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POSTal Schizophrenia re Climate Science strikes again

February 14th, 2010 · 1 Comment

The Washington Post has an incredibly uneven nature when it comes to the science related to Climate Change. The editorial page will publish an absolutely dishonest piece, be challenged to such an extent that they will publish multiple letters (including from misquoted scientists/scientific institutions) calling out the fraudulent material, and then give George “Will-ful Deceit” Will (for example) column inches to repeat the dishonesty. Not infrequently, the Post will have material on different pages that will contradict each other — some scientifically sound, some simply divorced from truthful discourse. (Further examples here, here, here …) Today, the Washington Post continued this tradition with force.

In the Outlook section, the Post‘s special Sunday opinion section, The Washington Post yet again published the worth-reading Bill McKibben with Washington’s snowstorms, brought to you by global warming. McKibben’s discussion highlights how Global Warming will lead to climate disruption’ pointing out that while DC has snow, helicopters were moving snow for Olympic events and Vermont cross-country races were being canceled due to lack of snow; and discussing just why, contrary to some people’s belief patterns, Global Warming will cause greater amounts of precipitation (and more severe precipitation events) and, thus, greater amounts of snowfall for some areas in some winters. McKibben’s piece ends:

Looked at dispassionately, the round of snowmageddons crisscrossing the mid-Atlantic carries the same message. But it’s hard to be dispassionate when you’re wondering, six hours of shoveling later, if there’s a good chiropractor in the neighborhood and what kind of dogsled you might need to reach her.

It’s almost like a test, centered on ground zero for climate-change legislation. Can you sit in a snowstorm and imagine a warming world? If you’re a senator, can you come back to work and pass a bill that blunts the pace of climate change? If the answer is no, then we’re really in a world of trouble.

That feeds into the other half of the schizophrenia, in the front section’s editorial pages with the linking of scientific reality to political reality in Dana Milbank’s Global warming’s snowball fight and the collection of thoughts at Topic A: Did D.C.’s blizzard bury climate change legislation? These, sadly, repeat too many convenient ‘political realities’ at odd with physical reality and, to a large extent, contribute to misunderstanding through ‘faux balance’.

Let’s start with Milbank, who starts:

The back-to-back snowstorms in the capital were an inconvenient meteorological phenomenon for Al Gore

He then quotes some of the anti-science syndrome suffering Republican twitter messages and Glenn Beck comments before moving to science:

As a scientific proposition, claiming that heavy snow in the mid-Atlantic debunks global warming theory is about as valid as claiming that the existence of John Edwards debunks the theory of evolution. In fact, warming theory suggests that you’d see trends toward heavier snows, because warmer air carries more moisture. This latest snowfall, though, is more likely the result of a strong El Niño cycle that has parked the jet stream right over the mid-Atlantic states.

Sigh, the last sentence is a good example of misleading. The “El Niño cycle” is powerful but no one serious about climate science suggests that the human thumb on the scale of the global climate eliminates natural systems. As said about Vancouver’s hotte January ever and the problems it is causing for the Olympics:

“We really shattered the all-time record. It’s El Niño, and there’s something else that nobody understands at this point. It’s El Niño Plus.” [Note that is a quote from a front-page Washington Post story from last Thursday.]

“El Niño Plus”. Thus, in the very paragraph where Milbank attempts to acknowledge and explain the science, he provides a serious misrepresentation of it.

Milbank shows his colors in this debate through this “environmentalists have undermined the cause with claims bordering on the outlandish” with linking through to a anti-science syndrome promoting institution which cherry-picks and, in all the cases that I’ve looked through, misrepresents the comments and the science supporting the relevant statements.

A more relevant comment would have been: “Mediocre journalism, which seems intent to present “both sides” as seemingly of equal legitimacy, has undermined public understanding of scientific conclusions about issues with significant public policy import, such as related to Global Warming and the risks of catastrophic climate chaos.” [NOTE: Joe Romm deals with another way in which Milbank misrepresents in the column as does top meteorologist Jeff Masters.Also, let’s not forget Milbank’s wonderful Goracle piece.]

To that “public policy”, let’s turn to topic A with commentaries from former New Jersey Governor and first EPA Administrator in the Bush-Cheney Administration, Ken Green & Steven Hayward from the right-wing American Enterprise Institution, David Hawkins from the National Resources Defense Council, former Reagan and George HW Bush White House staffer Ed Rogers, Emily Figador from Environment America (only online), and “Democratic” pollster and author Douglas Schoen.

