Straight Goods on Media Bias

Check this excellent article in the Vancouver weekly, the Georgia Straight, on media haplessness in the coverage of climate change.


I believe this alleged media bias actually reflects how Canadians think on this subject. Canadians are not confused, we are ambivalent. We pay lip service to the environment, but are not prepared, as of yet, to make serious changes. We like “feel good” stuff. And we want the government to make the problem go away. Painlessly.

The article goes on to lampoon the tired old shibboleth of Exxon Mobil’s trail of pennies confusing the public. I emphatically disagree with that assessment, and always have, as it provides a too easy out for us to avoid our responsibility for individual and community initiative.

People are able to handle contradictory positions and formulate what they believe to be an appropriate response. That we as a nation have failed to seriously address the problem of AGW speaks not to the confusion of the general public, but to the shallow commitment Canadians presently hold towards this issue. Regards,

… paying money to groups that agreed dissemble on climate change and you “emphatically disagree.” I'm not sure I follow your logic.

I also think it's less than a coincidence that the media bias is reflected in Canadians' thinking on this issue. Tim Ball, Terry Corcoran, Rex Murphy - even Steve Milloy - have been filling Canadian papers and airwaves with stories of a non-existent scientific debate over climate change and, somehow, the Canadian public arrives at a state of ambivalence. And this is our fault for being ill-prepared to take responsible action?

Again, I'm not following …

Richard, I don’t think Exxon’s tiny funding of various groups has influenced or confused the public to any real degree. Very prominent climate scientists and organizations have spoken out in favour of action, and yet, the ambivalence remains.

The debate we are having in Canada is what, if any, meaningful actions we will take. So far, the signs are not encouraging. It may be that it will still take some time before the public becomes truly committed to action, but we aren’t there yet. Regards,

This story in the Globe would suggest so. I also recommend you go back to this Boykoff and Boykoff paper, which in a very careful way tracks the media performance on reporting climate change. Whether it was Exxon's money or a flaw in media culture could be a matter for considerable more conjecture, but I think the case is proved that the media have done a bad job reporting this story - and that our dwindling ambivalence is the result.

Richard, as you have stated, Exxon et al’s money and media belief in the need for balanced reporting are two contributing factors in the public’s confusion over AGW. However, I believe that there is a third “leg to the stool”. This third leg is the failure of the climate scientists (mostly of academic persuasion) to enter the dirty world of the mass media, preferring to limit their exposure to the scientific journals and scientific meetings. Thus the scientists who show that AGW is real are rarely represented on the op/ed pages of the MSM whereas the AGW deniers are found there on a regular basis. The actual climate science is buried in the middle of the paper with usually only a passing mention of the scientists involved.

When the reader then tries to compare this article with the, close to full page, article on the editorial pages he consciously or unconsciously figures that the anti-AGW piece has more weight, especially when he sees the same person on some TV program or glossy magazine.

The scientists themselves must become more involved in the mass media in order to get the correct message about the science out there. There should be money available to educate these scientists in the different ways they have to argue their case in the limelight of the mass media. I can be pretty sure that the well known deniers have taken many lessons from PR experts.

Unfortunately, the majority of scientists still refuse to take this route. There was a thread on Real Climate a while ago urging scientists to take this route but it was only mildly received.

Yes, I may be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. :)

I will pass on the Boykoff and Boykoff paper as I have questions about their objectivity on the matter. And personally, I don’t see the media slant on this subject, unless it to report uncritically nearly all alarmist reports on the subject.

While Canadians do express the environment as one of, if not their top concern, how can this be translated into real change? To me, this is the where the problem lies. Regards,

Exxon may have stopped funding groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but no one should over-interpret this move. The workings of these groups have been exposed to the extent that they are now no longer an asset. The corporations are moving on to the next tactic of conceding that there is a need for regulation, but they are going to do everything they can to make sure that it doesn’t work. This will be a piece of cake. If you thought Kyoto was a complicated failure, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The only move from Exxon that could be seen as serious would be if they closed down these organizations, published all their damning internal documents, and pensioned off the staff with gag orders so that we never hear from them again. They created this network of denialists, so it’s up to them to get it cleaned up. The lies which they have planted are not going to die away fast enough. There needs to be a public example made of these people by the very agents who funded them.

