Climate Hype Discredits Journalists and Activists

Washington, D.C., July 15, 2014 – Is Miami sinking under the assault of a climate gone wild? That’s the characterization of an article in Britain’s left-oriented Guardian newspaper. But the piece is generating push back from non-ideological and moderate journalists. And the Guardian’s breathless hype is too often reflective of general media coverage of the climate issue.

The Guardian’s headline proclaims: “Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away.” The article by the newspaper’s science editor, Robin McKie (who certainly should know better) trumpets, “A drive through the sticky Florida heat into Alton Road in Miami Beach can be an unexpectedly awkward business. Most of the boulevard, which runs north through the heart of the resort’s most opulent palm-fringed real estate, has been reduced to a single lane that is hemmed in by bollards, road-closed signs, diggers, trucks, workmen, stacks of giant concrete cylinders and mounds of grey, foul-smelling earth.” A compelling example of the fruits of a warming climate and the resulting sea level rises? That’s McKie’s clear implication.

But it is hardly the case, writes veteran environmental reporter Michael Grunwald in Time magazine. He lives in Miami, a block from the scene McKie described. Says Grunwald, “That’s a pretty ominous description of a basic construction project. The state is rebuilding the street, in part (not entirely) because Biscayne Bay is backing up through storm drains at high tide, in part (not entirely) because global warming has helped increase the sea level around South Florida by about 10 inches over a century.” Grunwald continues, “McKie describes this gentle backwater flooding with absurdly apocalyptic prose: ‘Tidal surges are turned into walls of seawater that batter Miami Beach’s west coast and sweep into the resort’s storm drains.’ He also claims that the water then ‘surges across the rest of the island,’ which simply isn’t true.”

This over-the-top exposition by the Guardian is typical of too much of British journalism and, unfortunately, of the general press, including in the U.S., in seeking to particularize global warming. Reporters, for narrative purposes, want to link the global climate issues with down-home examples local readers can understand. It doesn’t matter whether the anecdotes stand up to analysis.

Too many scientists are complicit in this tendency to hype local stories as “evidence” of global warming, when there is no intellectually-honest linkage. Rains in Florida, drought in California, storms in Chicago are appealing stores, but the links to anything beyond random weather events are bogus. They are random. As too many journalists fail or refuse to understand, and too many climate scientists with a policy agenda are wont to foster, correlation is not causation.

The general media is full of manufactured stories of how global warming today is affecting life as we know it. Few phenomena, ranging from the plight of Monarch butterflies to the heartbreak of psoriasis, escape the compulsion of reporters to link them to global warming (or “climate change,” whatever that means). The Obama administration, and particularly the odious White House science advisor John Holdren, are particularly guilty of pushing anecdotes about climate extremes and claiming them as evidence of the baleful thumbprint of mankind on the climate balance.

Holdren, a disciple of the discredited population catastrophist Paul Ehrlich, has seldom been on target in his environmental jeremiads. Holdren’s influence in the Obama administration has been harmful to the administration and the nation.

As for the Guardian article about the imminent swamping of Miami, it illustrates why the American public (and probably publics elsewhere in the world) don’t view global warming as an existential threat. Grunwald writes in Time, “If we think once-a-month ankle-deep water is drowning, then why should Americans care whether we drown?”