Conflicting Views on Climate Change:
Fire and Ice
Journalists have warned of climate
change for 100 years, but can't decide whether we face an ice
age or warming
by R. Warren Anderson and Dan
[article was first published in May 2006]
It was five years before the turn of the
century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change.
Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious
concerns of "geologists." Only the president at the
time wasn't Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times
wasn't warning about global warming - it was telling readers the
looming dangers of a new ice age.
The year was 1895, and it was just one
of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major
print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction
carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be "wiped
out" or lower crop yields would mean "billions will
Just as the weather has changed over time,
so has the reporting - blowing hot or cold with short-term changes
Following the ice age threats from the
late 1800s, fears of an imminent and icy catastrophe were compounded
in the 1920s by Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan and an obsession
with the news of his polar expedition. As the Times put it on
Feb. 24, 1895, "Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen
Those concerns lasted well into the late
1920s. But when the earth's surface warmed less than half a degree,
newspapers and magazines responded with stories about the new
threat. Once again the Times was out in front, cautioning "the
earth is steadily growing warmer."
After a while, that second phase of climate
cautions began to fade. By 1954, Fortune magazine was warming
to another cooling trend and ran an article titled "Climate
- the Heat May Be Off." As the United States and the old
Soviet Union faced off, the media joined them with reports of
a more dangerous Cold War of Man vs. Nature.
The New York Times ran warming stories
into the late 1950s, but it too came around to the new fears.
Just three decades ago, in 1975, the paper reported: "A Major
Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable."
That trend, too, cooled off and was replaced
by the current era of reporting on the dangers of global warming.
Just six years later, on Aug. 22, 1981, the Times quoted seven
government atmospheric scientists who predicted global warming
of an "almost unprecedented magnitude."
In all, the print news media have warned
of four separate climate changes in slightly more than 100 years
- global cooling, warming, cooling again, and, perhaps not so
finally, warming. Some current warming stories combine the concepts
and claim the next ice age will be triggered by rising temperatures
- the theme of the 2004 movie "The Day After Tomorrow."
Recent global warming reports have continued
that trend, morphing into a hybrid of both theories. News media
that once touted the threat of "global warming" have
moved on to the more flexible term "climate change."
As the Times described it, climate change can mean any major shift,
making the earth cooler or warmer. In a March 30, 2006, piece
on ExxonMobil's approach to the environment, a reporter argued
the firm's chairman "has gone out of his way to soften Exxon's
public stance on climate change."
The effect of the idea of "climate
change" means that any major climate event can be blamed
on global warming, supposedly driven by mankind.
Spring 2006 has been swamped with climate
change hype in every type of media - books, newspapers, magazines,
online, TV and even movies.
One-time presidential candidate Al Gore,
a patron saint of the environmental movement, is releasing "An
Inconvenient Truth" in book and movie form, warning, "Our
ability to live is what is at stake."
Despite all the historical shifting from
one position to another, many in the media no longer welcome opposing
views on the climate. CBS reporter Scott Pelley went so far as
to compare climate change skeptics with Holocaust deniers.
"If I do an interview with [Holocaust
survivor] Elie Wiesel," Pelley asked, "am I required
as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?" he said in an
interview on March 23 with CBS News's PublicEye blog.
He added that the whole idea of impartial
journalism just didn't work for climate stories. "There becomes
a point in journalism where striving for balance becomes irresponsible,"
Pelley's comments ignored an essential
point: that 30 years ago, the media were certain about the prospect
of a new ice age. And that is only the most recent example of
how much journalists have changed their minds on this essential
Some in the media would probably argue
that they merely report what scientists tell them, but that would
be only half true.
Journalists decide not only what they
cover; they also decide whether to include opposing viewpoints.
That's a balance lacking in the current "debate."
This isn't a question of science. It's
a question of whether Americans can trust what the media tell
them about science.
