Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Selective Journalism

My last post praised Richard Black of the BBC. Today I am not so sure about his objectivity. This article carries a pretty damning headline:

Arctic Ice "Disappearing Fast"

But read on and it all depends on how you measure the amount of ice. According to one scientist (the one who would bet his mortgage on his opinion that this is global warming induced) the surface area of Arctic Ice has dimished. But another scientist is not so sure. She suggests that the same volume of ice may well be present but that its distribution is being modified by currents and winds. A very different explanation and one that is obviously far less newsworthy. (But she also is prepared to bet her mortgage that the effect is anthropogenic - got to keep the research funds flowing!)

There is a simple test to point to which concept may be more correct. If there is less ice in the Arctic, where has it gone? One of the main fears about global warming is that it could induce massive sea level rise, inundating much coastal habitation. If 20% of the Arctic ice has gone since 1978, wouldn't that contribute to a rising sea level?

In order to obsfuscate the debate, the scientists then move on to talk about "tipping points", theoretical future events when all our messing around with the planet will suddenly cause catastrophes. The examples given sound feasible but could also be termed scaremongering as there is little evidence that the planet will tip as a result of anthropogenic change. How can I be so sure? Well, I would suggest that there have been far more tumultuous natural events in the recent past (Sumatra's Lake Toba volcanic explosion, for example) that did not materially effect the planet's biodiversity. And the ice ages obviously consituted far greater climate change than the sort of change talked about by the moribund Kyoto Protocol.

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