Fw: Beware the Fossil Fools
- --------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "harelbarzilai" <harelbarzilai@...>
Date: Sun, 02 May 2004 03:27:35 -0000
Subject: [powertothepeople] Beware the Fossil Fools
Beware the fossil fools
The dismissal of climate change by journalistic nincompoops is a
danger to us all
Tuesday April 27, 2004
Picture a situation in which most of the media, despite the
overwhelming weight of medical opinion, refused to accept that there
was a connection between smoking and lung cancer. Imagine that every
time new evidence emerged, they asked someone with no medical
qualifications to write a piece dismissing the evidence and claiming
that there was no consensus on the issue.
Imagine that the BBC, in the interests of "debate", wheeled out one of
the tiny number of scientists who says that smoking and cancer aren't
linked, or that giving up isn't worth the trouble, every time the
issue of cancer was raised.
Imagine that, as a result, next to nothing was done about the problem,
to the delight of the tobacco industry and the detriment of millions
of smokers. We would surely describe the newspapers and the BBC as
Now stop imagining it, and take a look at what's happening. The issue
is not smoking, but climate change. The scientific consensus is just
as robust, the misreporting just as widespread, the consequences even
If it is true, as the government's new report suggested last week,
that it is now too late to prevent hundreds of thousands of British
people from being flooded out of their homes, then the journalists who
have consistently and deliberately downplayed the threat carry much of
the responsibility for the problem. It is time we stopped treating
them as bystanders. It is time we started holding them to account.
"The scientific community has reached a consensus," the government's
chief scientific adviser, Professor David King, told the House of
Lords last month. "I do not believe that amongst the scientists there
is a discussion as to whether global warming is due to anthropogenic
It is man-made and it is essentially [caused by] fossil fuel burning,
increased methane production... and so on." Sir David chose his words
carefully. There is a discussion about whether global warming is due
to anthropogenic (man-made) effects. But it is not - or is only seldom
- taking place among scientists. It is taking place in the media, and
it seems to consist of a competition to establish the outer reaches of
During the heatwave last year, the Spectator made the case that
because there was widespread concern in the 1970s about the
possibility of a new ice age, we can safely dismiss concerns about
global warming today.
This is rather like saying that because Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's
hypothesis on evolution once commanded scientific support and was
later shown to be incorrect, then Charles Darwin's must also be wrong.
Science differs from the leader writers of the Spectator in that it
learns from its mistakes. A hypothesis is advanced and tested. If the
evidence suggests it is wrong, it is discarded. If the evidence
appears to support it, it is refined and subjected to further testing.
That some climatologists predicted an ice age in the 1970s, and that
the idea was dropped when others found that their predictions were
flawed, is a cause for confidence in climatology.
But the Spectator looks like the Journal of Atmospheric Physics
compared to the Mail on Sunday and its Nobel laureate-in-waiting,
Peter Hitchens. "The greenhouse effect probably doesn't exist," he
wrote in 2001. "There is as yet no evidence for it." Perhaps Hitchens
would care to explain why our climate differs from that of Mars.
That some of the heat from the sun is trapped in the Earth's
atmosphere by gases (the greenhouse effect) has been established since
the mid-19th century. But, like most of these nincompoops, Hitchens
claims to be defending science from its opponents. "The only reason
these facts are so little known", he tells us, is (apart from the
reason that he has just made them up), "that a self-righteous love of
'the environment' has now replaced religion as the new orthodoxy".
Hitchens, in turn, is an Einstein beside that famous climate scientist
Melanie Phillips. Writing in the Daily Mail in January, she dismissed
the entire canon of climatology as "a global fraud" perpetrated by the
"leftwing, anti-American, anti-west ideology which goes hand in hand
with anti-globalisation and the belief that everything done by the
industrialised world is wicked".
This belief must be shared by the Pentagon, whose recent report
pictures climate change as the foremost threat to global security. In
an earlier article, she claimed that "most independent climate
specialists, far from supporting [global warming], are deeply
sceptical". She managed to name only one, however, and he receives his
funding from the fossil fuel industry.
Having blasted the world's climatologists for "scientific illiteracy",
she then trumpeted her own. The latest report by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (which collates the findings of
climatologists) is, she complained, "studded with weasel words" such
as "very likely" and "best estimate". These weasel words are, of
course, what make it a scientific report, rather than a column by
If ever you meet one of these people, I suggest you ask them the
following questions: 1. Does the atmosphere contain carbon dioxide? 2.
Does atmospheric carbon dioxide influence global temperatures? 3. Will
that influence be enhanced by the addition of more carbon dioxide? 4.
Have human activities led to a net emission of carbon dioxide? It
would be interesting to discover at which point they answer no - at
which point, in other words, they choose to part company with basic
But these dolts are rather less danger ous than the BBC, and its
insistence on "balancing" its coverage of climate change. It appears
to be incapable of running an item on the subject without inviting a
sceptic to comment on it.
Usually this is either someone from a corporate-funded thinktank (who
is, of course, never introduced as such) or the professional
anti-environmentalist Philip Stott. Professor Stott is a retired
biogeographer. Like almost all the prominent sceptics he has never
published a peer-reviewed paper on climate change. But he has made
himself available to dismiss climatologists' peer-reviewed work as the
"lies" of ecofundamentalists.
This wouldn't be so objectionable if the BBC made it clear that these
people are not climatologists, and the overwhelming majority of
qualified scientific opinion is against them. Instead, it leaves us
with the impression that professional opinion is split down the
middle. It's a bit like continually bringing people on to the
programme to suggest that there is no link between HIV and Aids.
What makes all this so dangerous is that it plays into the hands of
corporate lobbyists. A recently leaked memo written by Frank Luntz,
the US Republican and corporate strategist, warned that "The
environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in
general - and President Bush in particular - are most vulnerable...
Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are
settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.
Therefore, you need... to make the lack of scientific certainty a
We can expect Professors Hitchens and Phillips to do what they're
told. But isn't it time that the BBC stopped behaving like the public
relations arm of the fossil fuel lobby?
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