How the media report ‘climate change’

For a few evenings now I have watched repeats of the same TV ad for an insurer, to the effect ‘that’s why more people insure their homes with XXXX’. As an old numbers person, I kept asking my patient and long-suffering wife ‘More than whom? More than a thousand? More than what?’ She declined to provide an answer.

It reminded me of that old ad for a particular toothpaste: ‘Nine out of ten dentists recommend XXXX’. Which set of ten dentists was that? Who chose them? Why them? Why not my dentist, who doesn’t recommend toothpastes of any kind? Indeed, none of my dentists has ever recommended a particular brand of toothpaste. And none of my doctors (I’ve really only had three since 1961) has ever recommended a particular brand of any pharmaceutical product. To me, those pictures of men in white coats with a smile and a product are bogus.

The point is that these claims use a form of language (in this case, numbers) to induce us to buy a service or a product, and they are put forward as though their validity is perfect. But it’s just advertising. Maybe no one believes these claims, but they get repeated and repeated.

It seems to me that ‘selling the brand’ is moving into the way our media report things, too. To take an obvious example, Channel 9 has invested heavily into sport on television, and its news broadcasts put an inordinate amount of time into Rugby League. Quite minor events, what’s going on about a coach, the family sagas of footballers, club news and the like make up quite a portion of what counts as ‘news’, but it’s actually advertising the station’s product, which is one code of football.

When we get into what counts as ‘news’ in the wider world you can see the same drift. I was struck by the language in a number of news sources over a ‘climate change’ event last week. The event was another in the never-ending series of conferences in preparation for the  Paris talks at the end of the year. What happens is that officials gather to prepare an agenda. Then another set of officials gathers to look at the shape of the proposed agreement. Then yet another set of officials meets to draft such an agreement, which requires negotiation. The most recent meeting was in Bonn. Then the leaders arrive to bless the document, and we have a global agreement. Or not.

Apparently there has been a ‘stalemate’. It is ‘crunch time’. The negotiations have ‘bogged down’, and there have been ‘roadblocks’ (I’m just plucking phrases from press statements), and the lack of success in getting anywhere has prompted a group of well-known oldies, or former persons of power, like Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, to call for world leaders to step into these negotiations, remove the roadblocks, and ‘lay the groundwork’ for a Paris climate deal’.  They call themselves The Elders, which seems pretentious to me.

‘[This year] will conclude two of the most important international processes of our times [sustainable development goals, and a Paris agreement],’ the group said, addressing heads of government. ‘You can prove to be a historic generation of leaders who will have a profound and positive impact that echoes through the century.’ Wow.

There’s not a lot of information about exactly what has caused the roadblock and the bog, but the tone of the reporting is clear. Now The Guardian is well known as an expositor of the threat of global warming and ‘climate change’, and some of the inverted commas above surrounded Guardian talk. The newspaper summarised the situation like this:  the latest round of pre-Paris negotiations ended with many key issues left open. That stalemate leaves only five official negotiating days left before the Paris climate conference, at which governments are supposed to forge a new global climate change agreement to take effect from 2020. 

The message in this news report is that the people doing the negotiations don’t know how important this all is, and need to be reminded. Now you might expect that stance from The Guardian. But what about Agence France-Presse, which is a news service from Paris, and the third largest in the world after AP and Reuters? Its golden rules, according to its website are  truth, impartiality and plurality… These values guarantee rigorous, verified news, free from political or commercial influence. That’s pretty straightforward.

How did it report the roadblock? Well, one story tells the reader that The Paris agreement is meant to slow the march of dangerous global warming by slashing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from mankind’s unbridled burning of fossil fuels. You couldn’t ask for anything more impartial and evidence-based that that, could you.

Another AFP story about the same event has these balanced sentences: The all-too-real prospect of climate catastrophe on a horizon of decades, not centuries, coupled with a rising tide of expectations, would seem to be powerful incentives to forge an agreement that is truly up to the task. Science makes it clear that the laissez-faire alternative is a climate-addled future of mega-storms, drought, water wars and mass migration. It is also a reminder that the window of opportunity for acting is barely ajar — if human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases don’t peak very soon and drop very swiftly, it may soon slam shut.

But don’t blame the diplomats, the writer urges: Without clear instructions from their ministers and, at the top of the political food chain, state leaders, they can only go so far in removing the logjams that have beleaguered climate talks for years.