Not suprisingly, Green, Hayward, and Rogers lay out misleading comments, claiming (falsely) that climate legislation would hurt the US economy and action isn’t supported by the science. From Rogers:

Now they have suffered a coup de grace: public ridicule brought on by a record-breaking blizzard blasting their East Coast home base. The movement was already dead in Congress for 2010 (its climate-change bill has been sidelined), but Snowmageddon buried it. How could it be that heat waves evidenced global warming, but so did a cold wave? The public isn’t buying it anymore.

Well, Ed, the existence of human influence on the climate doesn’t make the Earth stop rotating and stop “winter” in the Northern Hemisphere. On the other hand, a warmer planet has more moisture in the atmosphere and more severe (over one inch, 24 hours, of precipitation) events. While Vancouver had the hottest January in modern historical records, Washington, DC, is having just about an average winter in terms of temperature — even as more moisture hits winter temperatures.

Whitman lays out what might be called a Republicans for Environmental Protection commentary even as it understates the issue. As to the direct response to the question, Whitman might be right: “It shouldn’t, but it will.”

Both Hawkins and Figador lay out reality-based comments, as Figdor comments:

Yet the legislative environment is uncertain. Within weeks, the Senate is slated to vote on a measure that would block President Obama from enforcing the Clean Air Act to fight global warming. The vote is expected to be a nail-biter, thanks to a frenzied lobbying campaign by America’s biggest polluters. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — ironically, the state most directly, rapidly and dramatically affected by global warming — plans to offer a resolution that would strike at the heart of the Clean Air Act, a law with a nearly 40-year track record of cutting dangerous pollution to protect Americans’ health and the environment, and of spurring technological innovation. This vote is a true test of whether lawmakers will act to protect the public and allow America to compete economically in the coming decades or if Big Oil and Coal call the shots in the Senate. If the resolution passes, it will indeed bury real legislation on the issue this year.

Perhaps the most disturbing, however, of all comes from Schoen. Read solely from a “political reality” perspective, he might have some basis but Schoen’s words show a buying into misleading and deceptive truthiness confusing the discussion of climate science.

The recent bout of wintry weather and the overall political climate have almost certainly killed climate-change legislation this year.

Schoen might be right … sadly.

The science that supports the causes and effects of global warming has become increasingly open to doubt and question.

In terms of the scientific basis, in terms of scientific research, this is simply a false statement. In terms of press discussion, based on an organized global campaign to undermine science and attack scientists, this is truthful. Yes, there are errors within 1000s of pages of reports … but where scientists correct themselves, contrarians refuse to. Thank you Douglas for buying into and repeating truthiness-laden anti-science syndrome framing of the discussion.

The weather this winter, particularly in the past week or so, makes it more difficult to argue that global warming is an imminent danger and suggests that global warming may well not be as inexorable a force as some believe.

In political terms, it might be “more difficult” but, as per McKibben’s piece in the same Washington Post, the truth is that this is an utter falsehood when it comes to science. And, Douglas, the issue is in no small part due to reporting. Vermont without snow and Vancouver with record warm temperatures and Arctic warmth aren’t getting the same press coverage as a Washington DC inundated with snow.

And, what an utter falsehood: “suggests that global warming may well not be as inexorable a force as some believe”. This is a slap in the face of the mass of scientific work in climate science. Have to wonder whether Douglas has the AAPG as a client as opposed to any of the major scientific institutions who have stated, strongly, that humanity is driving climate change and that it creates risks for humanity.

Further, the political downside to supporting the legislation is unambiguous. Americans are primarily concerned with jobs and the economy. Any significant effort spent on other legislation will reignite charges, originally hurled during the lengthy and unsuccessful health-care debate, that the White House and Democrats in Congress are out of touch with voters’ needs.

Evidently, Schoen doesn’t realize that climate change does not just create a serious threat but creates serious opportunities. Schoen is a pollster who, evidently, doesn’t correlate the massive American support for clean energy jobs and technologies like solar and wind power with a winning political (and economic and climate) path forward toward climate mitigation.

Again, Schoen is described as a “Democratic Pollster” (although Sean Hannity wonders whether that is accurate). With such blatantly ignorant comments as published here, we have to wonder what sort of bias Schoen puts into polling questions and his (likely error-filled) examination of polling data on clean energy and climate issues. Sadly, one has to wonder how many Democratic politicians are getting bad advice when it comes to climate legislation from him.

Update: See Brad Johnson, Wonkroom, with Citing Heritage, Dana Milbank Attacks Valid Climate Science As ‘Bordering On The Outlandish’

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Tags: Bill McKibben · climate change · climate delayers · climate legislation · democrats · Energy · environmental · George Will · Global Warming · global warming deniers · Washington Post

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