Media Misconceptions Help Lead to Public Fear of Global Warming, by Christopher Burger

BACKGROUND: The Washington Post repeatedly has reported that areas of the U.S. will warm extensively in the coming century.

On December 17, 2001, for example, citing a report commissioned by Congress, the Post reported that the Northeast (New England and New York) could warm extensively in the upcoming century. The report claims that temperatures could rise between six and nine degrees in the next century and that the temperature increases could lead to disastrous environmental, economic and social conditions.

On March 4, 2002, the Post reported that warming trends in the eastern Midwest and Great Lakes regions “could be hardest hit by the long-term effects of global warming,” resulting in shifting migratory patterns for American songbirds.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: A review of the actual scientific record shows that atmospheric increases in temperature are nonexistent. This information is too important to be ignored in these stories.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: NASA satellite data show temperatures in the lower atmosphere have not risen in over 20 years although numerous computer models by global warming theory advocates predicted that such increases should have occurred by now. Many scientists acknowledge that we can’t predict future climate change nor are computer models able to forecast climate change accurately.

DISCUSSION: Buried in the December 17 Post story, “Northeast Seen Getting Balmier,” by Michael Powell, is that global warming “projections [are] reliant on middle of the road and sometimes contradictory predictive models.” This is as close as the article gets to acknowledging that the overall global warming theory is unsettled science. The article accepts at face value the allegation that global warming would cause sea level increases, although some climate scientists believe that any warming actually would reduce sea levels by increasing both the amount of water vapor in the air and snow accumulation at the poles. The article does, however, provide some balance to the general rule of hysterical “sky is falling” global warming reporting by citing an expert opinion that global warming would “be beneficial to [New England’s] climate and economy.”

The March 4 Post story, “A Baltimore Without Orioles, Study Says Global Warming May Rob Maryland, Other States of Their Official Birds,” by Eric Planin, also accepts the global warming theory without question, although it does note that factors other than climate change influence bird migratory patterns.

The article also reports without contrasting views the statement: “Environmentalists stress that although the long-term forecast is gloomy, the loss of the birds could be averted if government and industry agree on policies for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and improving the energy efficiency of cars, home and offices.” This is standard environmental movement boilerplate and is misleading. The truth is that supporters of the global warming theory overwhelmingly agree that all proposals currently under consideration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the unratifiable Kyoto treaty, would be insufficient to stop global warming. Meanwhile, skeptics of the theory say that greenhouse gas-reducing policies are either premature, pending more scientific research, or wholly unnecessary.

Unreliable and contradictory information about global warming is partly why Dr. Richard Lindzen, professor at MIT and a member of the panels that worked on the National Academy of Sciences and UN climate change studies, has stated that there is no agreement among scientists about the cause of climate change and the ability to forecast it. As Dr. Lindzen wrote in the Wall Street Journal on June 11, 2001: “But – and I cannot stress this enough – we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future.”

Recent warming on the surface of the earth has been measured using unreliable technologies, while more sophisticated NASA satellite data have shown no increase in warming in the lower atmosphere over the last 22 years. Claims that carbon dioxide emissions lead to global warming frequently are overstated. There was surface warming in the early 20th century, yet carbon dioxide emissions were insignificant at that time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: For an article illustrating the other side of the climate change story, see the article by Sallie Baliunas and James Glassman in The Weekly Standard, June 25, 2001.

For an archive of past Ten Second Responses on global warming, please visit

For a list of short papers on various aspects of the global warming issue, please visit

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