What typifies prose like this, in the context of a news-gathering organisation, is the lack of interest in details. Why is there a log-jam, a bog and a road-block? Because it is not clear at all that there is any real climate challenge. Some of the poorer countries are in there for the money they hope might flow from the rich nations to the poor, if there is an agreement. None of the rich countries is interested in passing over large amounts of money to anyone. A lot of the ‘developed nations’ are not in a position to ‘transition’ to the green world of alternative and renewable energy (actually, no country is, but some pretend they are).

Nations that are not in the poor and angry group are in a difficult position. The orthodoxy says that they must combat ‘climate change’, and no leader yet is prepared to say publicly and firmly that the evidence doesn’t support the need to do so, at least now, if at all. So their representatives find something to dicker about, because there is no hope of a real agreement. The news media, having accepted the orthodoxy, and having little money to spend on investigative journalism (or anything else, for that matter), wave their hands and say that ‘something must be done’.

The amount of money wasted on this most unproductive endeavour keeps growing and growing. I hope the Abbott Government has only spent the minimum necessary, and that our representative at the Paris talks will be a middle-level public servant.

Footnote: While The Guardian story was easy to find, I could not trace back the AFP stories to their source because the link failed: my machine told me that it could not locate the server, and when I tried to bypass and go straight to AFP (4 September) I got the same message. The source that I used was the Global Warming Policy Foundations’s news brief of 5 September. You can get that easily.

Join the discussion 61 Comments

  • G van Rijswijk says:

    with 95%+ of the supposed greenhouse effect coming from naturally occurring water vapour and 96% of carbon dioxide emissions occurring naturally, how does the reduction of ‘anthropogenic’ carbon dioxide emissions do anything to change the weather? That, of course, assumes that the greenhouse theory is valid. The way I see it, the notion that additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can result in heat being transferred from the cold upper atmosphere to the warmer lower atmosphere seems to break a few laws of thermodynamics and quantum physics. Rather like expecting water to run up hill all by itself.

    When are we going to get rid of the scam?

    • dlb says:

      Well the “cold” upper atmosphere is like a warm blanket if you compare it with the near absolute zero of outer space. It and the rest of the atmosphere does have a warming effect on the surface.

      • G van Rijswijk says:

        That is not what the IPCC says. They talk in terms of radiative transfer
        Blankets are insulators I.e. cpnduction.
        As I said the science does not add up

        • dlb says:

          But foil blankets used by emergency services when rescuing hypothermic patients are radiators of reflective heat, even though they may be at freezing temperatures in a conductive sense.
          The upper atmosphere is a radiator in much the same way.

          • G van Rijswijk says:

            There have been several posts in response to my comments. Many thanks. JimboR was kind enough to point to a site explaining why the ‘greenhouse effect’ does not violate the second law of thermodynamics. However, I am not convinced. It points out that the net effect of absorbing gasses is to change the temperature profile of the atmosphere and therefore the surface heats up due to an increase in downwelling radiation. However, this would have to be accompanied by cooling elsewhere in order to maintain radiative balance with incoming sunlight. Is there evidence from radiosonde balloons and/or satellite data that this is happening?

            They go on to say that we need greenhouse theory to explain why the earth’s surface is 33 degrees warmer than it would be if the earth did not have an atmosphere and simple radiated heat out to space.

            Whatever is happening, the net result of the greenhouse effect would seem to be a transfer of heat from a colder part of the atmosphere (upper region) to a warmer part of the atmosphere (lower) via radiative transfer. This is not in accord with Planck’s quantum theory of radiation, as the warmer lower atmosphere would not be able to absorb the kind of quanta of energy emitted by the colder molecules .

            However we still need to explain why the earth is 33 degrees warmer than it should be without resorting to greenhouse theory. This is simply the result of the earth having both gravity and an atmosphere. The temperature of the various parts of the atmosphere is related to the kinetic energy they have (due to heat) and potential energy due to height. This approach also accounts for the temperature of the atmospheres of other planets in our solar system.

            The IPCC needs to rely on the greenhouse gas theory in order to blame human emissions for any warming (I have explained in a previous post how small a relative impact they have – even if the greenhouse theory is applied). In order to ensure that humans get the blame, IPCC also says that temperature is not affected by natural variation – although they forget to explain why natural variation suddenly stopped with the industrial revolution. Note that it is recognised that the Medieval Warm Period and the Roman warm period before it were at least as warm, if not warmer the the 20th C warming.

