Posted by Esqui
December 17th, 2009
On Tuesday, the Daily Express published an article entitled Climate Change is natural: 100 reasons why. Of course, we’ve come to expect differing views on climate change from some of the media (as well we should on any major world issue), but this article was not only on scientifically dodgy ground, the article itself is of a pretty poor journalistic standard as much of it is padding, hypocrisy or downright irrelevant. I’m not going to do much debunking of the scientific points raised, the New Scientist has done much of that already (and it’s well worth a read), but I will give some other reasons as to why the article is not what the Express was hoping it to be, and why many readers left comments such as “my 14 year old neighbour kid is able to disprove more than 50% of this so called arguments why climate change would be natural…”
Firstly, hypocrisy: This revolves around point 8 –
“The IPCC theory is driven by just 60 scientists and favourable reviewers not the 4,000 usually cited.”
Assuming this to be true, we are told to discount man-made climate change because only 60 people have written in favour of it. The overwhelming implication is that climate change does not exist except in the minds of a minority of scientists, and that most scientists don’t believe it. Now let’s look at some other Daily Express reasons. How about points 12, 13, 15, 16, 21, 57, 61, 62, 63, 64, 70 and 76? What do these all have in common? The Express cites just one person as evidence for these theories, among them such non-experts as Denis Lilley MP, and Lord Lawson. Either we are to accept that evidence from one person is true, in which case the Express’ suggestion that 60 people is not evidence enough is not valid, or that over a tenth of the article can be discounted because ‘not enough’ people have supported the opinions.
Next – irrelevance: Some of the points bear no resemblance on the climate issue today. The quote from Peter Lilley (point 13) would seem to suggest that climate change is not natural because fewer British people believe in it. This would be good if what British people believed actually happened. Several million kids believe in Santa, doesn’t make him real (sorry if I just spoilt that for you). Others, such as point 29, state things such as “The climate was hottest 7000 years ago”. Again, bearing no relevance to today’s issue.
Next up, the problem of repetition: This is where much of the article falls down. As an example, read points 3, 5, 33 and 85. All of these are different ways of saying “CO2 levels were higher in the past”, and reading through the article brings up more topics which seem to be repeated. The Express also seems to have used the copy/paste function more than once, with many points having the exact same wording, for example the number of points beginning “The “Climate-gate” scandal revealed that a scientific team…” – which is rather lazy journalism, if nothing else.
We also have arguments which seem to contradict the main point of the article: Point 88 intrigued me in this way. It says that CO2 has changed throughout history, and yet has been growing since the industrial revolution, and is still in constant growth. Again, I’m not arguing about the scientific content as that’s already been done, but I’m quite sure that one of the main points in favour of anthropogenic climate change is rising CO2 levels from industry.
And finally, a lot of the “reasons” are not reasons at all. Much of the article contains things which aren’t arguments against man-made climate change at all. Take for example points 40, 43, 44 and 45. These all mention that increasing CO2 levels are good in some way, for example, promoting crop growth. Try reading these in relation to the title: “Climate change is natural because… The increase of the air’s CO2 content has probably helped lengthen human lifespans since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution”. One does not follow from the other. Another example here, would be the government-bashing point 60. What they’re saying with that is: “Climate change is natural because…The UK ’s environmental policy has a long-term price tag of about £55 billion, before taking into account the impact on its economic growth.” The cost of the UK’s environmental policy has no bearing on whether climate change is natural or man-made. The final one which caught my eye was point 79:
“Since the cause of global warming is mostly natural, then there is in actual fact very little we can do about it. (We are still not able to control the sun).”
As anyone with even a grasp of persuasive writing would attest, giving arguments which already assume the point you’re trying to put across is useless. It’s akin to saying “Because I say so” (which I’m surprised is not one of the points).
The Express feature is clearly designed to provide those who are sceptical about man-made climate change with some back-up of their views. The article looks like was titled before it was written – it’s a great premise, but the writer has not been able to find 100 reasons why climate change is natural. Instead, what has been published are a couple of reasons why climate change is natural (repeated numerous times), several facts about how hot the temperature was a few thousand years ago, some appropriate quotes from individuals who either have no scientific standing or only their own, possibly unverified research to draw on, and an overwhelming number of completely irrelevant points which are somewhat to do with climate change.
So why is there such a bias against man-made climate change in some papers? The answer, in my opinion is simple: they are reassuring their readers that their current lives are OK, and they’ve no need to change. The Mail, especially, is read by a huge number of people who are well-off and successful. Those same people might well be put off by their newspaper of choice telling them that what they’re doing could bring about major negative changes in their lives unless they inconvenience themselves to stop it. Climate is a hot topic (pardon the pun), and as with any such issue, there will be people on both sides. Some papers have picked up on this (on both sides of the question), and have been looking for any research which supports the views they want to put across to their readers (who want, in turn, to be able to justify their choices to others), and ignore anything in the research that could negate the point they’ve taken from it.
But whatever side a paper aligns itself with, there is no substitute for well-researched, well-thought-out articles. The Express took a gamble here, coming up with the premise of 100 reasons, and such features have worked (especially for the Independent), but here, the content was not up to the headline. It’s a commendable idea, but without being able to fully support the headline, the Express has fallen short.
However, we should note that it hasn’t failed completely. It’s aim was to give those sceptical to anthropogenic climate change a myriad points to back up and confirm their views, and maybe even convert a few undecideds. Which it will undoubtedly have done.