It’s a Guardian headline that might cause you to think its journalists were taking a good look at themselves,
Online news service promotes false climate change study
But Suzanne Goldenberg is pointing her fingers elsewhere.
An online news service sponsored by the world’s premier scientific association unwittingly promoted a study making the false claim that catastrophic global warming would occur within nine years, the Guardian has learned.
The study, by an NGO based in Argentina, claimed the planet would warm by 2.4C by 2020 and projected dire consequences for global food supply. A press release for the Food Gap study was carried by EurekAlert!, the news service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) , and the story was picked up by a number of international news organisations on Tuesday.
“This is happening much faster than we expected,” Liliana Hisas, executive director of the Universal Ecological Fund (UEF) and author of the study, said of her findings.
I can’t quite believe what I am reading. A Guardian journalist… A guardian environmental journalist… is accusing someone of alarmism?
In an email, Gavin Schmidt, a Nasa climatologist wrote: “2.4C by 2020 (which is 1.4C in the next 10 years – something like six to seven times the projected rate of warming) has no basis in fact.”
The AAAS, which runs the EurekAlert! News service, removed reference to the study from its website on Tuesday afternoon.
“We primarily rely on the submitting organisation to ensure the veracity of the scientific content of the news release,” Ginger Pinholster, director of the office of public programmes for AAAS said.
“In this case, we immediately contacted a climate-change expert after receiving your query. That expert has confirmed for us that the information indeed raises many questions in his mind, and therefore we have removed the news release from EurekAlert!”
But by then the study had been picked up by a number of international news organisations including the French news agency AFP, Spain’s EFE news agency, the Canadian CTV television network and the Vancouver Sun, and the Press Trust of India.
For some climate scientists, the false claims made by the UEF paper recalled the highly damaging episode in which the IPCC, the UN’s climate science body, included the false information about melting of the Himalayan glaciers in its 2007 report.
Lawks-a-lordy! Even Gavin Schmidt is worried about over-egging the climate change pudding!
Are they finally beginning to get it? Is the Guardian going to be the newspaper of coherent, sober environmental reporting? They’d have to do something about this little series, though… In August 2008, Andrew Simms of the New Economics foundation declared that there were just 100 months to save the planet:
If you shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behaviour and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don’t want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.
Because in just 100 months’ time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change
Simms has been writing a monthly doomsday countdown article ever since. And now there are — according to him — only 71 months left.
If Goldenburg really wants to challenge naked alarmism, she could stay in her employers offices. The Guardian is such a deep and rich mine of doom-saying and hysteria, I’ve never had to look much further than its latest articles for something to blog about.
Damien Carrington seems to be in unusually reflective mood, too…
By mass, 99.9% of the Earth is hotter than 100C. That means that not far below our feet is the power to boil unlimited water and generate clean, renewable energy. Is the UK throwing all it can at this extraordinary opportunity? Of course not, who do you think we are? Germans?
That contrasts strikingly with the more glamorous sister of deep geothermal energy, nuclear power. Both ultimately tap the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements. Geothermal plants send water down holes to bring to the surface the heat from natural radioactive decay deep in the mantle. Nuclear power mines the radionucleides, concentrates them, sends them critical and then wonders what to do with the leftover mess – not very elegant by comparison.
Credit where it is due, it’s the right kind of question to ask. And it also speaks about the possibilities that exist, rather than the predominant eco-narrative of doom and limits. But Carrington is only so reflective…
Because instead of asking ‘why nuclear, rather than geothermal?’, a better question would have been ‘why wind, rather than geothermal?’. After all, wind has been the ‘technology’ of choice for environmentalists in government and in newspapers. It’s wind that enjoys the most support from government. And it is wind that really divides opinion; both about its efficacy, and its own impact on the natural environment. Who could really object to a geothermal energy plant? (I am willing to place a bet that should the UK ever get round to developing geothermal energy production, some environmentalist will find a reason to raise objections to it.)
There is no choice between nuclear and geothermal, of course. We could do both. What’s interesting is the way we see alarmism creep sideways into Carrington’s argument: nuclear is dangerous, and therefore undesirable. Nuclear is dangerous, of course. But if it wasn’t dangerous, it probably wouldn’t be as useful. Carrington begins an interesting discussion, but it’s ultimately predicated on the silly preoccupation with risk, rather than a sober discussion about how it can be managed. The reason we should develop nuclear energy is that it offers us greater possibilities, not because, just like geothermal, it allows us to ‘keep the lights on’. The discussion about energy still treats demand for energy as something that has to be met, almost begrudgingly, by authority, for the sake of merely coping. The energy discussion should instead be informed by what it is possible to do with more and more of it: more movement, more life, less manual labour, less going without. But that discussion is completely offensive to the core of the environmentalist’s perspective, which is absolutely committed to the idea of natural limits. The differences between the way human-centric and eco-centric arguments about energy develop are moral, not technical.