments for “Ducking Climate Warming Evidence

  1. Gord
    February 14, 2012 at 19:55

    The Greenhouse Effect graphic at the top of the article shows why AGW is a complete farce.

    The graphic correctly shows that the Sun (the ONLY ENERGY SOURCE) heats the Earth and the Earth heats the atmosphere and that’s all that is correct in the graphic.

    First here are three basic Laws of Science that are applicable:

    1) The Law of Conservation of Energy states that Energy cannot be created or destroyed.

    Energy In = Energy Out ALWAYS or Energy would have to be created or destroyed.

    The Greenhouse Effect graphic shows the Sun’s energy as the ONLY ENERGY SOURCE and thus the Earth’s surface temperature can only be affected by the absorbed energy received from the Sun.

    2) The Stefan-Boltzmann Law relates absorbed or radiated energy (watts/m^2) of a body to it’s temperature.

    Watts/m^2 (absorbed or radiated) = BC X T^4

    where BC = Boltzmanns Constant = 5.67 X 10^-8 and T = temperature in Kelvin

    A body like the Earth’s surface can only reach a maximum Temperature that depends upon the Solar Energy (watts/m^2) absorbed from the SUN.

    Absorbed Energy = Radiated Energy which is the same as Energy In = Energy Out and complies with The Law of Conservation of Energy.

    3) The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states:

    “Second Law of Thermodynamics: It is NOT POSSIBLE for heat to flow from a colder body to a warmer body without any work having been done to accomplish this flow. Energy will not flow spontaneously from a low temperature object to a higher temperature object.”

    The Earth’s Atmosphere is COLDER than the Earth’s Surface.
    Average Atmospheric Temperature = -20 deg C
    Average Earth Surface Temperature = +15 deg C.

    CO2 resides in the -20 deg C average temperature Atmosphere.

    The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is also a statement of The Law of Conservation of Energy (ie. Energy cannot be created or destroyed) since ANY flow of energy from the Colder Atmosphere back to the Earth that heated the Atmosphere is a CREATION OF ENERGY.

    It is IMPOSSIBLE for a -20 deg C atmosphere to heat-up a much warmer +15 deg C Earth Surface.

    – Every DIRECT measurement done of the Watts/m^2 Back Radiation from Cold Atmosphere can only be done with Cryogenically Cooled Infrared Detectors, cooled FAR BELOW the -20 deg C Atmospheric Temperature to make the measurements POSSIBLE.

    – If Cooled Infrared Detectors are not used, direct Back Radiation measurements ARE NOT POSSIBLE.

    Parabolic Mirror Solar Ovens will concentrate ALL Electromagnetic Energy (including Infrared Energy) at a focal point to produce heating.

    If water is placed at the Parabolic Mirror Solar Oven focal point and the Solar Oven is pointed at the Sun, the water will BOIL.

    Point the Solar Oven away from the Sun at the Cold Atmosphere and the water will COOL and even FREEZE.

    Further, the AGW “scientists” say that the Watts/m^2 Back Radiation from the Cold Atmosphere EXCEEDS the Solar Energy and is available DAY and NIGHT!

    If Back Radiation EXCEEDS the Solar Energy (creation of Energy) and is available to Heat-Up a Warmer Earth Day and Night then Solar Ovens should work at NIGHT and produce more heating than the SUN!!

    Every measurement, EVER DONE, PROVES that the Colder Atmosphere CANNOT “HEAT-UP” a Warmer Earth.

    The Greenhouse Effect is a pure FANTASY.

  2. Ivan Stuck
    February 10, 2012 at 23:32

    From a scientific point of view the percentage of scientists who share a particular belief or opinion has no scientific merit. At one time most learned persons believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Remember the scandal of ‘cold fusion’? Confirming replications have shown the prejudice of traditional physics to be wrong. ‘Established science’ crumbles every day. I think one must acknowledge that the sun is the dominant factor affecting earth climate. Whether man makes a significant aggravation to the sun’s impact is still an iffy call. On the other hand, policies have to be made based on good speculation in most cases, scientific certainty is counterproductive and illusive.

    • Sam Parry
      February 13, 2012 at 15:30

      You raise a very important point. Science is by its nature a process of discovery and most science is an exercise in inductive reasoning where you test theories against observations to build understanding.

      And the role of skepticism is critical in developing scientific knowledge. But, the skepticism has to be honest skepticism for us to have honest debate about an issue like climate change.

      Skeptics rarely if ever directly answer some very basic questions about climate change, among them:

      1) Is carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas?
      2) Are humans emitting 33.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year?
      3) Have CO2 atmospheric concentrations increased about 40% since the Industrial Revolution?
      4) Have oceans become more acidic?
      5) Are ice caps and glaciers melting?
      6) Is the planet getting warmer?

      When skeptics do even begin to deal with these questions, they frequently rely on “Yes, but…” answers. Yes, carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, but it’s a trace gas in our atmosphere, for example. While true, such a statement is totally irrelevant. Everything except for nitrogen and oxygen is a “trace” gas in the earth’s atmosphere, yet we still control other pollution because we know even trace gases can have very significant impacts on human health and the environment. Once you demonstrate that even trace gases can still have very significant impacts and that at 390 ppm CO2 is already impacting our climate, this “Yes, but…” argument melts away.

      The point being that the deeper we probe the issue of climate change, the more scientific consensus on at least the basics actually grows.

  3. Glen
    February 7, 2012 at 11:17

    Anthropogenic Climate Change for Dummies.

    Fossil fuels are hydro-carbons that have existed in the ground for a long long time where they did not interact with our environment on the earths surface.

    For the last couple of centuries, humans have been extracting and burning these fuels at an increasing rate.