            They also cannot explain why the other planets in our solar system exhibit similar temperature cycles of warming and cooling.

            In any case, let us assume that the greenhouse gas theory is valid. The amount of warming we will experience through an increase of carbon dioxide is dependent on the estimate of climate sensitivity – the amount of warming we will experience with a doubling of CO2. The estimate of this number is steadily decreasing and recent papers put this at around 1 degree C. We then need to realise that, under greenhouse theory, the effect of CO2 is logarithmic. The means that the second doubling of CO2 will have only half the effect of the first doubling. So we are unlikely to be cooking any time soon.

            Then we need to look at mitigation. How much do we need to reduce emissions to limit temperature rise. Given that 96% of CO2 emissions are natural we do not have much of a chance to influence the outcome – even if we can convince China and India (and Germany) to stop building coal fired power plants.

            So when are we going to call an end to this scam?

          • JimboR says:

            “Is there evidence from radiosonde balloons and/or satellite data that this is happening?”

            Yep, the general trend is it’s getting warmer down lower, and cooler up higher.

            http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n10/fig_tab/nclimate1908_F2.html

          • David says:

            This is a scrambled polemic. 🙂

    • David says:

      Don, being a self declared “luke warmists” would you like to respond.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        No one has yet showed how the increase in carbon dioxide manifests itself as warming: it is predicted to, and it seems to, but what we know is that there have been milder winter temperatures rather than stronger summer ones. The UHI effect masks exactly how much this is the case.

        How this translates into ‘weather’ is not at all clear. CO2 has nothing to do (at least not even the IPCC says it has) with el Nino and la Nina events, which affect Australia’s eastern side. Much less is known about the Indian Ocean and its phases.

        As for forecast ‘extreme weather events’, they are the work of modellers, and the IPCC (at SREX) says that there is no connection that has been established.

        That’s my contribution.

        • David says:

          So, a denialist?

          • Don Aitkin says:

            David, as always, if you have some decent argument + evidence to offer that shows I have made a great error, please provide it for everyone.

          • David says:

            My argument is that from time to time you don the fig leaf of reasonableness by proclaiming that you do accept the increase in CO2 has caused some increase in temperature. This opening statement is typically followed by some white-anting of AGW.

            Luke-warmism is broad Church and will happily accept any one, except people who say

            “No one has yet showed how the increase in carbon dioxide manifests itself as warming…”

            so I am hereby kicking you out 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            You didn’t read as carefully as I would wish. Increased warming is probable, but it doesn’t happen everywhere, and it doesn’t happen even on average, as in the last twenty years. Eastern Australia generally has had a cold winter and early spring, but other parts of the world have been warmer at the same time. How can that be? We don’t know. So we get excuses like ‘there doesn’t have to be a linear response to carbon dioxide accumulations’. Well, what does there have to be? What is the test?

            And, to repeat, Nobody has shown exactly how it is that increased CO2 manifests itself as ‘weather’.

            Why do you accept the orthodoxy?

          • G van Rijswijk says:

            There does not appear to be a strong correlation between rising CO2 levels and temperature. Most of the increase in temp seems to have occurred during the first half of the 20th century when CO levels were low. There was then a period of cooling up to the 70 as CO level were increasing after which Temps started to rise again. More recently, as CO continues to increase, Temps appear to be steady.

            I know that the ICC does not want to admit that there are natural causes for temp increases, but climate scientist are now trying to explain away the lack of warming using natural variability. Others, not of thee climate faith, including NASH solar scientists, are predicting an extended period of cooling, based on analysis of sunspot cycles.

            Given that cooling would be of much greater concern than warming, perhaps it would be better for the Paris conference to focus on that possibility.

          • dlb says:

            I think the ICC should stick to cricket rather than meddle in climate 🙂

          • David says:

            Woulda coulda shoulda; Denialists are always telling the rest of us about some “special” study that’s on the way. There are heaps of data available on sun spots and the Earths’s orbit etc. Go have a look at them and tell us what you find. 🙂

          • David says:

            Ok Don you are back in, but as a provisional member only. You will be required to report to the BoM and CSIRO 3 times a week. 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Perhaps they should report to me, and to those others who find their papers less than compelling..

