Associated Press & Global Warming: Never Let Facts Get in the Way of a Good Theory

 

BACKGROUND: The Associated Press has recently run two global warming stories by AP Special Correspondent Charles P. Hanley that misrepresent objective facts about climate, apparently for the purpose of leading readers to believe that human activities are causing the planet to warm significantly.

The AP published the same faulty information in another Hanley article1 nearly a year ago (see Ten Second Response #032204, Global Warming: Why Can't the Mainstream Press Get Even Basic Facts Right?).

The re-publication of information the AP should know to be faulty falls on the heels of another grossly misleading AP story2 about a global warming report entitled "Meeting the Climate Challenge." Readers of the AP story about the report would likely conclude the report was issued by scientific research organizations - but the sponsors were liberal activist groups.


TEN SECOND RESPONSE
: News organizations using AP materials would be well advised to independently confirm information in AP stories before publishing.


THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE
: The New York Times and CBS News once were considered beyond the reach of public criticism. They are no more. Wire services such as the Associated Press may be less obviously vulnerable because its reporters are less visible personalities while its work product tends to be presented in a low-key manner. Nonetheless, the AP is hugely influential while the accuracy of its reporting is questionable at best. If this volatile mix continues, increased scrutiny is inevitable.


DISCUSSION
:

The most recent Haney stories (for examples, see "Glaciers Shrinking in a Warming World," Washington Post, January 29, 2005, and "Antarctica's Ice Seems to be Safe, at Least for Now," USA Today, February 7, 2005) contain the following:

"Temperatures globally rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, most of that attributed by scientific consensus to the accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other warming "greenhouse gases," mostly from fossil fuel-burning."3

and

"The warming will continue as long as "greenhouse gases," primarily carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, accumulate in the atmosphere, say the U.N. panel and other authoritative scientific organizations."4

The sentences quoted above are fairly transparent attempts to convince the reader that the global warming hypothesis is true. They go beyond editorializing to provable inaccuracy, however. Here are the facts:

Half or more of 20th century global warming occurred in the first few decades of that century,5 before the widespread burning of fossil fuels (and before 82 percent of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide observed in the 20th century).6

The primary greenhouse gas is water vapor, not carbon dioxide.7

Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not come from the burning of fossil fuels. Only about 14 percent of it does.8

On the second matter, the AP article on the report "Meeting the Climate Challenge," the AP began its story:

Global warming is approaching the critical point of no return, after which widespread drought, crop failure and rising sea-levels would be irreversible, an international climate change task force warned Monday.

The report, 'Meeting the Climate Challenge,' called on the G-8 leading industrial nations to cut carbon emissions, double their research spending on green technology and work with India and China to build on the Kyoto Protocol.

"An ecological time-bomb is ticking away," said Stephen Byers, who co-chaired the task force with U.S. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, and is a close confidant of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "World leaders need to recognize that climate change is the single most important long term issue that the planet faces."

The independent report, by the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, the Center for American Progress in the United States and The Australia Institute, is timed to coincide with Blair's commitment to advance international climate change policy during Britain's G-8 presidency...

...According to the report, urgent action is needed to stop the global average temperature rising by 2 degrees Celsius above the level in 1750 -- the approximate start of the Industrial Revolution when mankind first started significantly polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Beyond a 2 degrees rise, "the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly" the report said, adding there would be a risk of "abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change."

It warned of "climatic tipping points" such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down.

No accurate temperature readings were available for 1750, the report said, but since 1860, global average temperature had risen by 0.8 percent to 15 degrees Celsius.

The two degrees rise could be avoided by keeping the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 400 parts per million (ppm). Current concentrations of 379 ppm "are likely to rise above 400 ppm in coming decades and could rise far higher under a business-as-usual scenario," the report warned...."9

Readers could be forgiven for believing the three organizations sponsoring the report are independent, objective scientific research organizations. Certainly nothing in the AP's text tells anyone not already familiar with the groups that they are anything but objective:

The Center for American Progress, in its "What We're About" section on its website, gives one of its four reasons to exist as "responding effectively and rapidly to conservative proposals and rhetoric with a thoughtful critique and clear alternatives." The other three cited reasons are various methods of promoting liberal political ideology.10

A publication by The Australia Institute openly revealed that the report's purpose was to influence governmental action, not to provide new scientific information about the climate.11 Other Australia Institute publications, including press materials about the report,12 also make this clear. Readers of the AP story, however, are never told this.