Mr. Gerard states that: “I believe this alleged media bias actually reflects how Canadians think on this subject. Canadians are not confused, we are ambivalent. We pay lip service to the environment, but are not prepared, as of yet, to make serious changes. We like “feel good” stuff. And we want the government to make the problem go away. Painlessly.” This is precisely the kind of red herring argument that is designed to distract people from the real issue. This comment ignores the systematic, deliberate, continuous obstruction by large financial interests to prevent people from changing our dependance on oil. People are overwhelming in favour of imposed regulations which will constrain all of us. But corporations are opposed. Especially to constraints. Of any kind. If our PM went out and purchased an electric car tomorrow, there would be a massive spike in electric car sales the next day. Social science has taught us that years ago. Which is precisely why no leader will do so. Thus ensuing we delay lifestyle changes that are critically needed. Trying to blame the “public” on the failure of our leaders and corporate greed is a logical fallacy. Our leaders (and many organizations) know why they do what they do. They have been extensively lobbied to deny the effects of climate change. Poll after poll confirms the Canadian (& US) public favour immediate change in policy. What more can people do to fight the obstruction from the top? That’s where the SmogBlog comes in. Thanks folks for letting us know about this critical issue!!!

Jeffery J “…continuous obstruction by large financial interest…” Like Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation and the big American “charitable” foundations that suckle them?

ExxonMobil is expected to announce 2006 profits of $38 billion. That's profits, after sundry expenses like funding every think tank in America that is prepared to say that climate change isn't happening.

It's true that Suzuki, et al, have spent, oh, hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years trying to inform the public that climate change IS happening, but then, the best scientific minds in the world say that's a fact.

So, if the question is whose financial interests are larger, I think the oily guys win. And if the question is who pays the most to lie to the public, well big oil wins again. No?

Forgot to mention that will Exxon postponed it's quarterly report and it will now be issued on Feb. 2nd – same day as the IPCC summary for policymakers is released – who's running their PR??!

Yes, the oil companies are really raking it in, and they do let a few crumbs fall off of the table, with mostly 5 figure donations to Singer and various think tanks. They also make donations to outfits like the Sierra Club, because they think that the good PR is worth extending a helping hand to avowed enemies whose raison d’etre is to whack, not only big oil, but any corporation that provides a useful product to make our lives more pleasant. I think that the corporations are nuts to pay tribute, but its their shareholders money - not mine. I don’t know what the Suzuki Foundation’s income is, and since it’s private and isn’t a registered charity, I have no way to find out. Greenpeace, however, with offices in 40 countries, rakes in about $240 million annually. This is more than double their budget of 6 years ago, and they owe it all to good old AGW. In any event, neither outfit provides a useful good or service. They get their money by selling their snake oil to the gullible public and from a few very wealthy U.S. charitable foundations.

Yes, but Greenpeace has the vast majority of the scientific community on it’s side and is not amplifying the voice of a a scientific hack to protect their bottom line - like, um, maybe the largest OIL company in the word EXXON./

Anonymous There’s that magic phrase, “vast majority” again. You’re right, that’s “bullshit”. How much bigger than a majority is a vast majority, and why do I so rarely encounter anybody from that mythical thundering herd? I guess that all the scientists that I consort with must be “hacks”.

Hi Zog, I’m a scientist and the “vast majority” of my colleagues agree that a business as usual approach will lead to deleterious climate change. I’m a fisheries biologist who hangs out with evolutionary biologists and oceanographers and other fisheries scientists and managers, so mine is not a random sample. Who are all the “hacks” with whom you consort? It might make a difference. Regardless, however, the scientists that matter are those with expertise in the field of climate, and I don’t think you can credibly call “bullshit” that the vast majority of them think AGW is a real, pressing, big problem.

