Book Review: Reporting On Climate Change, Understanding the Science

This 96-page book is intended as a tutorial for journalists. The book is written by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy organization.

The book covers most of the climate change issues and takes its science mostly from the U.N. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, so it is hardly an objective science tutorial. Because the IPCC has been caught in some well-publicized errors, the book consumes several pages attempting to rationalize and downplay these errors.

The book seems to be written for a junior high-school level of comprehension which I presume is how ELI regards journalists lacking scientific training.

I found many apparent errors and contradictory statements in the book. I document some of them below.

On page 3, in their explanation of the Greenhouse Effect, ELI makes the common mistake of attributing the high surface temperature of Venus to the high concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, there is no greenhouse effect on Venus because sunlight cannot penetrate the thick atmosphere and reach the planet surface.

A more fundamental error is made on page 4 with the explanation of the Coriolis effect. “This is the force that causes wind to rotate clockwise around low-pressure centers in the Northern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.”

katrinaIn the Northern Hemisphere, low pressure areas, such as hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise, not clockwise. A clockwise-rotating high-pressure dome brings Arizona its summer monsoon by drawing moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California into the State. The graphic to the left shows hurricane Katrina and its counter-clockwise rotation. Interestingly, ELI uses this same graphic on page 79. I guess the PhDs who wrote the first part didn’t check with the PhDs who wrote the later part. You can see counter-clockwise rotation in videos of hurricane Rita here.

On page 11, we find these statements:

“A careful examination of the data in Figure 9 shows that CO2 increases precede temperature increases in Earth’s geologic history. Contrarians have used this to argue (incorrectly) that CO2 cannot be causing any warming.”

These two sentences are in conflict. Think about it. If the second sentence is true, then the first sentence should say that CO2 increases follow temperature increases. And, in fact that is the case. Throughout the larger geological history, there is no correlation between carbon dioxide and temperature. However, ice core data show that in the glacial-interglacial cycles, temperature increases are followed by carbon dioxide increases. Farther down the page ELI contradicts the first sentence in the paragraph above and says that temperature increases cause the oceans to give off CO2. That same sentence is also contradicted on pages 19 and 20. And, by the way, figure 9 shows radiative forcing, not temperature.

On page 63, journalists are told:

“Trust only peer-reviewed science.” But we found from Climategate that certain groups conspire to keep opposing views out of peer-reviewed journals, and that there are certain groups of scientists that review papers written by each other, hardly an objective review.

And:

“Build stories on consensus science, while recognizing that many areas of eventual scientific consensus originate as minority viewpoints.”

But the concluding chapter warns in a highlighted box: “It is critical for journalists to understand that the ‘he said, she-said’ style of reporting …. is simply inappropriate for reporting on the science of climate change: it means giving equal voice to a tiny minority of opinions.” In other words, stick to the orthodoxy and ignore other views.

My note to journalists: Theories, no matter how widely held, can never be proven, only disproven by that lone minority voice who just happens to provide the critical piece of evidence.

Throughout the book, ELI repeats that current warming is caused mainly by carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. But neither ELI nor the IPCC provide any physical evidence to support the contention that these emissions have a significant effect on global temperature.

The IPCC does make one cogent statement on the climate, but that statement does not appear in the ELI book:

“In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate state is not possible.” — Final chapter, Draft TAR 2000 (Third Assessment Report), IPCC.

The  ELI book is available through Island Press books for $39.95. To order your copy, visit http://bit.ly/osDMj1 or call 800-621-2736.

My advice to journalists is to skip this book; it is more propaganda than science, and it will give you a false view of how the climate works.

For a free “tutorial” on climate science read my articles from the WryHeat blog:

Carbon Dioxide and the Greenhouse Effect

Your Carbon Footprint doesn’t Matter

The Assumed Authority a commentary on IPCC science and methods

Natural Climate Cycles

A Basic Error in Climate Models

Climate Model Projections vs Real World Observations

How Mother Nature Fools Climate Scientists

IPCC and Peer Review

Sea Level Rise in the South Pacific: None

Sea Level Rising?

Size matters in sea level studies

The State of our Surface Temperature Records

Ice Ages and Glacial Epochs

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3 comments

  1. For me, the tip about the book being propaganda is the sentence you quote, “…it means giving equal voice to a tiny minority of opinions…” In order for this to work for journalists, nobody must ever quantify the number of skeptics vs IPCC scientists. From my own research into what I call the ’96-to-present smear of skeptic scientists, this ‘tiny minority’ thing may have first originated with a scientist on the man-caused global warming side, Stephen Schneider back in the early ’90s, but it was most successfully promoted by anti-skeptic book author Ross Gelbspan starting around late 1995. I detailed that in my online article, ” ‘Media Too Fair to Climate Skeptics’, say reporters who’ve been unfair to skeptics“.

    The “Environmental Law Institute” book authors group also looked familiar to me here, so I threw the name into my mega-notes pile and immediately came up with a specific page reference to another of their publications, “Creative Common Law Strategies for Protecting the Environment”, which nicely shows a citation in its footnotes on page 120 by chapter author attorney Matt Pawa.

    I wrote about Pawa’s ties to Ross Gelbspan in my article, “Global Warming Nuisance Lawsuits Are Based on a Fatal Flaw

    I wrote about the literal words Pawa cites in his page 120 footnote – “Low-Income Women, Less-Educated Men / reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” – in my article “Smearing Skeptic Scientists: What did Gore know and when did he know it?

    Funny how any publication that says anything against skeptic scientists always seems to ultimately source the ‘corrupt’ skeptic scientists idea to just one single bit of unseen evidence…..

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