          • David says:

            Don,

            A fairly major statistical quibble

            “…and it doesn’t happen even on average…”

            When we report a statistically significant coefficient (alpha) we are saying that “on average a 1 unit increase in X causes (or is correlated with) a alpha unit change in Y.

            So yes, AGW does happen on average.

            But you can still remain in the club.

          • DON says:

            Perhaps I should have said ‘global average’. But I think the point was plain enough.

          • David says:

            What is your point? If it is that there is variation around the mean, some high readings and some low readings etc, that is hardly new! The whole reason that statistics was developed was to analyse data that varied around a mean.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Simple: carbon dioxide accumulations have grown but average global temperature hasn’t, according to the satellite data, which do cover the whole world. Now I am a lukewarmer, so it should have grown, but it didn’t. Ergo, there is something else that masks that warming. You have a choice: there is no link, or there is a masking effect, which could also be an enhancing effect. What’s your choice? You could say, let’s wait and see, but that’s my line. You want us to take measures to protect ourselves against warming that isn’t happening, but might reappear. I can’t see how that is justified, given the evidence.

          • David says:

            Don your logic is hard to follow. If, as you claim, CO2 is rising but average temperature is static, why are you a luke-warmer? The facts as you see them suggest no correlation.

            I accept the AGW hypothesis because,

            1) There is plausible data generating process
            2) 100 years of supporting time series data

            and not to appear too slavish to scientific trends

            3.) A fair slab of the scientific that think so, too.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Why am I a lukewarmer? I accept the physics (not everyone does). There should be an increase of about 1 degreeC for each doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Inasmuch as we can rely on the temperature data in the past, that proposition seems to be supported, more or less, by the increases over the 20th century. The time series data to which you refer show two periods of warming in the last hundred years, a period of slight cooling, and another (contemporary) period of stasis. Plainly, something else is at work besides CO2.

            What is wrong with my logic?

          • David says:

            This sentence here

            “Inasmuch as we can rely on the temperature data in the past, that proposition seems to be supported, more or less, by the increases over the 20th century.’

            is inconsistent with

            “…but average global temperature hasn’t”

          • Don Aitkin says:

            You really are a careless nitpicker, aren’t you! There has been an increase of about 0.7 degrees C over the 20th century, if you allow the data about the period before the second world war, which have been fiddled with everywhere. That is consistent, more or less, with the increase in CO2.

            Now what I said above was that ‘average global temperature hasn’t [risen], according to the satellite data’. The satellite data start in 1979. What I said is correct. What you have said is not.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Not a response to what I wrote. You are showing me a plot of satellite data. It stops at 2010. You should go to climate4you (http://www.climate4you.com/GlobalTemperatures.htm#An%20overview%20to%20get%20things%20into%20perspective)

            There has been no discernible warming at all for 18 + years according to RSS, a smaller period for UAH. Yes, the earth seems to have warmed up over the last hundred years. But it has done so in fits and starts. At the moment we are not having warming, but stasis. RSS even says cooling over the last 15 years.

            This is a widely accepted statement, and as a lukewarmer I have the view that some of the warming is due to CO2. Enough!

          • David says:

            What you are arguing is that for the last 20 years some unknown process has masked the “luke–warming” that you accept has occurred for the previous 70.

            Segmenting your data, with no theoretical reason to do so, is called cherry picking.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            No. I said that the warming and cooling and stasis periods alternate. You can see that in any plot of the last 100 years. Cooling-warming-cooling-warming-stasis (or cooling, according to RSS). I don’t accept that warming occurred for the previous 70 years (presumably from 1935 to 1995), and have not said so. Go and look at the data.

            Here’s one in today, all based on the five datasets:

            http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/09/14/august-2015-global-surface-landocean-and-lower-troposphere-temperature-anomaly-model-data-difference-update/

          • David says:

            If “[you] don’t accept that warming occurred for the previous 70 years ” then you are a “denier” at least for that 70 years.

            And that statement is at odds with

            “Yes, the earth seems to have warmed up over the last hundred years.”

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Give up, David.

          • JimboR says:

            I’m confused. Don, do you believe the temperature trend over the last 100 years has been upwards or don’t you? If you do, then does identifying windows in that 100 years where it hasn’t increased mean the problem is solved, or does it mean there’s some “noise” in the system, the source of which is yet to be identified and understood?

