Lawrence Solomon: Climate changing for global warming journalists

(April 13, 2013) The Economist and other journalism icons are beginning to reassess their position on global warming.

This article was first published by the National Post.

The overwhelming consensus on global warming among journalists may be cracking. Last week, the world’s most prestigious newsmagazine – The Economistbacked 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 manmade 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.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers. Follow Lawrence Solomon on Twitter.

This article was first published by the National Post.

About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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2 Responses to Lawrence Solomon: Climate changing for global warming journalists

  1. Pol Dubh says:

    The deniers sound pretty much the same as desperate smokers and tobacco industry wallahs did a few decades ago, over the connection between smoking and health.

  2. I read and followed the Climate change arguments and even posted some replies to people whom I I read and followed the Climate change arguments and even posted some replies to people whom I thought were nut cases and i still think nut cases. I argued that the Sun goes through cycles of high sun spot activity and periods of low activity, like tem year cycles. I work in communications and can attest to Sun spot activity and weather. The pacific heats up during these high Sun Spot activity years and we have more Hurricanes ETC: I am no scientist but common sense has shown the sun has high activity cycles and low and they do impact weather. I saw Al Gore preaching about this stuff and making millions from fools. I know I am smarter than that clown
    I am glad to see your articles they are straight forward and to the point in layman’s terms so all can understand ,not Gibberish that 98 percent or more would not understand.
    Thank you for clarity on this issue.
    Models are nice but pure speculation with no real science is something else Period>.
    Billions spent on this, I need a scam like that. But could I lie knowing it was lies. I am no AL gore..

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