December 11, 2013
I sat next to Stephen Lewandowski at dinner last night. Dr. Lewandowski is a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol. He has compared the 21st century’s two (so far) overwhelming and utter failures of journalism – the runnup to war in Iraq, and climate change.
If you’re in a rush, make sure you read the last paragraph.
“Iraq is developing a long-range ballistic missile system that could carry weapons of mass destruction up to 700 miles.” Iraq is progressing towards “dirty bombs that spew radioactivity, mobile bio-weapons facilities, and a new long-range ballistic missile.” An Iraqi defector “tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites.” It is an “undisputed fact” that September 11 attacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague.
Those claims appeared in mainstream newspapers during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. All those claims were false. The nonexistence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq immediately prior to the invasion and the absence of links between Iraq and al-Qaida eventually became the official U.S. position with the Duelfer Report and the report of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
A decade later, those media failures are relevant not only because of the war’s six-figure death toll and because the Iraqi per capita GDP has so far failed to return to prewar levels, but also because they remind us that the media, including highly reputable newspapers, can sometimes get things quite wrong.
A similar media failure is arguably under way this very moment with regard to climate change. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded with near certainty that human economic activity is responsible for ongoing global warming, and some of the largest insurance companies on the planethave blamed the increase in losses from extreme weather events to climate-related disasters.
This has not kept some newspapers from reporting that Arctic ice is “recovering“, a rather adventurous claim in light of the fact that the Arctic has lost 40% of its ice cover since 1980 and that ice extent is now lower than during several millennia preceding 1980. A recent quantitative analysis of climate coverage in the Australian media confirmed thatmisreporting of the science is widespread.
There are some interesting similarities and differences between the media failures involving Iraqi WMDs and climate change.
One notable difference between pre-invasion reporting on Iraqi WMD and climate change is that, in contrast to the near-hegemony of war-supporting reporting (at least in the U.S.), the public has a broader choice now when it comes to climate change: While there is a large supply of disinformation that threatens the public’s right to being adequately informed, there is also no shortage of actual scientific information, both in the mainstream media and beyond.
The diversity of sources empowers the public to select their information wisely, but it also provides a playing field for the dominant influence of people’s cultural worldviews or “ideology”, which can override even education. People whose core personal values are threatened by possible responses to climate change, such as a price on carbon or regulatory measures, are known to rely on media sources that are more likely to create confusion about climate change than disseminate scientifically accurate information.
Worldviews may also explain another cognitive difference between Iraq and climate, which concerns the asymmetry in the evaluation of evidence in the two cases. In the case of Iraqi WMDs, we now know that the media—and politicians among the “Coalition of the Willing”—used weak and insufficient evidence to call for a pre-emptive war against a largely imaginary risk. In the case of climate, by contrast, a mountain of scientific evidence pointing to a risk far greater than that posed by Saddam Hussein is ignored, and mitigative action refused, on the basis of similar worldviews.
There are also similarities. In both cases, a link can be drawn between misinformation and the likelihood of warfare. Together with colleagues, I reviewed the literature on this relationship in a recent paper using the Iraq War and climate change as case studies. We report a reasonably clear link between the acceptance of misinformation and support for the Iraq War, both before and after military action commenced. In one U.S. study, belief in misinformation—that is, the existence of WMDs—was the most powerful predictor of support for the Iraq war. Belief in WMDs quadrupled the likelihood of support for the war.
There is also increasing evidence of a link between climate change and violent conflict, with a recent study suggesting that the risk of violent conflict may increase globally by upward of 30% by 2050 if human-caused warming continues unabated. The link between climate change and conflict is of a statistical nature and not entirely certain, but it should alert us to the possibility that any further delay of climate mitigation, whether based on dissemination of misinformation or other factors, may cause unnecessary future deaths.
Another ironic similarity is that the same newspapers and the same journalists who beat the war drums a decade ago are now also frequently misrepresenting the risk the world is facing from climate change. After WMDs failed to materialize in post-invasion Iraq, this led to occasional anguish among journalists who regretted that they used “‘evidence’ now known to be bogus” to push for war. The lethal fallout from misinformation a decade ago primarily affected the people of Iraq. The fallout from misinformation about climate change is likely to affect us all.
December 9, 2013
Above, Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, and Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground and the Weather Channel, on jetstream changes that may be responsible for changes in extreme weather events in the temperate zones.
Dr. Francis has a new paper just out reinforcing the sea ice connection with information about declining spring snow cover as well.
The past decade has seen an exceptional number of unprecedented summer extreme weather events in northern mid-latitudes, along with record declines in both summer
Arctic sea ice and snow cover on high-latitude land. The underlying mechanisms that link the shrinking cryosphere with summer extreme weather, however, remain unclear.
Read the rest of this entry »
December 9, 2013
Unseasonably warm falls keep pushing back the season for the “Where’s global warming” spots on Fox News. F-4 Tornadoes in November tend to mitigate against the popular right wing meme.
But now we’re actually getting some winter weather, look for the inevitable “ah stuck mah haid outsahd, an’ it wuz snowin’, so there cain’t be no glow-bull warmin’”.
Below, Jerry Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research discusses temp records, low and high.
December 9, 2013
Icon of the Great Folk Scare of the 1960s, Dave Van Ronk, does his signature piece.
Reportedly, Van Ronk was the inspiration for the Coen Brother’s new film.