Steve, Mostly geologists, but a smattering from other disciplines as well. You may recall that, until about three decades ago, only geologists, glaciologists and paleontologists had any knowledge of, or particular interest in, climate cycles. To most earth scientists, the concept of AGW and its mirror image, climate control are the stuff of sly inside jokes. I tell them that it’s not funny because, now that the concept has become a mass mania (or an apocalyptic religion) and opportunistic politicians (including Harper et. al.) are trolling for votes among millions of converts who don’t understand either side of the argument, there is potential for really serious economic and social damage from lunacies like the mercifully dying Kyoto accord. Among the few believers who I have met, the most dedicated is an oceanographer (Weaver) whose computer models project the future with great accuracy subject only to the validity of the inputs or, as computer boffins say, “Moonshine in, moonshine out.” I have a physicist friend who says that, apart from the greenhouse effect, humanity is making some change because our activities are changing the enthalpy of the atmosphere. That’s true, of course, but would the difference be measurable? I’m still trying to decide if he has his tongue pressed deeply into his cheek.

Zog wrote: “To most earth scientists, the concept of AGW and its mirror image, climate control are the stuff of sly inside jokes.” Gosh, that’s so authoritative-sounding. But it’s funny, I seem to recall the largest single gathering of earth scientists in history (well over ten thousand of them) being held just last month in San Francisco. And I seem to recall a very interesting choice of keynote speaker… why, it was Al Gore! There was much media coverage of the meeting (of the AGU) and in particular of the Gore speech, but I thought this first-hand account by a meeting participant put things in perspective nicely: “There were about 14 thousand people registered to attend this conference and the real buzz on the poster floor was that former Vice-President Al Gore was to give a talk Thursday on Climate Change: the role of science and the media in policy making. When I heard that Al Gore was attending, the gravity of this conference truly hit me.” But is Al too political for you? Then maybe you’d prefer Jim Hansen’s keynote from the 2005 meeting. On second thought, maybe you wouldn’t. Oh, and if you’re curious as to the offical AGU stance on AGW, it’s here. Zog, Zog, Zog, you just will have to learn the difference between blatant lies and the more subtle forms of denialist fabrications.

Second Steve: I was having a reasonable discussion with the first Steve until you came along. Blatant lies? Hardly the normal form of conversation between scientists, so I assume that you’re not one. The AGU’s position was prepared by Council. It isn’t terribly radical and tries to cover all bases but, nevertheless, a lot of the rank and file are, to put it mildly, not pleased by it. If you know any earth scientists, check that out personally.

“I have a physicist friend who says that, apart from the greenhouse effect, humanity is making some change because our activities are changing the enthalpy of the atmosphere.”

Gee, Zog, you sure had me on the run there for a minute: straight to the Oxford, which says that “enthalpy” is a physics term that means “the total thermodynamic heat content of a system.” So, your friend agrees with the “vast majority” that human activities are warming earth's atmosphere.

I'm sorry: what was your point, again?

Richard, The point, if you had read my post a little more carefully, is that the physicist is one of two people of stature, who I have met, who agrees that human activity may be warming the atmosphere. He differs from true believers in that he doesn’t give much credence to the significance of “greenhouse” gases, but merely states the obvious - that when we burn stuff we release heat into the air.(“Greenhouse” theory postulates the sun as the source of the heat - not campfires or even blast furnaces, which only provide the CO2.) If you’re going to do the PR you should first read the geenhouse theory; it’s really quite simple, and I don’t dispute it. It’s just that I don’t think that it’s significant compared to other available heating mechanisms. (Probably more significant than my friend’s direct heating however.)

Richard My point is that you should have read my post more carefully. Seriously, what I was indicating is that my friend is one of two people of stature, who I’ve met, who is interested in the effect of human activity on atmospheric temperature. However, unlike true believers, he isn’t terribly concerned about greenhouse gases. He merely states the obvious, that when we burn stuff, we add heat to the air, i.e. increase atmospheric enthalpy. However, the amount of heat released by our campfires and blast furnaces is no big deal relative to the vast volume of the atmosphere. Said campfires and blast furnaces do release CO2 and the heat which they trap is SOLAR heat reflected back from the earth. Incidently, I don’t dispute the greenhouse theory, I just don’t believe that it is significant compared to solar flaring.

ZOG, I don’t have the link/reference right now, but you can probably find the calculation of temperature increase to the earth from burning stuff. It’s insignificant. By looking at isolated locations, you can see that urban heat island issues don’t explain the observed global warming. And even for people who are true believers in UHI, I think very little of the temperature anomaly is supposed to be due to actually burning stuff.

Hi Zog, Can't give a very good response today, but I do find it interesting that a lot of the scientists who disregard anthropogenic global warming are geologists.

