You would think that people whose business is the weather would be pretty informed about climate change. The reality is a great deal more complex. In the US, weathermen, for many the very public, trusted face of science, are split down the middle, with a prominent rump speaking out vociferously against human forcings driving climate change (assuming they even accept it’s occurring in the first place).
John Coleman is one of the most trusted faces on US television. He founded The Weather Channel back in the early ’80s and is something of an institution. Therefore, when Coleman in November 2007 blogged: “It is the greatest scam in history,” he began. “I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming: It is a SCAM”, he became an instant (septuagenarian) poster boy for the climate denier lobby.
Global warming “is not something you ‘believe in,’” he wrote in his article. “It is science; the science of meteorology. This is my field of life-long expertise.” Impressive, if a little light on facts. Coleman’s only professional qualification is a degree in journalism earned 50 or so years ago from the University of Illinois. Coleman has spent so long in front of the cameras he actually believes he has become an expert. His expertise does not, however, extend to being able to tell the difference between the related but entirely separate scientific fields of meteorology (the study of weather) and climate science or climatology (the study of climate systems over time). Coleman’s contradictions are expertly teased out in a recent in-depth article for the Columbia Journalism Review.
Few people actually know a real-live scientist, so who do we depend on instead for scientific guidance? Here in Ireland, don’t expect any help whatever from our media, either broadcast or print. If they’re not outright hostile to climate science, what you get instead is a parody of journalism, with a parade of blow-hard columnists and broadcasters, fresh from their gruelling 20 minutes surfing Google “researching” some climate denialist lines and then regurgitating them to the unsuspecting public as “asking the hard questions”.
There has truly never been an instrument as efficient as the Internet in allowing us to prop up our prejudices and preconceptions without ever disturbing them with some awkward facts that don’t fit into the jelly-mould.
Which brings me to Saturday week last, when I was among a number of guest speakers at the Meteorological Society’s ‘Weather & Climate Conference’ in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Speakers included Drs Gerard Fleming and Seamus Walsh of Met Eireann, Prof Pat Goodman of DIT and Gillian Whelan of UCC.
My contribution was entitled ‘From Denial to Despair – effectively communicating climate change’. That was the title I’d chosen when asked six months earlier to contribute. A lot has happened since, most notably the Three Cs – Copenhagen, Climategate electronic cigarette fifty-one and Cold (weather), so I decided to throw a critical eye over Irish media coverage of the climate debate
What I didn’t know was that there was a Sunday Times reporter somewhere among the 120 or so attendance. She contacted me nearly a week later to do an interview arising (she told me she had already put my ‘charges’ to Kevin Myers and P. Kenny). All’s fair in the public domain. Clearly someone in the Sunday Times thought this an excellent opportunity to do some shit-stirring, and what followed was an enormous splash on page 3 of the paper’s main news section, wittily headed: ‘A little warming under the collar‘, with a huge pic of Kenny and an iceberg.
The Sunday Times piece was a pointed amalgam of quotes, lines from articles and even a light-hearted comment I posted in response to a blog, but the object was pretty clear: the knife was slipped in in the form of an inset article on the ‘recovery’ of Arctic ice mass. Ostensibly, the article seems fine, pointing out that scientists point out this ice recovery is a weather event, “with little relevance for long-term climate change”, but the final paragraph twists the meaning right around, by emphasising that “such caution contrasts with the warnings issued by scientists in 2007 when the north polar ice cap suffered a spectacular melt”. Subtle, yes, but unmistakable: them shifty scientists are once again trying to mislead us.
As ever, Pat Kenny gets the last word in the main hatchet, sorry, article. “I remember a couple of decades ago when they were predicting the the Ice Age was coming and that the 1980s would be a decade of famine”. Well I remember being told round about then that Slade were bigger than the Beatles, but that didn’t make it so either. Here’s a guy who truly can’t tell the difference between a couple of articles in Time magazine and peer-reviewed science. But fair play to Pat, his latest “Pete Doherty moment” makes my case more eloquently than I possibly could.
Happily, there is intelligent life beyond the media fish-tank. Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, recently published a provocative report entitled ‘Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production‘. Naturally, given the profound gravity of its topic material, and the fact that it fails entirely to offer any quick-and-painless “solutions”, the document, authored by physicist David Korowicz, has been widely ignored by the mainstream media.
I am pleased to have the opportunity in today’s Irish Times to at least in part remedy that deficit and bring a synopsis of Korowicz’s work to a wider audience. This is my first return to these pages since my own column concluded on February 4th last. However briefly, it’s good to be back.