In 2008, a 100 percent chance of alarm

Today's interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels, says John Tierney in the New York Times.

For example:

  • A year ago, British meteorologists made headlines predicting that the buildup of greenhouse gases would help make 2007 the hottest year on record.
  • At year's end, even though the British scientists reported the global temperature average was not a new record -- it was actually lower than any year since 2001 -- the BBC confidently proclaimed, "2007 Data Confirms Warming Trend."

  • When the Arctic sea ice last year hit the lowest level ever recorded by satellites, it was big news and heralded as a sign that the whole planet was warming.
  • When the Antarctic sea ice last year reached the highest level ever recorded by satellites, it was pretty much ignored.
  • A large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently, but most coverage of that continent has focused on one small part that has warmed.

    Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, recently noted the very different reception received last year by two conflicting papers on the link between hurricanes and global warming, says Tierney. He counted 79 news articles about a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and only 3 news articles about one in a far more prestigious journal, Nature.

    It was, of course, the paper in the more obscure journal, which suggested that global warming is creating more hurricanes. The paper cited in Nature concluded that global warming has a minimal effect on hurricanes. It was published in December, the same week that Al Gore received his Nobel Peace Prize.

    Source: John Tierney, "In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm," New York Times, January 1, 2008.

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