          • David says:

            Thanks, I was beginning to doubt myself . 🙂

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Jimbo, I’m sorry that I have confused you. Let’s look at a graph. There’s dozens of them, and they vary according to how the axes are configured. But they all tell the same story.

            David will look at the line and say, as do many, that there is a strong upward trend, and there is. But I look at the variation in the upward line. There’s a generally downward push to about 1910, then an upward one until about 1945, then downward till about 1975, then upward again to 1998, then flat to 2010 (and to 2015, though that’s not shown on the graph).

            The slope is consistent with the theory that a doubling of carbon dioxide will lead to an increase of one degree Celsius. But plainly other things are happening. There are several explanations, but they are hard to pin down, and hard to join. The black-box explanation is called ‘natural variability’, meaning that we don’t really know. That’s the ‘noise’ you refer to. There is no sign of ‘climate sensitivity’ in this graph (the notion that positive feedbacks will turn 1 degree C into 4.5 degrees C).

            As I understand the term, a lukewarmer accepts the 1 degree C rise for a doubling, but not ‘climate sensitivity’, in the absence of any data supporting it.

            I hope that helps.

          • David says:

            “But plainly other things are happening.”:

            No Don. This is bad methodological practice. Whether it be temperature time series or any other data series, you should not draw conclusions like that without evidence.

            It is ok to suspect other process. A thorough scientist would not jump to that conclusion without some evidence.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            You are exasperating! What on earth do you mean by ‘bad methodological practice’? There is a jagged line there. It is the IPCC that refers to the difference between straight linearity and what we see on the graph as to be explained in part by ‘natural variability’. I haven’t drawn ‘a conclusion’ — I have just offered what might be the explanation. I know no more than the IPCC, and have said no more, either.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I could add that there is another possibility, and that is that the data aren’t very good. I think that is true of the early stuff (pre-WWII). But everyone agrees that these are the data we have, even Bob Carter. So if you accept the data you have to account for the variation.

          • G van Rijswijk says:

            If the increase in temperature is due to CO2 why did temperatures decline from mid century to the 1970’s just as CO2 was increasing? If high temperature is correlated with CO2, what explains the higher temperatures experienced during the Medieval Warm Period, or the warmer temperatures in the Roman Warm Period or the still warmer Minoan Period? There were no power stations or people driving SUVs

          • G van Rijswijk says:

            Correlation is not causation.

          • David says:

            Correct.

          • JimboR says:

            While you’ve got the membership hood up, it might be time to review Peter Dutton’s standing as well:

          • David says:

            Don’t start me 🙂

          • Margaret says:

            Don, isn’t your masthead in denial itself? A list of what the blog is sometimes about and then – Oh, and ‘Climate Change’ – which is what your blog is really all about.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            What exactly would I be denying? I have written quite a lot about food and wine, music, theatre, a lot about politics, and a great deal about climate change. But I agree that it is lopsided. I hope to have a new website in due course, and a separate one for DA as an author, so the two aren’t competing.

    • JMO says:

      Hi G van Rijswick

      Adding more CO2 in the atmosphere will slightly increase % water vapour, a higher water vapour increases “greenhouse effect” and reduces the lapse rate of our atmosphere, a lower lapse rate reduces convection between lower and higher atmosphere; cooling the higher atmosphere ie a positive feedback. However a warmer lower atmosphere and a cooler higher atmosphere increases rate of radiation energy (outside the 15-micron CO2 absorption line) through the more transparent higher atmosphere and out to space – a negative feedback.

      And we have not considered the extra albedo due to increased cloud cover. The more you look in to this the more there is to find. But the imminent, tipping point catastrophic AGW view is doom mongering junk science.

  • Dasher says:

    I really enjoyed two stories I read today one from about 1889 (yes that’s correct) and the other from the Canberra Times circa 1980 something……saying in the first case the Maldives were at risk from sea rise and the second saying by now the Maldives should be history…… and whats absolutely stuns me is the warmist’s don’t miss a beat…not a flicker of doubt..they simply move onto to the next apicalyptic prediction. And these are the people saying that sceptics are the nutters. I don’t know what the truth is but at least I have an open mind.

  • Margaret says:

    Hmm – how many here are hierarchical individualists?

    http://bigthink.com/Mind-Matters/why-smart-people-deny-climate-change

    • Don Aitkin says:

      It’s an interesting piece, and was widely referred to when it came out. But the message surely is that there is no apparent monopoly either of truth or science on the orthodox side.

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