I have a variety of theories, including: they are trained to think the world is so big and old and we are insignificant; there are a lot of geologists funded primarily by the petroleum/gas/coal industry so there may be some cognitive dissonance; many geologists have worked for other mining interests and are sensitized to respond negatively to any environmental 'interference'….

“Theories” may be too generous a term. One may be able to understand it with some sociological surveys – which characteristics tend to correlate with each position? Masters level versus PhD? Young versus old? Academic versus industrial? But with that aside, and notwithstanding Steve B's input regarding the official stances of geologists (or organisations, at least), it is important to remember that anthropogenic GW has a very large large body of support outside of historical geological interpretation.

I mean, at the simplest level, increased CO2 concentrations have been known to increase the greenhouse effect for a long time (starting with Tyndall, I suppose, in the 1860's). Since then more and more work has been done to understand the impact of that (including highly supportable work on feedbacks).

Nobody has proposed a credible and well-supported mechanism whereby this is not the case. Turning away from that work and drawing examples from paleoclimate does not logically constitute a refutation. Don't get me wrong, there is very legitimate debate regarding the amount of warming that will occur.

But, and here's where I try to stay on topic, many ecologists and fisheries biologists (like me) already have seen enormous impacts of the recent warming. That is, ANY more warming will be considered by us to be a very large effect. Finally, feelings about the policy options (Kyoto or whatever) shouldn't confuse people about the science. I'm troubled that potential policy prescriptions seem to be the motivation for communications of the deniers. As a scientist, I would hope that an objective interest in the right answer would be the starting point for any scientific inquiry.

But perhaps I should stop pretending that I'm an expert on the science here. Instead perhaps my most persuasive tack will be to challenge your statement regarding Kyoto: “really serious economic and social damage from lunacies like the mercifully dying Kyoto accord.” Canada has ratified the agreement. Where is the really serious economic and social damage? How can you convince me that your description is accurate? I'm not an economist or a sociologist, so please try to keep it simple.

PS. You know Andrew Weaver? PPS. How come I don't see paragraph breaks in the preview?

Note from Kevin: use <br> <br> to make a new pagraph

No Steve, it wasn't my intention to put policy ahead of the science - quite the opposite in fact. I'm deeply concerned that Kyoto puts the cart before the horse, so to speak, by prescribing solutions before we know what the problem is, or even if there is one. Even though there seems to be a warming cycle right now, there's been nothing terribly unusual happening.

Even in the western Arctic where the trend is most pronounced, some old timers claim that there was as much open water in the 1930s as there is now. Unfortunately, there are hardly any of them still living, and records prior to the 1950s are sporadic at best. I also remember a couple of really hot summers in the 30s on the prairies, and I've yet to see anything as hot since, or a winter as snowless as '37. I spent the winter of 51-51 on Ellesmere Island and, even then, the winter was much milder than anything recordede by expeditions that wintered there in the 1870s and '80s.

This is mostly anecdotal of course, but it's similar observations from three weeks of mild weather in central Canada that has the media all excited right now. Finally, there is no evidence whatsoever that we are causing the warming, only conjecture which feeds the computer projections of Weaver et. al. And no, I don't “know” him but I've met him and discussed AGW with him a bit. Again, speaking as a geologist, it seems more reasonable to me that increased CO2 in the atmosphere would follow warming rather than lead it, and the work of the Russians with ice cores from Antarctica seems to bear this out.

More heat - more release of CO2 from the sea and methane from the Tundra, which may or may not be as significant as solar activity. On the basis of climate history, I'm much more inclined to go with solar forcing than “greenhouse” effect. With respect to your personal observations, can you be certain that what you are seeing is related to climate change and not to overfishing and/or pollution? I agree that ratifying the Kyoto accord hasn't done any noticeable damage in Canada, for the simple reason that it has been virtually ignored. Signing on was a purely political gesture, and not strangling the economy to observe it was, in my opinion, good common sense.

Finally, I don't know why I can't get paragraph breaks into my posts. The problem is unique to this site. There are none in yours either, by the way.

