Global Warming Coverage: Science Left Behind
In the race for emissions regulation, journalists are in the lead.
CNN  and
USA Today  have already declared the global warming debate over,
and theyre not alone. Media coverage leading up to the G-8 Summit,
beginning July 6, has been based on the assumptions that
human-caused global warming is occurring and it must be curbed.
The Group of Eight major economic powers meets annually to discuss global issues and map out plans for the year. The United Kingdom took the rotating presidency of the G8 in January 2005, and Prime Minister Tony Blair has said Africa and climate change are the main issues on the summit agenda.
Theres quite seriously a big lobbying effort going on here, said Iain Murray, a senior fellow who studies global climate change for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Murray said the media are being bombarded with propaganda from groups seeking to influence the G-8, and science is getting lost in the shuffle.
Reuters reported in a June 28, 2005, article carried on CNN.com that global warming is widely blamed on emissions of heat-trapping gases from cars, factories and power plants gases mostly spewed from the rich world.
But that contradicted historical warming and cooling patterns, said Dr. Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Baliunas worked on a review of climate change studies published in the journal Climate Research in 2003. The review found evidence of a warm period about 1,000 years ago as well as a cooling period about 500 years ago.
Where we had information on temperatures, we found the 20th century was not the most extreme, Baliunas said. She added that temperature change over the last 30 years has been very modest and not outside the bounds of natural change.
Reuters reported that experts fear that global warming linked to carbon emissions will have its worst impact on humanitys cradle in Africa. The June 28, 2005, article said that past changes in weather patterns were gradual but the pace of global warming today could overwhelm modern Africa.
But Baliunas said, Were all carbon criminals. We all exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide warming cant explain warming at the beginning of the 20th century.
CBSs Bill Plante chided President George W. Bush for not embracing emissions regulations on the June 7, 2005, Evening News. Reporting on Blairs request for support on G-8 priorities, Plante said, On global warming, the president would agree only that it needs to be dealt with this on a day when scientists in major nations called for a cutback in greenhouse gas emissions, and one of them, from Britain, said that Mr. Bushs climate policy was misguided.
Plante didnt point out that thousands of scientists hold the opposite view. A group of Canadian scientists, for example, spoke out against the emissions-regulating Kyoto Protocol in a 2005 video produced by the nonprofit Friends of Science. And at least 17,000 of their colleagues have signed a petition stating that human emissions are not causing global warming.
Likewise, the June 8, 2005, NBC Nightly News attributed skepticism about global warming to White House doubts, neglecting to give the scientific basis for it. David Gregory worked from the usual assumptions about causation, mentioning the growth of emissions that cause global warming. He said, The question remains: Has the administration aggressively tackled global warming or attempted to muddy the science, ensuring that any attempt to reduce it will fail?
Meanwhile, the June 28, 2005, Financial Times sounded the alarm on behalf of the Association of British Insurers, who are advocating that the G-8 pursue further emissions regulations. Correspondent Fiona Harvey wrote, Though scientists cannot say exactly what will happen as the climate changes under the influence of the increased burning of fossil fuels, they estimate that the incidence of storms, floods, droughts and heat waves will increase. The Association of British Insurers added its voice to the debate because its predicting higher insurance costs based on these alleged disasters.
At least part of Harveys claim was true: scientists cant predict what will happen. Reuters said the United Nations projects that temperatures may rise by 1.4-5.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, But Baliunas said climate forecasting models just arent that accurate.
Were all making forecasts because the government asks for them, she said. Theyre not accurate enough to forecast whats going to happen in 100 years.
Insurance isnt the only business that journalists are linking to the climate debate. Tourism was the focus of The New York Times June 26, 2005, Travel section. Timothy Egan penned a eulogy for Alaskas glaciers titled The Race to Alaska Before It Melts. Egan wrote that to many Alaskans, global warming is not an abstraction or a theory and For tourists, it can mean a thrill at seeing a landscape more dynamic than any place on earth global warming on hyperspeed! or disappointment that something so wild and massive is, well, shrinking.
Though some of Alaskas glaciers have shrunk, climate change occurs on a local level, Baliunas said, so people cant assume the same changes are occurring worldwide.. For example, temperatures in Greenland have actually been dropping. Also, climate includes more than temperature, she said ecosystem changes such as rainfall, wind patterns and lake levels impact individual regions.
The U.S. media arent the only ones who have delivered global warming-heavy reports. In Britain, The Guardian ran an advertisement feature article on carbon dioxide emissions and the Kyoto treaty, titled Whitehall squabbles while planet burns. The sponsor? The Carbon Trust, a firm that works with businesses and the public sector to help them reduce their carbon emissions and so minimise the long term effects of climate change, according to its Web site.