There have been a couple of remarkable turnarounds in the mainstream media of late. For example, Bishop Hill has noticed the significant change of perspective of Geoffrey Lean at the Telegraph:
When even zealots like Lean are in retreat it’s fair to say that something significant has changed. One can only wonder whether this change of tune is a function of the Economist’s coverage of the issue or of what Lean’s contacts are whispering to him about the Fifth Assessment Report.
The important point is that Lean is accepting that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide might not be as high as previously considered. The economist article is undoubtedly an influence, and again represents a major shift of position from alarmism. I think this is an interesting shift in the reporting of climate change. However, I am not sure that the New Zealand media are catching up yet, so I thought I would ‘pen’ and open letter to the media. I have no idea whether anyone from the media reads this blog, but I thought it was at least worth a try.
I start this letter with a simple point. The success of your newspaper is entirely dependent upon your credibility. I do not mean whether celebrity ‘x’ really had an affair with celebrity ‘y’, but on the substantive issues in the news. For the former, no doubt, the public are forgiving but, for the latter, they will be less so.
Many years ago, a group of scientists started making startling claims that humans were warming the planet due to emissions of carbon dioxide. They made predictions for temperature rises and, along with the rise in temperature, started predicting catastrophe. It was a hot news story. It was a story which could energise people into the ever so noble cause of ‘saving the planet’. With such a noble cause, it was inevitable that the cause would create passionate advocacy. Governments were caught up with the passion too, and commenced a flood of new and often expensive legislation to ‘save the planet’. Passions were raised, and you were part of that process.
We can now jump forwards to the present. The predictions of the scientists are not working out. The warming has stopped. There are also worrying evidence that the climategate scandal was revealing of a simple truth; the feet of the alarmist climate scientists are made of clay. Most recently, another hockey stick temperature chart was produced, and was hailed as a new ‘smoking gun’ for humans driving the climate into oblivion. It did not take long for the claims of the paper and the authors’ claims to the press to be dissected. It seems that they grossly manipulated the data, and the work could be characterised as grossly incompetent at best or fraudulent at worst. It is just the latest in a long line of scandals. You are not reporting on this, or the pause in temperature rise, or the implications of the pause for the climate models on which climate alarmism is founded.
I now return to the point with which I started this letter. Your reporting of climate alarmism has stoked passions, and has played a part in pressuring politicians to act to ‘save the planet’. If this alarm is a false alarm, what will this do to your credibility with your readers?
In particular, there have been a large number of credible scientists who have, for many years, either been questioning the idea of catastrophic global warming, or asking that the science of climate change acknowledge the many uncertainties in the science. As the predictions of catastrophic warming are failing to materialise, these sceptical scientists are starting to be vindicated. Up until now, you have ignored them, or in the worst case, called them ‘deniers’ of the science.
You can continue to promote the alarmism, as you have done up until now. If you do so, and the evidence of the real world continues to contradict the models of climate science alarmism, you are going to look very silly. You see, the trouble is this. It seems that some of the outlets that have previously promoted alarmism (e.g. the Economist) are starting to backtrack a little already. In doing so, they have started the process of protecting their credibility. Just as the tide of climate alarmism rapidly rose, it might just as quickly recede. To use a metaphor borrowed from a financier; you do not want to be the person who is wearing no swimsuit when the tide goes out.
You should start to now think about retaining your credibility. A first step, for those media outlets that do so, is to stop using terms such as ‘denier’. A second step is to acknowledge the uncertainties in climate science, with Professor Judith Currie as an exemplar of this position. You need to acknowledge that there is no consensus on the science. In particular, start reporting the IPCC as what it actually is, which is a fundamentally political institution. You do not have to take a sceptical stance, but simply started restoring balance to your reporting. In doing so, if the tide does indeed go back out, you will not be left exposed as wearing no swimsuit.