Facts Frozen Out: Network News and Global Warming
Table of Contents:
No Room for Scientific Debate
Out of the 48 stories during the study period, most (39) simply assumed that science supports warming theories. Only seven stories mentioned that many scientists are skeptical of global warming. Of these seven stories, only two brought up the actual arguments of skeptical climate scientists. (The remaining two stories were about scientific efforts to measure the earth's warming; they neither assumed science supports warming theories, nor mentioned arguments against such theories.)
ABC's Peter Jennings has been the most adamant in claiming that the scientific debate is over. On the April 5, 1995 World News Tonight, Jennings argued that "it would only take a small increase in the world's overall temperature to change life as we know it" and that there was "new evidence that man may be turning up the thermostat." On the November 30, 1995 broadcast, Jennings announced, "2,500 scientists from around the world have finally agreed with one another and are convinced that burning oil and coal is causing the world's temperatures to rise, which may bring with it environmental disaster." On January 4, 1996, Jennings stated as fact that "the earth is getting warmer all the time, in part because the United States has not been practicing what it has been preaching." On the October 1, 1997 broadcast, he claimed that pollution "has already changed the world's climate" and that "if man doesn't stop tampering with the environment, the change in climate could well lead to a world in which we have a very unpredictable future." And then on October 22, 1997, Jennings told World News Tonight viewers that "the overwhelming majority of scientists now agree [climate change] is being caused by man." NBC's Brian Williams, on the August 11, 1997 Nightly News, concurred. "Just about everywhere you look these days there is wild weather to be found," Williams reported. "Just tonight a wild storm swept through Denver with heavy flooding rains, high winds and lots of damaging hail. Some experts are wondering whether or not this kind of thing is related to global warming." CNN's Leon Harris, on the July 24, 1997 World Today, chimed in that President Clinton had met with scientists who "supported the President's assertion that global warming is no longer a theory but a fact."
Others were a bit more balanced. "The earth does seem to be heating," reported NBC's Robert Hager on the April 7, 1997 Nightly News, "some think because of pollution, others say it's just cyclical." And although CNN's Cammy McCormick, on the October 6, 1997 World Today, said that "most [scientists] will tell you that the earth is heating up and people are partly to blame," she pointed out that "some climate scientists say they're not convinced about global warming." None of these reports mentioned that nearly 100 climate scientists signed the 1996 Leipzig Declaration, expressing doubts about the validity of computer-driven global warming forecasts. And about those 2,500 scientists Jennings mentioned, S. Fred Singer, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, wrote in the July 25 Wall Street Journal: "If one were to add up all of the contributors and reviewers listed in the three [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reports published in 1996, one would count about 2,100. The great majority of these are not conversant with the intricacies of atmospheric physics, although some may know a lot about forestry, fisheries or agriculture. Most are social scientists -- or just policy experts and government functionaries. Every country seems to be represented -- from Albania to Zimbabwe -- though many are not exactly at the forefront of research. The list even includes known skeptics of global warming -- much to their personal and professional chagrin."
According to Dr. Singer, "Even some IPCC scientists, in the report itself or in a May 16 Science article headlined 'Greenhouse Forecasting Still Cloudy,' have expressed doubts about the validity of computer models and about the main IPCC conclusion, that 'the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate' -- whatever that ambiguous phrase may mean." He also pointed out that most of the warming over the past hundred years occurred before 1940, even though there were more carbon dioxide emissions after World War II, and that "weather satellite observations, independently backed by data from balloon-borne source sensors, have shown no global warming whatsoever in the past 20 years." All of which leads Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to conclude: "A decade of focus on global warming and billions of dollars of research funds have still failed to establish that global warming is a significant problem." Dr. Singer and Dr. Lindzen aren't alone. Polls from groups as diverse as Greenpeace and Citizens for a Sound Economy show that most climate scientists remain skeptical of claims that the warming of the 20th century has been a result of greenhouse gas emissions. This skepticism rarely makes it into news reports.