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Faux for Balance: Post’s Opinion Section Strikes Out on Climate Change, again …

December 1st, 2009 · 4 Comments

The Washington Post‘s editorial board consistently shows its understanding and concerns about Global Warming with editorials that clearly state an understanding of the key facts of Global Warming: Climate Change is real; Human activity is driving the rapidity and severity of change; that unchecked climate change could have catastrophic implications; and, that we (Americans and the global community) must do something (actually, many things) to mitigate climate change. The Washington Post has a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, Tom Toles, who regularly produces some of the top political cartoons on climate change issues. And, The Washington Post has its regular columnists, a group that is quite biased to the conservative side of the political equation, a group that is infected with anti-science syndrome. This flared, earlier this year, in what could be called The Will Affair as Fred Hiatt dragged the Post through the mud with repeated George Will global warming denier columns, incoherent defenses of publishing Will’s Will-ful deceits, and increasingly public dissent from within the Post‘s own ranks.   Now, this Faux material is ever so Balanced with less frequent Post editorials on climate change issues and guest OPEDs from (great people) like Bill McKibben. Sigh …

Faux and Balanced — not exactly the moniker that one would expect a leading national newspaper would embrace so firmly.

Yet today, yet again, the Post played the Faux and Balanced routine on its OPED pages by both publishing an utterly untruthful letter filled with ‘true’ facts and a confused OPED from a regular columnist who got it 90+% right and then went off on a bizaarely confusing tangent.

Faux letter to balance some truth

Today the Post published three letters re ClimateGate (better discussed as SwiftHack), two of which represented ‘balance’ by giving space to climate change deniers red in the face over two Post items placing SwiftHack into context (Eugene Robinson’s 27 Nov Tell it to the Ice Caps and the Post’s 25 Nov 2009 editorial Climate of Denial which poorly bought into much of the confused criticism of the CRU researchers while supporting the need for climate action.  Let’s take a look at one of these, the letter from “John J. Tkacik Jr., Alexandria


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes that 2008 was the coolest year since 2000.

You know, this is a true statement. However, is it truthful?

If we actually go to the NOAA source, the sentences that follow this statement seem relevant: “In our analysis, 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880 (left panel below). The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two-standard-deviation (95% confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C, so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record.”
So, emphasizing that 2008 could be the coolest year since 2000 is, don’t you think, more than a bit misleading for the casual reader who might not be aware that we are amid the warmest decade in recorded history that 2008 is solely the “7th to 10th warmest year” on record.

So perhaps Eugene Robinson should have read the opening sentence of the Arctic Research Consortium’s “Pan Arctic Sea Ice Outlook” on the NOAA Web site before writing his Nov. 27 op-ed, “Tell it to the ice caps.” According to the consortium’s summary, “the arctic summer sea ice extent minimum in September 2009 (5.36 million square kilometers) was greater than that observed in 2007 or 2008.”

Perhaps this is another misleading statement even though it has “fact” being referenced (with links)?

One tipper, specific dates and also isolating to just a few years ago rather than placing this within context.

If we look to NOAA annual Arctic Report Card, issued earlier this month, we find: “One of the most dramatic signals of the general Arctic-wide warming trend in recent years is the continued significant reduction in the extent of the summer sea ice cover and the decrease in the amount of relatively older, thicker ice. The extent of the 2009 summer sea ice cover was the third lowest value of the satellite record (beginning in 1979) and >25% below the 1979 – 2000 average.”

While sea ice data certainly indicate a long-term Arctic warming trend, observed fluctuations appear to be quite wide and not closely correlated with minuscule (albeit accumulating) concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

So, “observed fluctuations” are continually downward. What is “long term”? In climate conditions, in geologic terms, we’d normally be talking centuries and, more likely, millenia rather than years and decades. But, to a human with a short attention span, a decade is a really “long-term … trend”.

Ahh, so (“minuscule”) “concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide” are growing (except with annual seasonal variation) at a basically linear rate and the atmosphere / planetary ecosystem is not cooperating by having a temperature change that follows the same, exact line and pattern. Thus, a ha, we have some form of proof that Global Warming isn’t real?

And, of course, there is that “miniscule”. It is, after all, only 385 or so parts per million (remember, MILLION) that we’re talking about. So what if that is about 40 percent higher than at any point in the history of homo sapiens (yes, any point in the past million years or so). It is, after all, MINISCULE and therefore irrelevant … right?

All of this presumably should give pause to any climate scientist, global warming skeptic or believer alike.

Huh. Why should that give pause.

By the way, do note the skill with words, seeking to associate “global warming skeptic” with “climate scientist” which is a rarely seen combination. And to create a false sense of balance between “global warming skeptic and believer”, as if they are equivalent in substance and number. And, finally, making this “global warming believer” rather than someone who is relying on science and the scientific method to inform themselves (and others) with honest and truthful information.

This is why the e-mail revelations from the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia that Mr. Robinson wrote about are so unsettling — they show scientists seeking to discredit and censor data that did not support their hypotheses.

Mr. Robinson says he welcomes contrarian views on global warming, but to paraphrase his own words: So far he hasn’t gotten through to the expanding Arctic sea ice.

But, Mr Tkacik and Post editors, the “expanding Arctic sea ice” is occurring at this moment because of that unpredictable and unknowable thing called winter.

In terms of editorial control and the importance of providing readership information that could color the validity of a letter, perhaps the Post should have identified “Tkacik” not as some random citizen from Alexandria, Virginia, but to let them know that John J. Tkacik, Jr is a former employee of and senior research fellow at the Heritage Institution, which is one of the preeminent proponents of anti-science syndrome when it comes to Global Warming.

Not to let Robinson off the hook

Eugene Robinson’s Target Practice in Copenhagen is a useful cautionary piece, highlighting issues of concern, such as that focusing on “energy intensity” could enable growing emissions due to reduced emissions per item of output as output grows. After a thoughtful discussion, Robinson goes off the reservation intellectually with this ending paragraph:

But if there’s a longer growing season in the higher latitudes? If cross-polar shipping slashes transportation costs? If winters are milder — more pleasant, even — in Chicago, Moscow and Beijing? We may all be in this together, but there are going to be winners and losers. That’s something they should talk about in Copenhagen, too.

Wow. Let’s not forget about the “winners and losers” when we discuss measures of climate change. Yes, there will be winners even as the overwhelming balance, among people, nations, economies, species will be losers.

In the oceans, jelly fish seem to be booming with warming and acidifying oceans. Lets count the good fortune of jelly fish against the species that will go extinct and coral reefs that will die.

Along coasts, inland residents could end up having new beach access as water levels rise. Don’t worry about the 100s of millions who will be displaced, the acquifers that will have saltwater infiltration, the habitats that will be destroyed since, after all, some people might have an easier walk to the beach.

Let’s do an analogy since, after all, there will always be winners and losers. A home burns down, killing all the family except one child not at home. Let’s forget about mourning the family since, after all, the firemen got to practice putting out fires, the mortician got some unexpected business, some builder gets to build a new home, and that child is now a millionaire due to life insurance policies.

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Tags: climate change · climate delayers · Energy · environmental · Global Warming · global warming deniers · Washington Post

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