There’s nothing that annoys me more than lazy, cut-and-paste, hype-ridden journalism, and no subject has generated more of this than Climate Change (or so-called “Global Warming”).
Some wonk somewhere produces a report saying so many thousands of people have died, or lost land, or been internally displaced because of global warming and the hype-mongers of the press are all over it like a rash with doom-laden white-on-black prophecies of impending catastrophe.
This happened the other day when the Global Humanitarian Forum put out a report claiming that global warming is killing 300,000 people a year; former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it was a “silent crisis”:
Climate change is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time, causing suffering to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
But even in Kofi Annan’s comments on the report are the seeds of doubt. Here’s how it appeared in The Times:
Mr Annan said the report could never be as rigorous as a scientific study, but said: “We feel it is the most plausible account of the current impact of climate change today.”
In other words: “We haven’t a clue”.
What makes this worse is that this is not actually the Forum’s own report, but one that they farmed out to some “thinktank”, a consultancy group called Dalberg Global Advisers who themselves admitted their estmates had:
a significant margin of error
In other words: “We haven’t a clue either”.
The problem is that Climate Change is like the Cold War – our political leaders have jumped on it as a way to scare the bejeezus out of their electorate, and so the only way for scientists to get decent funding for new research is to claim it has relevance to Climate Change – just like in the 1960s and 1970s when the best way to get research funding was to claim some Cold War defense implications.
Of course the outcome of this research is often so spurious and theoretical that no-one really knows what it means and can put any kind of spin on it that they like; this is especially true of any Climate Change work done with atmospheric modelling, a branch of science which sometimes seem to owe more to Harry Potter than it does to any real world physics.
For example – we’re told that the Arctic ice cap is disappearing at an increasing rate. Now watch this video and ask yourself a simple question: “If the ice appears and disappears so quickly every year, how can they be so certain?”
So Kofi Annan’s comment about about rigorous scientific study is telling, because that is actually happening, although because the results don’t have BIG numbers or lots of dead, injured and displaced that fit neatly into a headline, the lazy hacks in our newsrooms don’t give a damn.
I saw this example over on another blog today: Lindzen’s Climate Sensitivty Talk: ICCC June 2, 2009 – not the world’s most inspiring headline, and it has a link to a powerpoint which is full of graphs and equations which would make the average person’s head spin.
To sum it up: Dr Richard Lindzen compared the main Climate Change predictive models to the real data, the observations of what has really happened, and he found the real world did not behave like the models said it would.
What we see, then, is that the very foundation of the issue of global warming is wrong. There is little to be concerned about (due to our emissions). Of course, climate change will always occur and we should be prepared.
Dr Lindzen knows which way the winds of political opinion are blowing on climate change, so he has a little afterthought for those who spend their lives neatly coccooned on Planet Politics:
In a normal field, these results would pretty much wrap things up, but global warming/climate change has developed so much momentum that it has a life of its own – quite removed from science. One can reasonably expect that opportunism of the weak will lead to efforts to alter the data (though the results presented here have survived several alterations of the data already). Perhaps most important, these results will of necessity ‘offend the sensibilities of the of the educated classes and the entire East and West Coasts,’ and who would want to do that.
OK, so this is just one report, and no doubt the ardent Climate Change supporters will pooh-pooh it, but that’s the way science has always worked, just remember some of the crap that Galileo and Copernicus had to put up with.
What’s more worrying is that underlying all of this is knowledge that this report will not get the same coverage as the UN’s spurious “finger-in-the-air” fearmongering did, because the majority of mainstream media journalists are too lazy, too stupid or just too ignorant to dig out the truth.
Just look at sites like this infotainment site from ABC News and ask yourself: “Apart from a few question marks in some of the headlines, where is the rigorous journalistic examination of the facts?”*
If our scientists can’t agree among themselves, shouldn’t THAT be the story the public are told?
*[EDIT/Update: Viewing the ABC News site further I found myself asking another question: “If ABC News had existed back then – what would they have foreseen for a fictional child born on June 2, 1909?” – if you think about this for more than just a second, and look at where we are at now, you’ll start to grasp just how ridiculous a once-great journalistic organisation has become.]
Don’t get me wrong, I am a great fan of the BBC and the part it plays at the heart of British life and journalism; I only have to watch five minutes of an American network news bulletin to see what it has done to maintain standards of journalistic integrity in the UK.
Over the last few years though it has had its wings clipped by various governments, been bullied and coerced and now it is slowly but surely being driven into the ground by mendacious polticians and useless senior managers.
The latest piece of spectacular stupidity from the “men in grey suits” who run the Corporation is to cut 15% from the budget of the best news programme on TV, Newsnight, and sack the programme’s environment and science reporters.
In the meantime the spineless idiots who run BBC News have decided to create a new job for an overall Arts Editor whose job will be to oversee and enhance the BBC’s coverage of…. well, they say “the Arts”, but we all know that that is a euphemism for “popular culture” where the coverage tends to veer towards world-shuddering journalism asking things like “which soap star is in rehab this week”, “which vacuous teenage pop star is pregnant again” and “which member of the Big Brother house put what up their nose today”.
One of the biggest stories of this century will be the climate and the way it is changing; explaining that to the lay audience is a massive challenge and one that has to be done by specialist journalists who can translate the scientific jargon into easy and accessible reporting.
We’ve already had the cringe-inducing spectacle of the coverage of the death of Jade Goody, but this is only the beginning, a mere taster of the hype-obsessed headlines that will pass for news in the future.
Welcome then to BBC News for the next decade – a vanilla mix of pointless stories about soap stars, pop princesses and reality TV wannabes – all there to numb the senses of the audience while the world around us goes to hell in a handcart, torn apart by the small-minded dictators who prefer to wield power than use it to improve lives, and who love it when journalists are more interested in bimbos and gossip rather than hard questions about the economy or the environment.
And where have I seen this already? Oh yes, American TV News. It seems that the BBC’s management has not only lost the plot, it doesn’t even know where to look for one.
A British charity worker has been given the so-called “World’s Best Job” – becoming the caretaker of Hamilton Island, which is part of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland.
Ben Southall (34) was selected for the £73,000-a-year job after a ‘rigorous’ reality TV-style selection process which involved testing his ability to snorkel, barbecue and blog; there were more than 34,000 applicants from all over the world.
Well done that man, being paid to be permanently on holiday on a Pacific island is, many would contend, a dream come true, although whether it is, truly, the best job in the world remains unproven.
In true Quardlepleen style though, there has to be a few questions raised about what was, in effect, a cynical marketing ploy by Tourism Queensland, who were desperate to raise their profile while the world’s economy was being flushed down the toilet.
The job involves reporting on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s most beautiful natural features, a reef which is currently under threat from climate change.
Did anyone stop and think whether any of the applicants were in the least bit qualified to report on the reef in anything other than the most superficial way? Did anyone stop and think that the last thing we need right now is important issues like the destruction of our coral reefs being reduced to a circus side-show? Did anyone stop and think how much good could be done with the huge amount of money that has been spent on this ridiculous spectacle?
Obviously not, so maybe every qualified marine biologist should now form an orderly queue so that a tourism officer from Queensland can personally slap them across the face.
[EDIT/Another question: If your job is to be the caretaker of a Pacific island, where do you go for your holiday? An office block?]