The Economist and other journalism icons are beginning to reassess their position on global warming.
April 13, 2013
The overwhelming consensus on global warming among journalists may be cracking. Last week, the world’s most prestigious newsmagazine – The Economist – backed away from its past alarmist position, saying that “If climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch.” The Economist now discounts the high-end estimates of warming coming from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being unlikely if not far-fetched.
And now the London Telegraph’s venerable Geoffrey Lean concurs, in an article entitled “Global warming: time to rein back on doom and gloom?” Says this pioneer of environmental journalism at the peak of his 40-year career: “climate change might not be as catastrophic as the gloomiest predictions suggest.” To the contrary, he says, the warming now expected could be “less than the 2C danger level.”
In both cases, these journalistic icons’ reassessment was based not on ideology but on fact. Temperatures have not risen over the past 15 years, making a mockery of the computer programs that showed temperatures rising in lockstep with carbon dioxide. “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions,” economist John Maynard Keynes famously said.
The information changed for both The Economist magazine and for Lean, and both then altered their conclusions. The Economist points to various reputable scientific bodies that have far less scary projections than the IPCC, including the government-funded Research Council of Norway, and it is clearly troubled by the failure of the computer models to match reality. One possibility, it says quite reasonably, is that the last decade of no warming has been an anomaly, and that warming will soon resume. “Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period,” it states, meaning that we all got worked up over what amounted to nothing more than a temporary hot spell.
The Economist and Lean join a small group of prestigious colleagues who have long been skeptical of warnings of doom, among them writers and editors at the Wall Street Journal in the U.S., at Lean’s own Telegraph in the U.K., at Der Spiegel in Germany, at The Australian in Australia and at National Post in Canada. Other journalists are now also likely to take a second look at the IPCC’s assertions, both because a change of heart on the part of The Economist cannot easily be dismissed and because no journalist wants to be in the embarrassing position of being the last to know.
For the journalists who are now reading this, and especially for those without a scientific grounding who understandably feel they must rely on authority, here is what needs to be known to cut through the scientific bafflegab and be confident as skeptics.
1. All of the scary global warming scenarios are based on computer models.
2. None of the models work.
3. There is and has been no scientific consensus.
The most common reason for believing in a scientific consensus is the claim made in the previous decade, and then routinely repeated, that 2500 scientists have endorsed the IPCC’s findings (the Internet has countless references to this effect, with the number of scientists sometimes reported as 3000 or 4000.) This claim stems from a misunderstanding. The 2500 scientists associated with the IPCC were not endorsers, they were peer reviewers. Anyone can confirm this easily, as I have, by simply contacting the Secretariat of the IPCC.
The other common reason for believing in the existence of a scientific consensus was a widely reported survey that showed 97% of scientists believe in global warming. That number came from an online survey of 10,257 earth scientists conducted by two researchers who for various reasons decided to disqualify all but 77 of the 3146 who responded. The 77 accepted had unknown qualifications – a PhD or even a Master’s degree was not required for inclusion in the survey. Of those 77, 75 thought humans contributed to climate change; the ratio 75 over 77 yields the 97% figure. Another study also brandished a 97% figure, this one produced not by a scientist but by a computer administrator doing Google Scholar searches.
To keep track of, and follow, the journalists who are becoming more skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, I have created a Twitter list, entitled Newly Skeptical AGW Media, that anyone on the Internet can see. The list now has three members: Geoffrey Lean, The Economist and Oliver Morton, a journalist who participated in an Economist podcast describing its new position. As other prominent journalists become more skeptical in their views on climate change, I’ll add them to the list, creating a record of sorts of the media’s evolution in thinking on climate change (feel free to email me with names of other journalists who belong on this list). I’ll also report on the progress of the list, or lack thereof, in future columns.
An evolution in thinking among journalists would bring journalists into the mainstream of society – journalists today are among the few groups that overwhelmingly subscribe to the view that global warming is both man made and represents a major danger. The public certainly does not. According to a Pew report released earlier this month, among Americans global warming ranks last among 21 public policy priorities that the government should deal with. European polls show similar results. This skepticism among the public – quite remarkable considering the steady diet of imminent danger that most of the western world’s press has dished out – would only increase should journalists start questioning climate change orthodoxy, as The Economist has, ending the overwhelming consensus on climate change in the media.