TCS Daily

Troublesome Facts

By Duane D. Freese - June 20, 2002 12:00 AM

"Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story."

That used to be a joke among newspaper reporters, especially when "their terrific story" - be it about corruption in City Hall or UFOs from outer space - turned out to be pretty ordinary after a little digging. The sexy little gift on the desk, it turned out, was a joke sent by the mayor's wife for his 50th birthday, or the flying saucer in the photograph was a Frisbee. End of story.

But on the subject of climate change, too many reporters - and in particular, one national newspaper -- don't let the facts or alternative views get in the way of their "good" stories. They don't dig to sort out science fact from science fiction. They just run the story line that's given them - that the Earth is warming dramatically because of humankind's use of fossil fuels and that will cause all sorts of horrific environmental damage.

It's a story line The New York Times has doggedly followed in the decade since the Rio Treaty on climate change sent the world on the path of limiting so-called greenhouse emissions. Counter facts -- much less counter arguments -- be damned.

So, it is hardly surprising that the journalistic organ that proudly proclaims its integrity and completeness with the assertion it contains "All The News That Is Fit To Print" printed only half the story in two recent articles on climate change - the scary, unsubstantiated half.

The first major breaking "news" story concerned the Climate Action Report put out by the Climate Change Research Group within the Environmental Protection Agency. Times environmental reporter Andrew C. Revkin, no doubt alerted to its presence on the EPA website by Washington's environmental alarmist organizations, wrote: "In a stark shift for the Bush administration, the United States has sent a climate report to the United Nations detailing specific and far-reaching effects that it says global warming will inflict on the American environment."

The story had the sound of something new and revelatory, and Times' editorials along with op-ed articles by Bob Hebert and Eileen Clausen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change laid on the wood, condemning the Bush administration for admitting fossil fuels are a pestilence but doing nothing to eliminate them. The Times rejected articles from scientists expressing opposing points of view, maintaining its policy of on-the-one-hand, on-the-same hand debate on issues it takes an interest in.

What the Times didn't do was look into the report's factual foundation. It was pretty flimsy -- a two-year-old National Assessment put out during the Clinton administration. And what was the basis of the assessment? The Hadley Climate model, whose scientists had warned that its model wasn't good for forecasting local or regional results.

In no time, though, came a second Times news story, this one on June 13, by Timothy Egan, much like the first: "Alaska, No Longer So Frigid, Starts to Crack and Burn." The lead paragraph proclaimed: "To live in Alaska when the average temperature has risen about seven degrees over the last 30 years means learning to cope with a landscape that can sink, catch fire or break apart in the turn of a season."

Horrors. But where did that temperature come from? Egan later in his story cites unnamed federal officials as saying that "mean temperatures have risen by 5 degrees in summer and 10 degrees in winter since the 1970s." But unless Egan was making the numbers up himself, those officials would have to rely on the Alaska Climate Research Center in Fairbanks. And its researchers, Brian Hartman and Gerd Wendler, said, in effect, no way.

Their numbers - which they sent to the Times, but which the Times has yet to report - are that temperatures have risen by 4.16 degrees Fahrenheit at Barrow, 2.28 degrees F at Nome, 2.26 degrees F at Anchorage, and 1.07 degrees F at Fairbanks.

That, though, is not all. When I asked Wendler by e-mail whether temperatures rose in a straight line over the last three decades, he responded:

"The record of last century is definitely non-linear. For example the last 20 years are fairly constant in temperature, but warmer than the '70s. [But] in climatology one uses normally 30 year means as normals. In our analysis we used the best linear fit through these 30 data points to obtain the trend. The 30 year time period was also mentioned in The New York Times article.

"If one assumes a non-linear trend for the last 30 years, one would obtain even less warming."

That fact is vitally important, as Harvard astrophysicist and Tech Central Station hostess Sallie Baliunas made clear in a presentation at The Heritage Foundation at which Times' reporters unfortunately didn't appear to be in attendance.

Dr. Baliunas noted that the Climate Action Report that the Times made such a big deal about contained no new revelatory science. Indeed, the truly revelatory scientific information obtained about global warming since the signing of the Rio Treaty on climate in 1992 makes the opposite point, she said.

The big news, she pointed out, is that 10 additional years of temperature data from NASA satellites of the tropospheric layer 1 mile to 5 miles up in the atmosphere shows no discernable warming trend. It is that layer of atmosphere that would have to warm first if carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels was the source of rising surface temperatures, she told the audience. And that is just not happening.

Unlike surface temperatures, the satellite data, which began being recorded in 1979, has confirmation from an alternative temperature record from National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration balloons. It has a better than 99% correlation.

One key point in the balloon record, though, is that there was a temperature shift in the world in 1976-77. This shift, as Dr. Baliunas made clear, was a result of a recurring 20 to 30 year natural phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Thus, the rising temperatures in Alaska, and for that matter the world, may well result almost totally from that natural event. A TCS article by Dr. Baliunas in January discussed this point:

"How significant is the Great Pacific Climate Shift? In the USNA (the much maligned National Assessment) record merged across Alaska's interior and coastal locations, the warming over 1976 - 1977 from the Great Shift is about + 3 F ... In other words, the long-term warming trend seems largely a mathematical artifact owing to the presence of the sharp warmth. ... One way to assess the human-made warming trend is to look at the temperature records after 1977, and calculate the linear trend during the period when the carbon dioxide concentration in the air increased most rapidly. Twenty-two of the thirty individual locations defining Alaska's temperature history show either no warming trend or a significant cooling trend after 1977. Nor does the USNA's Alaska record show a meaningful man-made warming trend in the period beyond the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1976 - 1977. Those facts contradict the predictions from the climate simulations."

When will America's leading newspapers, such as The New York Times, start looking at the facts about climate change, rather than parroting environmental alarmists? When will they begin to question the basis of this decade old scare story? It is important that they do so. For as Dr. Baliunas pointed out in her presentation, the costs to the environment and civilization of succumbing to a global warming myth are huge.

A bill in the U.S. Senate, authored by James Jeffords, would require use of renewable resources to provide up to 20 percent of the nation's energy. That would require thousands of square miles of land devoted to wind mills and solar panels at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, as it takes 30 to 100 square miles of such devices to produce the same amount of electricity as can come from one coal fired plant on a few acres of land.

Implementing the proposed Kyoto protocol, negotiated in 1997 by Vice President Al Gore but never submitted to the Senate by the Clinton administration, would amount to $100 billion to $400 billion a year loss in national income. And approximately 40 Kyotos are necessary to meet the emissions goals set by the climate alarmists, Baliunas said.

Before encouraging the nation to embark on a path of economic immolation, the media might at least take the time to dig into the facts about climate change. Even if it kills a good global warming scare story, or two, truth is still better than fiction.



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