    The major byproduct of this combustion is co2 which is accumulating in the atmosphere.

    co2 has an indisputable characteristic that allows sun light to freely pass thru it but absorbs and re-radiates heat in all directions. (Greenhouse Effect)

    I’m not highly educated but I think I have this about right.

    Do I have anything wrong here?

  4. Kenny Fowler
    February 6, 2012 at 20:19

    “And none of this even accounts for the right-wing echo chamber of denial, which is well-funded and well-organized in its constant barrage of repeatedly debunked myths”

    The echo chamber is the only thing keeping the denial fantasy dream alive. The issue was decided long ago but you know how people hate to have their dreams crushed. They’ll buy any ridiculous denial nonsense story the chamber comes up with. If they can’t cook up some new lie, recycling the old favorites will do. Particularly the Republicans.

  5. Harbinger
    February 6, 2012 at 20:15

    “while about 97 percent of climate experts agree” This is such old hat and has been de-bunked so many times, yet it still keeps going the rounds. This amounted to 77 out of 79 scientists who said they had published on climate within a time scale, from an original target of 10,000 which whittled down to around 3,400, of which 79 were classed as climate scientists. They were asked was it warmer now than 150 years ago and 77 said yes. Why not all 79, because there is no doubt it is and thank goodness for that. We were at that time coming out of the Little Ice Age and why should we think that was normal. It is such a fraud to claim this and linking to Skeptical Science, one of the most fraudulent dispensers of false info on the net, does you no favours.

    • Sam Parry
      February 13, 2012 at 14:54

      I’m not sure what 79 scientists you’re referring to here. There are hundreds of scientists who have published thousands of papers examining hundreds of aspects related to climate science — from temperature changes to ice melting to species at risk to oceans warming and sea levels rising to increases in CO2 concentrations, etc, etc.

      You don’t like Skeptical Science, fair enough. I do note, however, that you aren’t providing sources for your claims. We have 32 national academies of sciences that have all agreed that climate change is real and it’s caused by human activities. We have dozens of scientific organizations that agree.

      Again, if you deny climate change, you have to deal with some very basic scientific questions:

      1) Is carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas?
      2) Are humans emitting 33.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year?
      3) Have CO2 atmospheric concentrations increased about 40% since the Industrial Revolution?
      4) Have oceans become more acidic?
      5) Are ice caps and glaciers melting?
      6) Is the planet getting warmer?

      These and other questions are pretty basic and aren’t often addressed by climate skeptics.

  6. F. G. Sanford
    February 6, 2012 at 16:31

    The REAL reason Americans aren’t screaming at their politicians about global warming is the same reason they aren’t screaming about war in the Middle East on behalf of Israel or the shipping of jobs overseas, which will happen whether we have a sound energy policy or not.
    Millions of Americans watched the Super Bowl yesterday, and to them, it was overwhelmingly something that mattered. Gas, which is now $11.00 a gallon with the exchange rate in Italy, has prompted them to build the Fiat 500 with a 750cc engine. Soon, Americans will be buying that instead of American cars. If you watched the Super Bowl, you may have seen the commercial. It snowed in Rome, and the Pope says he can’t wait for spring.
    There is a concept going around on the Internet that says “fossil fuel” is a misnomer. It says petroleum spontaneously materializes underground. Evangelical Christians want “creationism” taught in our schools. After all, they believe, the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, and God made it this way just for us, so all of this is God’s will anyway. Armageddon needs to happen sooner or later, so let’s do everything we can to bring it on by supporting the myth-based lunacy in the Middle East.
    American culture is largely based on delusional thinking. Americans are easily manipulated because they can’t think straight in the first place. All the science in the world won’t change their minds. Come on, after all, if you really believe some sky daddy sent his kid to get nailed onto a couple of logs because his “creation” misbehaved, how can you possibly deal with the adiabatic reality of the entropy occurring in a finite atmospheric system? We’re dealing with MORONS.
    Get used to it. It’s hopeless. It will take total collapse to eliminate the kind of thinking that is driving this train toward a cliff. Science deals with identifiable, quantifiable reality: things you can measure. That’s empiricism. You can’t even discuss a subject for which no measurable data can be identified. When it comes to “woo-woo” thinking, what can you measure? Faith? The size of a mustard seed, yes, but the faith, no. As far as real science is concerned, religion is a fantasy. It has to be, otherwise, science would be fantasy too. The two are mutually exclusive.
    So enjoy watching the culmination of American culture: 22 morons fighting over a toy my grandfather made from a pig’s bladder more than 100 years ago. That’s all the farther we’ve come, and anyway, the petroleum will eventually run out. When gas costs $11.00 a gallon here, we’ll see how “Christian” America really is. They think science is fantasy, because they think “woo-woo” is reality.

    • bubba
      February 6, 2012 at 19:11

      This should be the lead editorial in every newspaper on the planet!

      • Frances in California
        February 7, 2012 at 16:17

        Amen! Rock on F. G. Sanford!

    • Lacy
      February 9, 2012 at 03:50

      I feel sorry for you….

  7. Gregory L Kruse
    February 6, 2012 at 15:45

    I could yell all day at my representative Don Manzullo, and Senator Mark Kirk, and it wouldn’t change a thing. I have no money, at least not enough to make any noise with. What I have I would rather give to Consortium, Truthout, Truthdig, etc., the few apparent progressives who are likely to speak out about this and a myriad of other threats facing homo sapiens. One of the main threats to this homo sapien is insanity, or at least clinical depression.

  8. ThisOldMan
    February 6, 2012 at 15:27

    Thanks for writing this. Now you need to find a way to get it published where, at the very least, a lot of science reporters will read it.

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