Global Cooling: 1954-1976
The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming
in_Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin_A nuclear era,
but I have no fear_'Cause London is drowning, and I live by the
river__-- The Clash "London Calling," released in 1979
The first Earth Day was celebrated on
April 22, 1970, amidst hysteria about the dangers of a new ice
age. The media had been spreading warnings of a cooling period
since the 1950s, but those alarms grew louder in the 1970s.
Three months before, on January 11, The
Washington Post told readers to "get a good grip on your
long johns, cold weather haters - the worst may be yet to come,"
in an article titled "Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice
Age." The article quoted climatologist Reid Bryson, who said
"there's no relief in sight" about the cooling trend.
Journalists took the threat of another
ice age seriously. Fortune magazine actually won a "Science
Writing Award" from the American Institute of Physics for
its own analysis of the danger. "As for the present cooling
trend a number of leading climatologists have concluded that it
is very bad news indeed," Fortune announced in February 1974.
"It is the root cause of a lot of
that unpleasant weather around the world and they warn that it
carries the potential for human disasters of unprecedented magnitude,"
the article continued.
That article also emphasized Bryson's
extreme doomsday predictions. "There is very important climatic
change going on right now, and it's not merely something of academic
Bryson warned, "It is something that,
if it continues, will affect the whole human occupation of the
earth - like a billion people starving. The effects are already
showing up in a rather drastic way." However, the world population
increased by 2.5 billion since that warning.
Fortune had been emphasizing the cooling
trend for 20 years. In 1954, it picked up on the idea of a frozen
earth and ran an article titled "Climate - the Heat May Be
The story debunked the notion that "despite
all you may have read, heard, or imagined, it's been growing cooler
- not warmer - since the Thirties."
The claims of global catastrophe were
remarkably similar to what the media deliver now about global
"The cooling has already killed hundreds
of thousands of people in poor nations," wrote Lowell Ponte
in his 1976 book "The Cooling."
If the proper measures weren't taken,
he cautioned, then the cooling would lead to "world famine,
world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come by
the year 2000."
There were more warnings. The Nov. 15,
1969, "Science News" quoted meteorologist Dr. J. Murray
Mitchell Jr. about global cooling worries. "How long the
current cooling trend continues is one of the most important problems
of our civilization," he said.
If the cooling continued for 200 to 300
years, the earth could be plunged into an ice age, Mitchell continued.
Six years later, the periodical reported
"the cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent
enough that it will not soon be reversed."
A city in a snow globe illustrated that
March 1, 1975, article, while the cover showed an ice age obliterating
an unfortunate city.
In 1975, cooling went from "one of
the most important problems" to a first-place tie for "death
and misery." "The threat of a new ice age must now stand
alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and
misery for mankind," said Nigel Calder, a former editor of
He claimed it was not his disposition
to be a "doomsday man." His analysis came from "the
facts [that] have emerged" about past ice ages, according
to the July/August International Wildlife Magazine.
The idea of a worldwide deep freeze snowballed.
Naturally, science fiction authors embraced
the topic. Writer John Christopher delivered a book on the coming
ice age in 1962 called "The World in Winter."
In Christopher's novel, England and other
"rich countries of the north" broke down under the icy
"The machines stopped, the land was
dead and the people went south," he explained.
James Follett took a slightly different
tack. His book "Ice" was about "a rogue Antarctic
iceberg" that "becomes a major world menace." Follett
in his book conceived "the teeth chattering possibility of
how Nature can punish those who foolishly believe they have mastered
Global Warming: 1929-1969
Today's global warming advocates probably
don't even realize their claims aren't original. Before the cooling
worries of the '70s, America went through global warming fever
for several decades around World War II.
The nation entered the "longest warm
spell since 1776," according to a March 27, 1933, New York
Times headline. Shifting climate gears from ice to heat, the Associated
Press article began "That next ice age, if one is coming
is still a long way off."
One year earlier, the paper reported that
"the earth is steadily growing warmer" in its May 15
edition. The Washington Post felt the heat as well and titled
an article simply "Hot weather" on August 2, 1930.
