With global warming already messing up the planet, there’s always something new to worry about. Just as I was fretting about the big melt in the Arctic, along came news about the coming freeze in Europe. In another decade, Bordeaux could get as chilly as Moscow, and Britain could become like Labrador.
The Big Chill story, which reported on findings published in the journal Nature, made headlines around the world. “We could become as cold as Canada,” blared The Daily Express. The Sunday Times sent shivers through its readers with a sketch of life in Labrador (“No fresh food. . . . The biggest excitement is the international husky races”).
According to the Nature article (which was conveniently published just as the big climate conference opened in Montreal), the ocean currents that bring warm water to the North Atlantic are slowing down. It’s these currents that keep Britain balmy. “Are we facing colder winters?” asked a front-page headline in the Toronto Star. The story warned of “major ecological upheavals,” including colder weather in Eastern Canada, rising sea levels, and severe declines in fish stocks. The experts quoted outdid each other with their warnings of calamity.
Okay, so there’s some fine print. The study includes only two years of data, and much more research will be needed before anyone knows anything. But, hey. Why wreck a good story with fine print?
We in newsland regard ourselves as hard-headed, skeptical, objective folks. But show us a forlorn polar bear on a melting ice floe, and we check our brains at the door. Our environmental coverage regularly serves up the most hysterical, most credulous and most selective stories in all the news The truth is, most of what passes for environmental reporting is little more than cheerleading for the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund. It’s about as objective as the news reports you used to read in Pravda quoting party leaders on the glorious 14th party congress. The difference is, in Pravda, all the news was always good; on the environmental beat, all the news is always bad.
Most news stories make at least a token effort to include a view or two from the other side. Not environment stories. That’s because a lot of people who cover the environment don’t believe there is another side. Even though the science of ocean currents is rather new and incredibly complex, few of the Big Chill stories cited scientists or research that contradicted the story’s premise. There was, for instance, no mention of MIT oceanographer Carl Wunsch, who recently wrote: “The occurrence of a climate state without the Gulf Stream any time soon — within tens of millions of years — has a probability of little more than zero.” He’s also detected a slowdown in the Atlantic currents but one so small that the change in heat transported northward is negligible.
Who’s right? How should I know? What I do know is, the media cherry-pick the climate news to fit their prophesies of doom, and never mind the contradictions. Just a couple of weeks ago, they were spreading warnings from the European Environment Agency about how hot it’s getting over there, and how Bordeaux will soon be plagued by insects and diseases more typical of the tropics.
Not to be outdone by itself, the Toronto Star delivered another bombshell the other day. “Climate at record extremes,” said the banner headline. This has been the hottest year on Earth, with the most melting in the Arctic, the worst hurricane season, the driest weather in the Amazon, and so on. Other media, including CTV News, have reported the same alarming news, whose source is none other than the WWF (not to be confused with the World Wrestling Federation). According to the WWF, these catastrophes are the widely predicted consequences of climate change, which is caused by us. Never mind the ice in the Antarctic that seems to be increasing, or the fact that detailed temperature records don’t go back very far, or that the upper atmosphere may be getting cooler, or that the hurricane season goes in cycles, or . . .
Oh, never mind. Why wreck a good story with the fine print?