Thanks for the break, Kevin

Hi Zog, I didn’t know you were so ancient – 80+? I’ve never spoken with anyone as old as you (or anyone as intimately involved in the science as Weaver) about climate. Too bad – I think people who grew up during the depression have a perspective on things that society will sorely miss. Nevertheless, I think you are over-rating personal observations. I work on bull trout and sockeye (two coldwater fish). My work on bull trout led me to time-series pictures of glaciers in national parks, from where the temperatures of fish-bearing streams are buffered in hot summers. These tell a more comprehensive story than a rememberance of a particularly hot or cold day (or season or year). I’ve only worked on sockeye for a few years and have very limited personal knowledge of the Fraser River drainage. But my agency develops and uses river temperature data to predict the number of fish that will go “missing” on their way upstream. Again, the data here are quite direct (not completely confounded by fishing or habitat loss), and more valuable than any anecdotal reports. And even these cases are too local, as are yours. They are merely examples of consequences of small increases in temperatures on biotic systems. There are many others observed everywhere people have been able to look.

I’m not going to get into the “CO2 change comes after global warming” discussion because this has been dealt with a thousand times elsewhere. Forgive me for criticizing, but it seems you are taking a wacky stance here in suggesting that the world only seems to be warming, and if so, then not very much. Your willingness to believe in solar forcing despite the terrible lack of any credible supporting analyses is also surprising, especially given your statement that science should come before policy. I’m not going to continue with these warmed-over skeptic talking points with you here. Surely you can find someone else with whom to re-hash them (perhaps on a site where the science is the main topic). But if you want to explain to me why increased concentrations of greenhouse gases will not increase global temperatures, you’ll have my full attention, because that’s a conversation I’ve never had or seen.

With respect to Kyoto, you have no evidence that the agreement, even if Canada had tried to follow the letter of the agreement, would bring about economic and social disaster. I’m not a huge fan of Kyoto, but my interest in your non-expert point of view has another motivation. From an empiricist’s perspective, I don’t see how you can be so sure the accord would be disastrous: cap and trade was a success with Great Lakes acid rain, and the Montreal protocol was a success with CFCs. If you can convince me that your assertion regarding Kyoto is correct I will be grateful – the structure of that argument will be one that I’ll try to use when talking to people who point to past climates when saying, “global warming isn’t caused by us and it’s nothing to worry about.”

Hi Steve, This will be my last post too. No, I didn’t grow up in the dirty 30s. I was just a kid so I didn’t really notice the hardship which was just normal living. I was too young for WWII and then had the added good luck of being a young man in the “fabulous fifties”. So I’m still on the right side of 80 and the right side of the grass. ** In your explanation of problems with fish habitat, you didn’t mention the possible effect of water pollution. I’d still be inclined to look in that direction. In many years in the north country and the mountains, I observed (and never gave it much thought) that single species of fish seem to thrive in waters with significantly different temperatures. The quality of the flesh was naturally poor in warmer water. However, I am again merely citing anecdotal evidence, and that ain’t scientific. ** I’ve never said that increased atmospheric CO2 won’t increase temperature at all - in fact I’ve said the opposite on this very thread. What I do say is that there isn’t a scintilla of hard scientific evidence that it would be significant. All of those computer projections that have the IPCC and the media so excited are merely that - projections, and they are based on unverifiable assumptions. In my humble opinion, that is closer to astrology than to science. An interesting hypothesis has, in just a few years, been promoted to the status of revealled truth. ** Like AGW, solar forcing can’t be proved to be the major driver of climate change but there is observable correlation between solar flaring and climate cycles. (Yeh, I know, correlation doesn’t prove causation, which is what I always tell CO2 enthusiasts.) Taking the negative approach, we do know with certainty that human activity didn’t cause previous warming periods, so that makes sloar activity the more likely suspect of the two. By the way, past local climate changes in the human time frame have been much more severe than anything currently being observed in the Western Arctic. I’ve seen indisputable evidence of that with my own eyes while examining ancient mine workings in North Africa and in Yemen. Areas that were obviously temperate about 1,000 years ago are now searing waterless, treeless deserts. ** With respect to your final paragraph, if I was to play devil’s advocate and accept the premise that AGW is a threat, I would still be opposed to Kyoto. Emission trading has been a giant boondoggle in Europe, and even the Germans are now screaming foul at the way it is working. Perhaps, with Europe’s example to guide us, we could do better, but in the long haul, emmissions trading on a global scale won’t work because major vendors like Russia and China can’t be forced to use their loot to reduce carbon output. On the contrary, the Chinese especially will use it to finance more industrial growth -perhaps to help pay for the 500 or so major coal-fired power plants that they need to build in the next 10 or 15 years (yes, that’s 500, to reach something approaching our level of electrification). Net result - more CO2 than ever. The Russians will probably use theirs to buy nicer dachas and good black caviar for the oligarchs. ** Speaking of Russia, when the USSR collapsed, there was a drastic reduction, not only in CO2 emissions, but in real pollution of air and water, thanks to a 50% reduction in industrial output. Not the route I want to see North America take! ** Enough, enough. I know that I haven’t convinced you of anything with a few blog posts, but I hope that I’ve planted a small seed of doubt. ** Beacuse of the paragraphing problem, I’ve inserted asterisks between paragraphs.