That article, reminiscent of a stand-up
comedy routine, told readers that the heat was so bad, people
were going to be saying, "Ah, do you remember that torrid
summer of 1930. It was so hot that * * *."
The Los Angeles Times beat both papers
to the heat with the headline: "Is another ice age coming?"
on March 11, 1929. Its answer to that question: "Most geologists
think the world is growing warmer, and that it will continue to
Meteorologist J. B. Kincer of the federal
weather bureau published a scholarly article on the warming world
in the September 1933 "Monthly Weather Review."
The article began discussing the "wide-spread
and persistent tendency toward warmer weather" and asked
"Is our climate changing?" Kincer proceeded to document
the warming trend. Out of 21 winters examined from 1912-33 in
Washington, D.C., 18 were warmer than normal and all of the past
13 were mild.
New Haven, Conn., experienced warmer temperatures,
with evidence from records that went "back to near the close
of the Revolutionary War," claimed the analysis. Using records
from various other cities, Kincer showed that the world was warming.
British amateur meteorologist G. S. Callendar
made a bold claim five years later that many would recognize now.
He argued that man was responsible for heating up the planet with
carbon dioxide emissions - in 1938.
It wasn't a common notion at the time,
but he published an article in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal
Meteorological Society on the subject. "In the following
paper I hope to show that such influence is not only possible,
but is actually occurring at the present time," Callendar
wrote. He went on the lecture circuit describing carbon-dioxide-induced
But Callendar didn't conclude his article
with an apocalyptic forecast, as happens in today's global warming
stories. Instead he said the change "is likely to prove beneficial
to mankind in several ways, besides the provision of heat and
power." Furthermore, it would allow for greater agriculture
production and hold off the return of glaciers "indefinitely."
On November 6 the following year, The
Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article titled "Experts puzzle
over 20 year mercury rise." It began, "Chicago is in
the front rank of thousands of cities thuout [sic] the world which
have been affected by a mysterious trend toward warmer climate
in the last two decades."
The rising mercury trend continued into
the '50s. The New York Times reported that "we have learned
that the world has been getting warmer in the last half century"
on Aug. 10, 1952. According to the Times, the evidence was the
introduction of cod in the Eskimo's diet - a fish they had not
encountered before 1920 or so. The following year, the paper reported
that studies confirmed summers and winters were getting warmer.
This warming gave the Eskimos more to
handle than cod. "Arctic Findings in Particular Support Theory
of Rising Global Temperatures," announced the Times during
the middle of winter, on Feb. 15, 1959. Glaciers were melting
in Alaska and the "ice in the Arctic ocean is about half
as thick as it was in the late nineteenth century."
A decade later, the Times reaffirmed its
position that "the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the
ocean at the North Pole may become an open sea within a decade
or two," according to polar explorer Col. Bernt Bachen in
the Feb. 20, 1969, piece.
One of the most surprising aspects of
the global warming claims of the 20th Century is that they followed
close behind similar theories of another major climate change
- that one an ice age.__
Global Cooling: 1895-1932
The world knew all about cold weather
in the 1800s. America and Europe had escaped a 500-year period
of cooling, called the Little Ice Age, around 1850. So when the
Times warned of new cooling in 1895, it was a serious prediction.
On Feb. 24, 1895, the Times announced
"Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again."
The article debated "whether recent and long-continued observations
do not point to the advent of a second glacial period." Those
concerns were brought on by increases in northern glaciers and
in the severity of Scandinavia's climate.
Fear spread through the print media over
the next three decades. A few months after the sinking of the
Titanic, on Oct. 7, 1912, page one of the Times reported, "Prof.
Schmidt Warns Us of an Encroaching Ice Age."
Scientists knew of four ice ages in the
past, leading Professor Nathaniel Schmidt of Cornell University
to conclude that one day we will need scientific knowledge "to
combat the perils" of the next one.
The same day the Los Angeles Times ran
an article about Schmidt as well, entitled "Fifth ice age
is on the way." It was subtitled "Human race will have
to fight for its existence against cold."
That end-of-the-world tone wasn't unusual.
"Scientist says Arctic ice will wipe out Canada," declared
a front-page Chicago Tribune headline on Aug. 9, 1923. "Professor
Gregory" of Yale University stated that "another world
ice-epoch is due." He was the American representative to
the Pan-Pacific Science Congress and warned that North America
would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes, and huge parts
of Asia and Europe would be "wiped out."
Gregory's predictions went on and on.
Switzerland would be "entirely obliterated," and parts
of South America would be "overrun." The good news -
"Australia has nothing to fear." The Washington Post
picked up on the story the following day, announcing "Ice
Age Coming Here."
Talk of the ice age threat even reached
France. In a New York Times article from Sept. 20, 1922, a penguin
found in France was viewed as an "ice-age harbinger."
Even though the penguin probably escaped
from the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship, it "caused
considerable consternation in the country."
Some of the sound of the Roaring '20s
was the noise of a coming ice age - prominently covered by The
New York Times. Capt. Donald MacMillan began his Arctic expeditions
in 1908 with Robert Peary. He was going to Greenland to test the
"Menace of a new ice age," as the Times reported on
June 10, 1923.
The menace was coming from "indications
in Arctic that have caused some apprehension." Two weeks
later the Times reported that MacMillan would get data to help
determine "whether there is any foundation for the theory
which has been advanced in some quarters that another ice age
On July 4, 1923, the paper announced that
the "Explorer Hopes to Determine Whether new 'Ice Age' is
The Atlanta Constitution also had commented
on the impending ice age on July 21, 1923. MacMillan found the
"biggest glacier" and reported on the great increase
of glaciers in the Arctic as compared to earlier measures.
Even allowing for "the provisional
nature of the earlier surveys," glacial activity had greatly
augmented, "according to the men of science." Not only
was "the world of science" following MacMillan, so too
were the "radio fans."
The Christian Science Monitor reported
on the potential ice age as well, on July 3, 1923. "Captain
MacMillan left Wicasset, Me., two weeks ago for Sydney, the jumping-off
point for the north seas, announcing that one of the purposes
of his cruise was to determine whether there is beginning another
'ice age,' as the advance of glaciers in the last 70 years would
seem to indicate."
Then on Sept. 18, 1924, The New York Times
declared the threat was real, saying "MacMillan Reports Signs
of New Ice Age."___
Concerns about global cooling continued.
Swedish scientist Rutger Sernander also forecasted a new ice age.
He headed a Swedish committee of scientists studying "climatic
development" in the Scandinavian country.
According to the LA Times on April 6,
1924, he claimed there was "scientific ground for believing"
that the conditions "when all winds will bring snow, the
sun cannot prevail against the clouds, and three winters will
come in one, with no summer between," had already begun.
That ice age talk cooled in the early
1930s. But The Atlantic in 1932 puffed the last blast of Arctic
air in the article "This Cold, Cold World." Author W.
J. Humphries compared the state of the earth to the state of the
world before other ice ages. He wrote "If these things be
true, it is evident, therefore that we must be just teetering
on an ice age."
Concluding the article he noted the uncertainty
of such things, but closed with "we do know that the climatic
gait of this our world is insecure and unsteady, teetering, indeed,
on an ice age, however near or distant the inevitable fall."
Cooling and Warming Both Threats to Food
Just like today, the news media were certain
about the threat that an ice age posed.
In the 1970s, as the world cooled down,
the fear was that mankind couldn't grow enough food with a longer
winter. "Climate Changes Endanger World's Food Output,"
declared a New York Times headline on Aug. 8, 1974, right in the
heat of summer.
"Bad weather this summer and the
threat of more of it to come hang ominously over every estimate
of the world food situation," the article began.
It continued saying the dire consequences
of the cooling climate created a deadly risk of suffering and
Various climatologists issued a statement
that "the facts of the present climate change are such that
the most optimistic experts would assign near certainty to major
crop failure in a decade," reported the Dec. 29, 1974, New
York Times. If policy makers did not account for this oncoming
doom, "mass deaths by starvation and probably in anarchy
and violence" would result.
Time magazine delivered its own gloomy
outlook on the "World Food Crisis" on June 24 of that
same year and followed with the article "Weather Change:
Poorer Harvests" on November 11.
According to the November story, the mean
global surface temperature had fallen just 1 degree Fahrenheit
since the 1940s. Yet this small drop "trimmed a week to ten
days from the growing season" in the earth's breadbasket
The prior advances of the Green Revolution
that bolstered world agriculture would be vulnerable to the lower
temperatures and lead to "agricultural disasters."
Newsweek was equally downbeat in its article
"The Cooling World." "There are ominous signs that
the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically,"
which would lead to drastically decreased food production, it
"The drop in food output could begin
quite soon, perhaps only ten years from now," the magazine
told readers on April 28 the following year.
This, Newsweek said, was based on the
"central fact" that "the earth's climate seems
to be cooling down." Despite some disagreement on the cause
and extent of cooling, meteorologists were "almost unanimous
in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity
for the rest of the century."
__Despite Newsweek's claim, agricultural
productivity didn't drop for the rest of the century. It actually
increased at an "annual rate of 1.76% over the period 1948
to 2002," according to the Department of Agriculture.
That didn't deter the magazine from warning
about declining agriculture once again 30 years later - this time
because the earth was getting warmer. "Livestock are dying.
Crops are withering," it said in the Aug. 8, 2005, edition.
It added that "extremely dry weather of recent months has
spawned swarms of locusts" and they were destroying crops
in France. Was global warming to blame? "Evidence is mounting
to support just such fears," determined the piece.
U.S. News & World Report was agriculturally
pessimistic as well. "Global climate change may alter temperature
and rainfall patterns, many scientists fear, with uncertain consequences
for agriculture." That was just 13 years ago, in 1993.
That wasn't the first time warming was
blamed for influencing agriculture. In 1953 William J. Baxter
wrote the book "Today's Revolution in Weather!" on the
warming climate. His studies showed "that the heat zone is
moving northward and the winters are getting milder with less
Baxter titled a chapter in his book "Make
Room For Trees, Grains, Vegetables and Bugs on the North Express!"
The warming world led him to estimate that within 10 years Canada
would produce more wheat than the United States, though he said
America's corn dominance would remain. _It was more than just
crops that were in trouble.
Baxter also noted that fishermen in Maine
could catch tropical and semi-tropical fish, which were just beginning
to appear. The green crab, which also migrated north, was "slowly
killing" the profitable industry of steamer clams.
Ice, Ice Baby
Another subject was prominent whether
journalists were warning about global warming or an ice age: glaciers.
For 110 years, scientists eyed the mammoth mountains of ice to
determine the nature of the temperature shift. Reporters treated
the glaciers like they were the ultimate predictors of climate.
In 1895, geologists thought the world
was freezing up again due to the "great masses of ice"
that were frequently seen farther south than before.
The New York Times reported that icebergs
were so bad, and they decreased the temperature of Iceland so
much, that inhabitants fearing a famine were "emigrating
to North America."
In 1902, when Teddy Roosevelt became the
first president to ride in a car, the Los Angeles Times delivered
a story that should be familiar to modern readers. The paper's
story on "Disappearing Glaciers" in the Alps said the
glaciers were not "running away," but rather "deteriorating
slowly, with a persistency that means their final annihilation."
The melting led to alpine hotel owners
having trouble keeping patrons. It was established that it was
a "scientific fact" that the glaciers were "surely
disappearing." That didn't happen. Instead they grew once
More than 100 years after their "final
annihilation" was declared, the LA Times was once again writing
the same story. An Associated Press story in the Aug. 21, 2005,
paper showed how glacier stories never really change. According
to the article: "A sign on a sheer cliff wall nearby points
to a mountain hut. It should have been at eye level but is more
than 60 feet above visitors' heads. That's how much the glacier
has shrunk since the sign went up 35 years ago."
But glacier stories didn't always show
them melting away like ice cubes in a warm drink. The Boston Daily
Globe in 1923 reported one purpose of MacMillan's Arctic expedition
was to determine the beginning of the next ice age, "as the
advance of glaciers in the last 70 years would indicate."
When that era of ice-age reports melted
away, retreating glaciers were again highlighted. In 1953's "Today's
Revolution in Weather!" William Baxter wrote that "the
recession of glaciers over the whole earth affords the best proof
that climate is warming," despite the fact that the world
had been in its cooling phase for more than a decade when he wrote
it. He gave examples of glaciers melting in Lapland, the Alps,
Mr. Rainer and Antarctica.
Time magazine in 1951 noted permafrost
in Russia was receding northward up to 100 yards per year. In
1952, The New York Times kept with the warming trend. It reported
the global warming studies of climatologist Dr. Hans W. Ahlmann,
whose "trump card" "has been the melting glaciers."
The next year the Times said "nearly all the great ice sheets
are in retreat."
U.S. News and World Report agreed, noted
that "winters are getting milder, summers drier. Glaciers
are receding, deserts growing" on Jan. 8, 1954.
In the '70s, glaciers did an about face.
Ponte in "The Cooling" warned that "The rapid advance
of some glaciers has threatened human settlements in Alaska, Iceland,
Canada, China, and the Soviet Union."
Time contradicted its 1951 report and
stated that the cooling trend was here to stay. The June 24, 1974,
article was based on those omnipresent "telltale signs"
such as the "unexpected persistence and thickness of pack
ice in the waters around Iceland."
Even The Christian Science Monitor in
the same year noted "glaciers which had been retreating until
1940 have begun to advance." The article continued, "the
North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool."
The New York Times noted that in 1972
the "mantle of polar ice increased by 12 percent" and
had not returned to "normal" size.
North Atlantic sea temperatures declined,
and shipping routes were "cluttered with abnormal amounts
Furthermore, the permafrost in Russia
and Canada was advancing southward, according to the December
29 article that closed out 1974.
Decades later, the Times seemed confused
by melting ice. On Dec. 8, 2002, the paper ran an article titled
"Arctic Ice Is Melting at Record Level, Scientists Say."
The first sentence read "The melting of Greenland glaciers
and Arctic Ocean sea ice this past summer reached levels not seen
Was the ice melting at record levels,
as the headline stated, or at a level seen decades ago, as the
first line mentioned?
On Sept. 14, 2005, the Times reported
the recession of glaciers "seen from Peru to Tibet to Greenland"
could accelerate and become abrupt.
This, in turn, could increase the rise
of the sea level and block the Gulf Stream. Hence "a modern
counterpart of the 18,000-year-old global-warming event could
trigger a new ice age."
Government Comes to the Rescue
Mankind managed to survive three phases
of fear about global warming and cooling without massive bureaucracy
and government intervention, but aggressive lobbying by environmental
groups finally changed that reality.
The Kyoto treaty, new emissions standards
and foreign regulations are but a few examples.
Getting the government involved to control
the weather isn't a new concept. When the earth was cooling, The
New York Times reported on a panel that recommended a multimillion-dollar
research program to combat the threat.
That program was to start with $18 million
a year in funding and increase to about $67 million by 1980, according
to the Jan. 19, 1975, Times. That would be more than $200 million
in today's dollars.
Weather warnings in the '70s from "reputable
researchers" worried policy-makers so much that scientists
at a National Academy of Sciences meeting "proposed the evacuation
of some six million people" from parts of Africa, reported
the Times on Dec. 29, 1974.
That article went on to tell of the costly
and unnecessary plans of the old Soviet Union. It diverted time
from Cold War activities to scheme about diverting the coming
It had plans to reroute "large Siberian
rivers, melting Arctic ice and damming the Bering Strait"
to help warm the "frigid fringes of the Soviet Union."
Newsweek's 1975 article "The Cooling
World" noted climatologists' admission that "solutions"
to global cooling "such as melting the arctic ice cap by
covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers,"
could result in more problems than they would solve.
More recently, 27 European climatologists
have become worried that the warming trend "may be irreversible,
at least over most of the coming century," according to Time
magazine on Nov. 13, 2000. The obvious solution? Bigger government.
They "should start planning immediately
to adapt to the new extremes of weather that their citizens will
face - with bans on building in potential flood plains in the
north, for example, and water conservation measures in the south."
Almost 50 policy and research recommendations
came with the report.
The news media have given space to numerous
alleged solutions to our climate problems.
Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh
had some unusual ideas to repel an effect of global warming. In
2002 he had the notion of creating a rainmaker, "which looks
like a giant egg whisk," according to the Evening News of
Edinburgh on Dec. 2, 2002.
The Atlantic edition of Newsweek on June
30, 2003, reported on the whisk. The British government gave him
105,000 pounds to research it.
Besides promoting greater prosperity and
peace, it could "lift enough seawater to lower sea levels
by a meter, stemming the rise of the oceans - one of the most
troublesome consequences of global warming." The rain created
would be redirected toward land using the wind's direction.
Instead of just fixing a symptom of global
warming, Salter now wants to head it off. He wants to spray water
droplets into low altitude clouds to increase their whiteness
and block out more sunlight.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
has considered other ways to lower temperatures and the media
were there to give them credence.
Newsweek on May 20, 1991, reported on
five ways to fight warming from the National Research Council,
the operating arm of the NAS.
The first idea was to release "billions
of aluminized, hydrogen-filled balloons" to reflect sunlight.
To reflect more sunlight, "fire one-ton shells filled with
dust into the upper atmosphere." Airplane engines could pollute
more in order to release a "layer of soot" to block
the sun. Should any sunlight remain, 50,000 orbiting mirrors,
39 square miles each, could block it out.
With any heat left, "infrared lasers
on mountains" could be used "to zap rising CFCs,"
rendering them harmless.
Global Warming: 1981-Present and Beyond
The media have bombarded Americans almost
daily with the most recent version of the climate apocalypse.
Global warming has replaced the media's
ice age claims, but the results somehow have stayed the same -
the deaths of millions or even billions of people, widespread
devastation and starvation.
The recent slight increase in temperature
could "quite literally, alter the fundamentals of life on
the planet" argued the Jan. 18, 2006, Washington Post.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,
Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times wrote a column that
lamented the lack of federal spending on global warming.
"We spend about $500 billion a year
on a military budget, yet we don't want to spend peanuts to protect
against climate change," he said in a Sept. 27, 2005, piece.
Kristof's words were noteworthy, not for
his argument about spending, but for his obvious use of the term
"climate change." While his column was filled with references
to "global warming," it also reflected the latest trend
as the coverage has morphed once again.
The two terms are often used interchangeably,
but can mean something entirely different.
The latest threat has little to do with
global warming and has everything to do with everything.
The latest predictions claim that warming
might well trigger another ice age.
The warm currents of the Gulf Stream,
according to a 2005 study by the National Oceanography Centre
in Southampton, U.K., have decreased 30 percent.
This has raised "fears that it might
fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age,"
as the Gulf Stream regulates temperatures in Europe and the eastern
United States. This has "long been predicted" as a potential
ramification of global warming.
Hollywood picked up on this notion before
the study and produced "The Day After Tomorrow." In
the movie global warming triggered an immediate ice age. People
had to dodge oncoming ice. Americans were fleeing to Mexico. Wolves
were on the prowl. Meanwhile our hero, a government paleoclimatologist,
had to go to New York City to save his son from the catastrophe.
But it's not just a potential ice age.
Every major weather event becomes somehow linked to "climate
Numerous news reports connected Hurricane
Katrina with changing global temperatures. Droughts, floods and
more have received similar media treatment.
Even The New York Times doesn't go that
far - yet.
In an April 23, 2006, piece, reporter
Andrew C. Revkin gave no credence to that coverage. "At the
same time, few scientists agree with the idea that the recent
spate of potent hurricanes, European heat waves, African drought
and other weather extremes are, in essence, our fault. There is
more than enough natural variability in nature to mask a direct
connection, they say."
Unfortunately, that brief brush with caution
hasn't touched the rest of the media. _Time magazine's recent
cover story included this terrifying headline:
"Polar Ice Caps Are Melting Faster
Than Ever... More And More; Land Is Being Devastated By Drought...
Rising Waters Are Drowning Low-Lying Communities... By Any Measure,
Earth Is At ... The Tipping Point The climate is crashing, and
global warming is to blame. Why the crisis hit so soon -and what
we can do about it"
That attitude reflects far more of the
current media climate. As the magazine claimed, many of today's
weather problems can be blamed on the changing climate.
"Disasters have always been with
us and surely always will be. But when they hit this hard and
come this fast - when the emergency becomes commonplace -something
has gone grievously wrong. That something is global warming,"
The Business & Media Institute (BMI)
examined how the major media have covered the issue of climate
change over a long period of time. Because television only gained
importance in the post-World War II period, BMI looked at major
There were limitations with that approach
because some major publications lack the lengthy history that
others enjoy. However, the search covered more than 30 publications
from the 1850s to 2006 - including newspapers, magazines, journals
Recent newspaper and magazine articles
were obtained from Lexis-Nexis. All other magazine articles were
acquired from the Library of Congress either in print or microfilm.
Older newspapers were obtained from ProQuest.
The extensive bibliography includes every publication cited in
this report. BMI looked through thousands of headlines and chose
hundreds of stories to analyze.
Dates on the time periods for cooling
and warming reporting phases are approximate, and are derived
from the stories that BMI analyzed.
What can one conclude from 110 years of
conflicting climate coverage except that the weather changes and
the media are just as capricious?
Certainly, their record speaks for itself.
Four separate and distinct climate theories targeted at a public
taught to believe the news. Only all four versions of the truth
can't possibly be accurate.
For ordinary Americans to judge the media's
version of current events about global warming, it is necessary
to admit that journalists have misrepresented the story three
Yet no one in the media is owning up to
that fact. Newspapers that pride themselves on correction policies
for the smallest errors now find themselves facing a historical
record that is enormous and unforgiving.
It is time for the news media to admit
a consistent failure to report this issue fairly or accurately,
with due skepticism of scientific claims._
It would be difficult for the media to
do a worse job with climate change coverage. Perhaps the most
important suggestion would be to remember the basic rules about
journalism and set aside biases - a simple suggestion, but far
from easy given the overwhelming extent of the problem.
Three of the guidelines from the Society
of Professional Journalists are especially appropriate:
"Support the open exchange of views,
even views they find repugnant."_
"Give voice to the voiceless; official
and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid."_
"Distinguish between advocacy and
news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and
not misrepresent fact or context."
That last bullet point could apply to
almost any major news outlet in the United States. They could
all learn something and take into account the historical context
of media coverage of climate change.
Some other important points include:
Don't Stifle Debate: Most scientists do
agree that the earth has warmed a little more than a degree in
the last 100 years. That doesn't mean that scientists concur mankind
is to blame. Even if that were the case, the impact of warming
People in northern climes might enjoy
improved weather and longer growing seasons.
Don't Ignore the Cost: Global warming
solutions pushed by environmental groups are notoriously expensive.
Just signing on to the Kyoto treaty would have cost the United
States several hundred billion dollars each year, according to
estimates from the U.S. government generated during President
Bill Clinton's term.
Every story that talks about new regulations
or forced cutbacks on emissions should discuss the cost of those
Report Accurately on Statistics: Accurate
temperature records have been kept only since the end of the 19th
Century, shortly after the world left the Little Ice Age. So while
recorded temperatures are increasing, they are not the warmest
ever. A 2003 study by Harvard and the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics,
"20th Century Climate Not So Hot," "determined
that the 20th century is neither the warmest century nor the century
with the most extreme weather of the past 1,000 years.