Britain's Institute for Public Policy Research says starkly at the top left of its Internet home page "IPPR is the UK's leading progressive think tank."13 It also says of itself, "IPPR was formed... to act as a dynamic, independent catalyst for progressive thinking on the centre-left... [IPPR's] emergence was crucial in providing an alternative space to rival the thinking of free-market think-tanks."14

The three left-of-center organizations were more open about their agenda than the AP was on their behalf.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Charles J. Hanley, "Antarctica's Ice Seems to Be Safe, at Least for Now," Associated Press, February 2005, available on various websites, including USA Today (February 7, 2005) at http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/coldscience/2005-02-01-warming-2-6-antarctica_x.htm

Charles J. Hanley, "Glaciers Shrinking in a Warming World," Associated Press, January 2005, available on various websites, including the Washington Post (January 29, 2005) at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A47696-2005Jan29.html and the Deseret News (January 30, 2005) at http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,600108419,00.html

Ed Johnson, "Report: Global Warming Approaching Critical Point: 'An Ecological Time-Bomb is Ticking Away,'" Associated Press, published on CNN.com at http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/science/01/24/climate.change.ap/ on January 24, 2005; also published online January 24, 2005 online at the Natural Resources Defense Council website at http://www.nrdc.org/news/newsDetails.asp?nID=1596

Charles J. Hanley, "CO2 Buildup Accelerating in Atmosphere," Associated Press, as run by USA Today on March 21, 2004 at http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2004-03-21-co2-buildup_x.htm

Dr. Robert Balling, "The Increase in Global Temperature: What It Does and Does Not Tell Us," George C. Marshall Institute, September 1, 2003 at http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=170

Summary of remarks of Dr. S. Fred Singer at the Scientific Alliance conference Apocalypse No! held at the Royal Institution, London, January 27, 2005 at http://www.sepp.org/NewSEPP/Apocalypse-NO.htm

"The Increase in Global Temperature: What It Does and Does Not Tell Us," George C. Marshall Institute, December 7, 2004 at http://www.marshall.org/article.php?id=268

by Amy Ridenour

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110 or [email protected]

The National Center for Public Policy Research
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002


Footnotes:


(1) Charles J. Hanley, "CO2 Buildup Accelerating in Atmosphere," Associated Press, March 2004, available on various websites, including http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2004-03-21-co2-buildup_x.htm, http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/3/21/170709.shtml, http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/8241534.htm and many others (headlines used vary).

(2) Ed Johnson, "Report: Global Warming Approaching Critical Point: 'An Ecological Time-Bomb is Ticking Away,'" Associated Press, published on CNN.com at http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/science/01/24/climate.change.ap/ on January 24, 2005; also published online January 24, 2005 online at the Natural Resources Defense Council website at http://www.nrdc.org/news/newsDetails.asp?nID=1596.

(3) Charles J. Hanley, "Antarctica's ice seems to be safe, at least for now," Associated Press, February 2005, available on various websites, including USA Today (February 7, 2005) at http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/coldscience/2005-02-01-warming-2-6-antarctica_x.htm (headlines used vary).

(4) Charles J. Hanley, "Glaciers Shrinking in a Warming World," Associated Press, January 2005, available on various websites, including the Washington Post (January 29, 2005) at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A47696-2005Jan29.html and the Deseret News (January 30, 2005) at http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,600108419,00.html.

(5) This is based on a review of global satellite and balloon temperature measurements and high-quality U.S.-based surface temperature station measurements. For additional details understandable to laymen, we recommend the short document "There Has Been No Global Warming for the Past 70 Years," published by The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.

(6) "Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," Oregon Institute of Science and Health, 2001, http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm.

(7) See "The Greenhouse Effect and Greenhouse Gases: An Overview," Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy (available at http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/pubs_html/attf94_v2/chap2.html) for a good summary of this issue understandable to the layman.

(8) "Frequently Asked Global Change Question: What percentage of the CO2 in the atmosphere has been produced by human beings through the burning of fossil fuels?," Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, March 2004, available at http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/pns/faq.html as of February 8, 2005.

(9) "Report: Global warming approaching critical point: 'An ecological time-bomb is ticking away,'" Associated Press, published on CNN.com at http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/science/01/24/climate.change.ap/ on January 24, 2005.

(10) "What We're About," Center for American Progress, available online at http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=3459 as of February 8, 2005.

(11) "Newsletter No. 38, March 2004," The Australia Institute, available online at http://www.tai.org.au/ as of February 8, 2005.

(12) For example, a December, 2004 Australia Institute press release entitled "International Climate Change Taskforce Meets in Sydney," available at http://www.tai.org.au/ as of February 8, 2005.

(13) The Institute for Public Policy Research's home page at http://www.ippr.org.uk/home/ as of February 8, 2005.

(14) "About IPPR: IPPR's Influence on Policy," The Institute for Public Policy Research, available online at http://www.ippr.org.uk/about/index.php?current=influence as of February 8, 2005.

 


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