22 Mar 2004 Global Warming: Why Can’t the Mainstream Press Get Even Basic Facts Right? by Amy Ridenour
BACKGROUND: The Associated Press ran a global warming story1 this past weekend that makes the following statements:
“Carbon dioxide, the gas largely blamed for global warming, has reached record-high levels in the atmosphere after growing at an accelerated pace in the past year…”
“Carbon dioxide, mostly from burning of coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels, traps heat that otherwise would radiate into space.”
“Global temperatures increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) during the 20th century, and international panels of scientists sponsored by world governments have concluded that most of the warming probably was due to greenhouse gases.”
TEN SECOND RESPONSE: How many scandals does the mainstream press need before it starts routinely running stories through fact-checkers?
THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Faulty “news” stories like this one, which mislead people all over the world, are one of many alarmist global warming reports by the news media that do not reflect a consensus of scientists. What is more alarming than what scientists genuinely know about global warming is that a media outlet as influential as the AP would run a wire story this faulty, and that so many news editors would be gullible enough to run it.
DISCUSSION: A brief refutation:
Quote 1: The AP said: “Carbon dioxide, the gas largely blamed for global warming, has reached record-high levels in the atmosphere after growing at an accelerated pace in the past year…”
Facts: Carbon dioxide is not the major greenhouse gas (water vapor is).2
Carbon dioxide accounts for less than ten percent of the greenhouse effect, as carbon dioxide’s ability to absorb heat is quite limited.3
Only about 0.03 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide (nitrogen, oxygen, and argon constitute about 78 percent, 20 percent, and 0.93 percent of the atmosphere, respectively).4
The sun, not a gas, is primarily to “blame” for global warming — and plays a very key role in global temperature variations as well.
Quote 2: The AP said: “Carbon dioxide, mostly from burning of coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels, traps heat that otherwise would radiate into space.”
Fact: Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not come from the burning of fossil fuels. Only about 14 percent of it does.5
Quote 3: The AP said: “Global temperatures increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) during the 20th century, and international panels of scientists sponsored by world governments have concluded that most of the warming probably was due to greenhouse gases.”
Facts: Most of 20th Century global warming occurred in the first few decades of that century,6 before the widespread burning of fossil fuels (and before 82 percent of the increase in atmospheric CO2 observed in the 20th Century7).
The Earth does not have “world governments.” It doesn’t even have even one, as the United Nations is not a government, but an association of nations.
If the AP is referring to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the AP should become aware that the IPCC report itself (the part written by scientists) reached no consensus on climate change. What did reach a conclusion was an IPCC “summary for policymakers” prepared by political appointees.8 Most reporters quote only the summary, being either too lazy or too undereducated to understand the actual report. This does not explain, however, why reporters don’t more frequently interview scientists who helped prepare it — scientists such as IPCC participant Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT, who says the IPCC report is typically “presented as a consensus that involves hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scientists… and none of them was asked if they agreed with anything in the report except for the one or two pages they worked on.” Lindzen also draws a sharp distinction between the scientists’ document and its politicized summary: “the document itself is informative; the summary is not.”9
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Associated Press, “CO2 Buildup Accelerating in Atmosphere,” as run by USA Today on March 21, 2004 at http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2004-03-21-co2-buildup_x.htm
“Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” Oregon Institute of Science and Health, 2001, at http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm
“There Has Been No Global Warming for the Past 70 Years,” The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change at http://www.co2science.org/edit/v3_edit/v3n13edit.htm
John Carlisle, “Kyoto Cover-up: TV News Gives One-Sided View on Global Warming,” National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #337, May 2001, http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA337.html
John Carlisle, “Cooling Off on Global Warming,” National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #284, April 2000, http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA284.html
John Carlisle, “Sun to Blame for Global Warming,” National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #203, June 1998, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA203.html
by Amy Ridenour
Contact the author at: 202-507-6398 or [email protected]
The National Center for Public Policy Research
20 F Street NW, Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20001
(1) Charles J. Hanley, “CO2 Buildup Accelerating in Atmosphere,” Associated Press, 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,http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/0304/21climateside.html, and many, many others (note: the headline used on the story varies).
(2) 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.
(3) Gerald Marsh, “Climate Change Science? National Academy of Sciences Global Warming Report Fails to Live Up to Its Billing,” National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #349, August 2001, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA349.html.
(4) Edward Klappenbach, “Examining the Carbon Dioxide in Our Atmosphere,” About.com, downloaded from http://weather.about.com/cs/atmosphere/a/aa062003a.htm?terms=carbon+dioxide on March 21, 2004. Klappenbach gives the CO2 figure as .033 percent. Note: The Associated Press article being critiqued in this Ten Second Response alludes to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as meaured at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The average annual percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere determined by researchers measuring there for 2002 was .0373 percent. A chart showing average annual CO2 concentrations as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory from 1958-2002 is available at http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/ftp/maunaloa-co2/maunaloa.co2 as of March 22, 2004.
(5) “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 March 21, 2004.
(6) 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 and available online at http://www.co2science.org/edit/v3_edit/v3n13edit.htm as of March 22, 2004.
(7) “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” Oregon Institute of Science and Health, 2001, http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm.
(8) Richard S. Lindzen, PhD., “Scientists’ Report Doesn’t Support the Kyoto Treaty,” Wall Street Journal, June 11 2001 (a copy of this article is available unofficially online at http://www.enerne.dk/lindzen_i_wall_st__j_.htm). Dr. Lindzen, who is a professor of meteorology at MIT, participated — as a scientist — in the preparation of the IPCC report cited above and also was a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel on climate change that summarized the IPCC report for the U.S. government.
(9) Paul Georgia, “IPCC Report Criticized by One of Its Lead Authors,” Environment News, Heartland Institute, June 2001, available at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=1069.