December 9, 2013
When they’ve had a chance to live around wind turbines, and find out that they are quiet, clean, do not cause headaches, or herpes, as windbaggers claim – they quickly figure out who’s been lying to them.
A new survey finds that the wind turbines in Freiburg, Germany, are once again very popular after a brief concern over the impact on bats. The strangest thing was the timing of the bat issue.
A new survey conducted by the University of Freiburg (report in German) finds that approval of the city’s six turbines has risen from 65 percent when they were built to 80 percent today, further indication that acceptance of wind turbines increases when people live close to them.
Over time, the researchers say, initial concerns about the turbines possibly scaring away tourists died down when people realize that tourists keep coming unabated. Indeed, at one of Freiburg’s two sites with turbines, a tower for hikers and mountain bikers was also built directly next to four of the turbines, and it has become a popular attraction itself (see this video).
December 8, 2013
Reposting because in the space of the last few days, this video, posted just before Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, has become my most watched video, closing in on 100,000 views.
Right. Not exactly Gagnam Style, or even cute kitten territory, but not bad for a serious vid on a serious topic. The piece took off after it was posted first on BradBlog, from there to Upworthy, and then tweeted by Rainn Wilson, “The Office’s” Dwight Schrute.
Case study in small-time virality.
December 8, 2013
If Tom Waits is too harsh, try this much smoother, but no less soulful, version by one of my favorite folky groups, the Spring Standards:
December 7, 2013
Go figure. Major corporations way ahead of the Tea Party base (I am shocked, shocked….).
Getting ready, and in some cases, actually imposing their own carbon limits – to make themselves more competitive.
The development is a striking departure from conservative orthodoxy and a reflection of growing divisions between the Republican Party and its business supporters.
A new report by the environmental data company CDP has found that at least 29 companies, some with close ties to Republicans, including ExxonMobil, Walmart and American Electric Power, are incorporating a price on carbon into their long-term financial plans.
Both supporters and opponents of action to fight global warming say the development is significant because businesses that chart a financial course to make money in a carbon-constrained future could be more inclined to support policies that address climate change.
But unlike the five big oil companies — ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and Shell, all major contributors to the Republican party — Koch Industries, a conglomerate that has played a major role in pushing Republicans away from action on climate change, is ramping up an already-aggressive campaign against climate policy — specifically against any tax or price on carbon. Owned by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the company includes oil refiners and the paper-goods company Georgia-Pacific.
The divide, between conservative groups that are fighting against government regulation and oil companies that are planning for it as a practical business decision, echoes a deeper rift in the party, as business-friendly establishment Republicans clash with the Tea Party.
Tom Carnac, North American president of CDP, said that the five big oil companies seemed to have determined that a carbon price was an inevitable part of their financial future.
“It’s climate change as a line item,” Mr. Carnac said. “They’re looking at it from a rational perspective, making a profit. It drives internal decision-making.”
This information comes from a recent report issued by the Carbon Disclosure Project, a nonprofit that specializes in organizing environmental information. The CDP report finds major oil companies, Wells Fargo, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney Company, automotive supplier Delphi, General Electric, energy companies like Duke, and even technology companies such as Google and Microsoft all including a future carbon price in their planning. The internal company projections range across industries, but generally it appears that the oil companies are forecasting the highest carbon prices in their internal planning, with BP pricing $40 per ton of carbon dioxide, Exxon Mobil $60, and Royal Dutch Shell $40.
An ominous cloud rises over Superman’s icy man cave, the Fortress of Solitude, perhaps indicating that Lex Luthor is up to his dastardly tricks again.
Actually, it is completely natural, and nothing to do with supervillain antics. It is a lenticular cloud, which can be produced when air near the surface gets pushed upwards as it flows over peaks in the landscape, creating pressure waves. The clouds form at the top of the wave, where the air is coolest.
December 6, 2013
The other day I posted the crushing rebuttal from 5 for-realsies storm experts to the hapless pretend climate expert Richard Muller, who wrote in the fast-becoming-equally-hapless New York Times that “Tornadoes are getting weaker” due to climate change.
The major point being that due to changes in the way tornadoes are rated and recorded, there is no way to make such a claim about them, stronger or weaker. There is, however, an emerging body or research that tends to support the general strengthening of convective thunderstorms in a warming world.
Now one of those authors has co-written a letter to the same NYTimes.
Prof. Richard A. Muller (“The Truth About Tornadoes,” Op-Ed, Nov. 21) writes that “strong to violent tornadoes have actually beendecreasing for the past 58 years, and it is possible that the explanation lies with global warming.” However, a primary reason that the intensity of tornadoes has appeared to decline is that reporting has not been consistent over the period spanned by tornado records.
It is well known in the meteorological community that tornado intensities were overrated in the 1950s to 1970s and underrated in the last decade. For example, research-grade Doppler radars measured winds over 280 miles per hour, rated EF5 on the enhanced Fujita scale, in last May’s monstrous Oklahoma tornado that Professor Muller refers to. However, the official National Weather Service rating, which ignores the radar observations in favor of damage indicators, is EF3 (136 to 165 m.p.h.).
Because of the inconsistency in the records, it is not known what effect global warming is having on tornado intensity.
State College, Pa., Nov. 26, 2013
Dr. Markowski is a professor of meteorology at Penn State University. Dr. Brooks is a senior research scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory.