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Archive for Sunday, April 2, 2006

Media fuel panic over global warming

April 2, 2006

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— So, "the debate is over." Time magazine says so. Last week's cover story exhorted readers to "Be Worried. Be Very Worried," and ABC News concurred in several stories. So did Montana's governor, speaking on ABC. And there was polling about global warming, gathered by Time and ABC in collaboration.

Eighty-five percent of Americans say warming is probably happening and 62 percent say it threatens them personally. The National Academy of Sciences says the rise in the Earth's surface temperature has been about one degree Fahrenheit in the last century. Did 85 percent of Americans notice? Of course not. They got their anxiety from journalism calculated to produce it. Never mind that one degree might be the margin of error when measuring the planet's temperature. To take a person's temperature, you put a thermometer in an orifice, or under an arm. Taking the temperature of our churning planet, with its tectonic plates sliding around over a molten core, involves limited precision.

Why have Americans been dilatory about becoming as worried - as very worried - as Time and ABC think proper? An article on ABC's Web site wonders ominously, "Was Confusion Over Global Warming a Con Job?" It suggests there has been a misinformation campaign implying that scientists might not be unanimous, a campaign by - how did you guess? - big oil. And the coal industry. But speaking of coal ...

Recently, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer flew with ABC's George Stephanopoulos over Glacier National Park's receding glaciers. But Schweitzer offered hope: Everyone, buy Montana coal. New technologies can, he said, burn it while removing carbon causes of global warming.

Stephanopoulos noted that such technologies are at least four years away and "all the scientists" say something must be done "right now." Schweitzer, quickly recovering from hopefulness and returning to the "be worried, be very worried" message, said "it's even more critical than that" because China and India are going to "put more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with conventional coal-fired generators than all of the rest of the planet has during the last 150 years."

That is one reason why the Clinton administration never submitted the Kyoto accord on global warming for Senate ratification. In 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 that the accord would disproportionately burden America while being too permissive toward major polluters that are America's trade competitors.

While worrying about Montana's receding glaciers, Schweitzer, who is 50, should also worry about the fact that when he was 20 he was told to be worried, very worried, about global cooling. Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation." Science Digest (February 1973) reported that "the world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age." The Christian Science Monitor ("Warning: Earth's Climate is Changing Faster than Even Experts Expect," Aug. 27, 1974) reported that glaciers "have begun to advance," "growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter" and "the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool." Newsweek agreed ("The Cooling World," April 28, 1975) that meteorologists "are almost unanimous" that catastrophic famines might result from the global cooling that The New York Times (Sept. 14, 1975) said "may mark the return to another ice age." In fact, the Earth is always experiencing either warming or cooling. But suppose the scientists and their journalistic conduits, who today say they were so spectacularly wrong so recently, are now correct. Suppose the Earth is warming and suppose the warming is caused by human activity. Are we sure there will be proportionate benefits from whatever climate change can be purchased at the cost of slowing economic growth and spending trillions? Are we sure the consequences of climate change - remember, a thick sheet of ice once covered the Middle West - must be bad? Or has the science-journalism complex decided that debate about these questions, too, is "over"?

About the mystery that vexes ABC - Why have Americans been slow to get in lock step concerning global warming? - perhaps the "problem" is not big oil or big coal, both of which have discovered there is big money to be made from tax breaks and other subsidies justified in the name of combating carbon. Perhaps the problem is big crusading journalism.

George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

xenophonschild 8 years, 9 months ago

Thank you, George, for so cleverly delivering your message for corporate America. You managed to slap big oil, and the coal people, around a little, but that was just the sugar-coating. You managed to slant criticism of American response to global warming to the Clinton Administration, which is what you and every other conservative Republican looney-tune does at every opportunity. But you carefully avoided any mention of what exactly global warming means, both the short term and long term effects.

Those of us who love Kansas may have to get used to the western part of the state, from the Colorado border to Emporia, becoming a desert much like northern Arizona. When the soil dries up, when the soil moisture dissipates with no viable replacement, the soil will blow down to the hardpan, sending billions of tons of sediment in dust storms that will recall the Dirty Thirties.

And that will be just in Kansas. All the agriculture, the cattle business, will be gone. Towns will shrivel and die as people will move to greener pastures (no pun intended). Places we have known and loved will become cracks in the the dry earth. Thanks, corporate America, and your Republican toadies in Congress.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 9 months ago

The reason more Americans don't "get it" is because of pundits like Will who continually say that it will be too hard to fix the problem, and since there is a really small chance that it might not be happening anyway, damn the torpedoes. If we all die, at least me and my buddies will die on top.

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