Archive for the ‘climate change’ tag

Can newspapers 'do' climate change?

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The science of climate change, complicated even for those who make a career of studying it, is made more complicated still by the way our newspapers cover it.

Depending on their political persuasion, the papers seem quite happy to wade in on one side or the other with the latest ‘proof’ of global warming or countervailing ‘proof’ that global warming isn’t happening.

Read yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph and you’d have seen Christopher Booker trumpeting the sceptical argument (in ‘Even the warmists can feel this chill’). Based on a number of freak snow showers in Greece, Crete and Turkey, and on ‘scientific data showing just how abnormal this winter’s cooling has been’, Booker casts his own serious doubt on whether CO2 is causing global warming. “[S]uch drastic cooling hardly accords with the classic global warming theory”, Booker posits.

Given that Booker is neither a scientist, nor even a science journalist (he studied history at Cambridge according to Wikipedia), it seems odd that he should be so determinedly sceptical of the science of climate change.

But choose another paper – this time the Independent on Sunday – and you get a similarly tenuous assertion, just in the other direction. Page 3 of the paper records the arrival of the Red Admiral butterfly to a Dorset churchyard. It quotes Dr Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, as saying that this is “real proof that the climate is changing”.

Snowstorms in Turkey or Red Admirals in Dorset. It doesn’t seem like either is a particularly firm foundation on which to base scientific proof.

Written by Martin Moore

February 25th, 2008 at 1:31 pm

What are you more concerned about, terrorists or climate change?

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The answer, going by today’s Ipsos-MORI poll, is not climate change.

According to the poll, 56% of people in Britain believe scientists are still questioning whether climate change is really happening. ‘There was a feeling’ the BBC reports, that ‘the problem was exaggerated to make money’. ‘Terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess were all of more concern than climate change’ the survey found.

Given the government and the media’s fascination with terrorism we probably shouldn’t be surprised by this (although the priority given to graffiti and dog mess comes as something of a shock). But it is a good indication of how poor we are at evaluating risk rationally, and of how the media’s misrepresentation of the scientific debate has made a lasting impression on the public.

You only need to look at the continuing blanket coverage of the search for the terrorists associated with the botched weekend bombings to see why our priorities are so skewed. As Max Hastings wrote yesterday, a more rational reaction to the attempted bombings might have been:

After so much speculation about attacks on Britain by terrorists wielding weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, it is a relief to see these attempts made with weapons as crude as cars filled with petrol and gas cylinders. The group carrying out the attacks are grotesque amateurs. At worst, their efforts might have inflicted the level of fatalities caused by a motorway smash.”

Instead we get sombre statements about the gravity of the threat and significantly increased security at airports and public buildings.

Meanwhile, the news that the majority of us aren’t even aware of the scientific consensus on climate change, and that we’re already figuring it’s just a ruse to make a bit of money, raises barely a flicker of concern within the media (perhaps the Independent will splash with it tomorrow).

In news terms it makes sense. Humans are interested in humans, not science, and therefore so is the media. But it doesn’t bode well for our ability to change our habits to avert the anticipated droughts, floods, disease and refugee crises on the horizon.

Written by Martin Moore

July 3rd, 2007 at 1:47 pm

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Global warming sceptics continue to get their time in the sun

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Is climate change too big and too complex an issue for the media to handle? Reading today’s Mail it would appear so. Professor Richard Lindzen’s article (‘Global warming is the religion of our age: self-righteous, intolerant of dissent and based on superstition’) is self-righteous, intolerant of dissent, and willfully misleading.
Lindzen rails against ‘self-appointed experts’ who warn us about climate change and lambasts the recent Stern Report on the economic implications of global warming. ‘The central theme of it [the report]‘ Lindzen says ‘is that there is a near universal consensus of opnion within the scientific community about the dangers of climate change. But this is not true.’ Isn’t it? Wasn’t that the point of the recent IPCC report, in which almost 2,000 scientists agreed there was a consensus of opinion within the scientific community?
The new issue of British Journalism Review (‘Beyond the Oozone Layer’) has a thoughtful essay which examines how, in an apparent attempt to offer balance and challenge orthodoxy, the UK’s mainstream media have misled the public on a massive scale. Counting the number of qualified scientists who believe global warming is happening against those who don’t, the essay finds a ratio of approximately a thousand to 5. In other words the sceptics number about 0.5%. In any field of research surely 99.5% agreement counts as consensus?
Not according to Professor Lindzen, and not according to a programme being screened on Channel 4 this evening, ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle‘.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Daily Mail and Channel 4 to spend their time investigating how some people are misrepresenting the threat of global warming for their own profit rather than continually promoting the tiny minority of climate change sceptics?

Written by Martin Moore

March 8th, 2007 at 8:23 am