Zog, the temperature-mortality models are well-worked out and supported by manipulative experiments with fish held in the same water at different temperatures. Further, for wild fish in unmanipulated conditions, those sockeye migrating when the water is warm do worse than those when it is cooler (within a year). And there is enough variance within just the last 15 years in the Fraser to see the effects of temperature (e.g., 2002 was cool and there was very little evidence of en-route mortality whereas 1998 and 2004 were hot and small proportions of fish were observed on the spawning grounds). There may be some pollutant in freshwater that is so well correlated with temperature that it could fool us, but it would be naive to expect it and irrational to ignore the evidence that temperature is the driving factor.

Regarding Kyoto, the Germans “are now screaming foul”? You’re right, that’s not very convincing regarding your earlier statement that Kyoto would be catastrophic for the economy and society. “Screaming” (I assume this is not literal) is a part of the requisite dialogue in any enormous international undertaking. There are many examples. But the example of Kyoto is useful for another purpose: a short term agreement with no teeth to ensure compliance – ‘skeptics’ “screamed” over and over that it would ruin the economy. That, sir, was alarmist bullshit. The purpose of the accord was to set up a system by which a beginning could be made. Developing countries could be compelled in the next rounds to join (perhaps when their per capita emissions approached 70% of our own). In the meantime we could subsidize some green energy companies (rather than Lockheed-Martin) to go over to China and help them to build more efficient and cleaner coal power plants. We could call this kind of carbon credit purchase a kind of foreign aid, they pollute less, and we support development of Canadian expertise and technology. I’d much rather do that with my taxes than to fund any number of other governmental boondoggles.
Take care.

The Sierra Club taking money from oil companies? Hmm. Source for that? You wouldn’t be in the habit of making stuff up just because they help make your case, would you?

That is misleading Richard. Reporting their profits is not honest. It is the money they have spent on other groups that counts, which is about $18 million from 1996 to present. Which amounts to peanuts. Regards,

… in the hands of “scientists” like Fred Singer and Pat Michaels, who accept this kind of corporate support in return for telling people that second-hand smoke isn't harmful and climate change isn't happening. Yeah, it's peanuts to Exxon, I suppose, but you're the one who raised the question of self-interesting financiers. I think Exxon qualifies.

Jeffrey, I blame the public, because I believe that we the public are mostly to blame. Simple, eh?

You say if our PM bought an electric car tomorrow, electric car sales would spike. Well what’s preventing you from buying one now? Set an example.

Here’s another thought, if our same PM raised gas by $1 a liter with an environmental tax tomorrow, the Canadian public would throw him and his party out of power the next day. That is what I mean by the ambivalence (and possibly hypocrisy) of the Canadian public. Regards,

Paul Gerard : Strategic Council Survey from CTV : “An increasing number of Canadians are willing to make sacrifices for the environment, according to a poll conducted for CTV News and The Globe and Mail. About 93% of those surveyed said they were willing to make some kind of sacrifice to solve global warming, according to findings from the poll conducted by the The Strategic Counsel.

According to the results: ~76% are willing to pay to have their houses retro-fitted to become more energy efficient ~73% would reduce the amount they fly to times when it is only absolutely necessary ~72% would pay more for a fuel-efficient car ~62% are willing to have the economy grow at a significantly slower rate ~61% would reduce the amount they drive in half. ~64% said they were not ready to pay significantly higher prices for gasoline or home heating fuel” So one-third of Canadians are already prepared to pay more for gas. I find that astounding.