Should the UK press be taken seriously on climate change?


9:45 am - July 9th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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On Tuesday this week the Daily Sunday Telegraph was finally forced to issue a retraction and an apology for an earlier article with false claims about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) chief Rajendra Pachauri. You can read the apology here.

What’s unsurprising about this episode is that it’s just one in a long line of apologies forced out of the right-wing press in recent months. And yet the climate change deniers still carry on pretending they have the science and facts on their side.

The Telegraph article was written by one of the paper’s foremost climate change deniers: Christopher Brooker, with help from blogger Richard North.

North has also worked with Booker on a number of publications, including Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, called a “surrealist masterpiece”, given it claims to debunk “the dangers of passive smoking, white asbestos, eating BSE-infected beef, CO2 emissions, leaded petrol, dioxins, and high-speed car driving”.

Richard North was also once caught trying to white-wash his mate Christopher Booker’s Wikipedia entry.

As you can see, these chaps have form.

Jonathan Leake at the Sunday Times
1. A couple of weeks ago the Sunday Times also had to publish a major apology for a story stating the IPCC had made an “unsubstantiated claim” that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall. The apology only came after one of the people quoted in the original article, Dr Simon Lewis, had to repeatedly point out that the Sunday Times had attributed claims to him that he did not make.

Such is the quality control at the UK’s biggest selling Sunday broadsheet that it ignored Dr Simon Lewis for ages before finally admitting that their story was basically rubbish. That story was written by the Times’ Environment Editor and denier-in-chief Jonathan Leake, who has an entire section dedicated to him at one blog pointing out his embarrassing retractions.

Leake was helped on the story by (yes him again!) Richard North.

2. That apology follows a German newspaper – Frankfurter Rundschau – also retracting a story on the climate-change ‘Africa-gate’ non-scandal, which also originated from Jonathan Leake.

3. Leake was also criticised earlier this year for misrepresenting the IPCC. He wrote an article claiming the IPCC had said natural disasters were increasing as a result of global warming based on conclusions from an unpublished report not subjected to routine scientific scrutiny. That is debunked comprehensively here.

And I won’t even go into all the rubbish that the Daily Mail produces on the subject.

But here’s the kicker – does the BBC cover any of this misrepresentation? Of course not.

It keeps inviting Nigel Lawson from the “Global Warming Policy Foundation” on to Newsnight, despite the fact that Lawson is neither a scientist who can speak about climate change with authority, nor reveals who funds his organisation.

None of these media outlets can be taken seriously when reporting on climate change.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Personally I think it cuts both way, after all, there is little to no reporting of the work by the Max Plnkt Institute which has looked at the impact of temperature on CO2 levels and concluded that the “runaway climate change” theory is unrealistic.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/06/flux_tower_data_studies/

2. Flowerpower

On Tuesday this week the Daily Telegraph was finally forced to issue a retraction and an apology for an earlier article with false claims about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) chief Rajendra Pachauri.

What you don’t make clear Sunny (but is clear if one follows your link) is that the Telegraph wasn’t apologizing to Pachauri or the IPCC, but to the industrial giant Tata.

One of the things they were apologizing for was (wrongly) stating that Pachauri was linked to Tata.

If this means that saying the head of the IPCC is linked to your company is libellous, then that’s hardly a plus for Pachauri, is it?

As an aside, but not off topic I hope, Christine Ottery just wrote a really interesting piece on how to be a climate change journalist which explores the tension between unbiased, factual reporting and campaigning for positive change

http://christineottery.blogspot.com/2010/07/climate-kryptonite.html

Personally I think it cuts both way, after all, there is little to no reporting of the work by the Max Plnkt Institute which has looked at the impact of temperature on CO2 levels and concluded that the “runaway climate change” theory is unrealistic.

I don’t think that failure to suport a single piece of research is evidence of anything. Besides, there is no consensus amongst scientists that runaway warming is going to happen – we could get extremely serious warming even without that.

Ooh look, something on climate change and the antis are there at the front of the comments queue!

Phil, there’s a difference between “unrealistic” and “exaggerated”. Moreover, the report on the Max Planck Institute study includes these words:

“It is unlikely to mean the end of climate-change concern”

Yes, I’m being highly selective, but then, that’s no different to your game.

[also see @4, whose comments I agree with wholeheartedly]

Personally I think it cuts both way, after all, there is little to no reporting of the work by the Max Plnkt Institute which has looked at the impact of temperature on CO2 levels and concluded that the “runaway climate change” theory is unrealistic.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/06/flux_tower_data_studies/

Only one slight problem there: nobody who actually knows anything about the subject has ever believed that “runaway” warming is a real possibility, which is probably why the linked article doesn’t actually name anyone who does, relying instead on weasel words such as “in some quarters” and “a lot of people”. Yes, there are potentially significant positive feedbacks, but they’re all limited. If true runaway warming were a possibility, it would have happened already and we would never have evolved to have this conversation.

Now, I’m sure you can find some idiots out there who do think it’s a possibility, and I’m equally sure that you can find a lot of people throwing the word “runaway” around without really knowing what it means (I suspect you’re one of them, as is Lewis Page), but (and this is the important bit) none of them are credible scientists and their views do not form part of the scientific consensus.

@6

And we have a winner.

Dizzy, seriously, if one of the few times your going to pop your head over the parapet is to make some spurious straw man attack on the science of climate change then you have to expect your head to get shot off.

Look at these temperature anomolies http://leftoutside.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/temperature-anomalies-1880-2010/ your obsfucation isn’t helping deal with this very real problem. When a bunch of bullshit on one of the most important challenges to have faced mankind is called out, your reaction should not be “look over there.”

Anyone else going to the Guardian’s “Climategate” debate next week?

If this means that saying the head of the IPCC is linked to your company is libellous, then that’s hardly a plus for Pachauri, is it?

Clearly you didn’t read the link properly. But then, I’m not surprised.

“It keeps inviting Nigel Lawson from the “Global Warming Policy Foundation” on to Newsnight, despite the fact that Lawson is neither a scientist who can speak about climate change with authority,”

But Nigel Lawson doesn’t try to speak about the science of climate change. He speaks about what we should do about it. Which is entirely a question of economics.

Which is why the British Govt, when they wanted a report on what we should do (rather than about the existence or severity of) climate change, went and hired an economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, to write one.

Mitigate or adapt? This is about trade offs and cost benefit analysis: economics. What should be the discount rate for things far in the future? Economics. What rate should a carbon tax be at? Economics…..all things that Stern was employed to think and write about.

I’m not at all trying to say that every economist is giving the right answers to all of these questions. But just as the effect of climate change upon rain fall patterns is something we might usefully employ hydrologists to talk about, so what we actually do about climate change is something economists should be employed to do. For what we do do is a question of economics.

And Lawson is, after all, an economist.

But Nigel Lawson doesn’t try to speak about the science of climate change.

Got that right! [/snark]

He does pontificate on the science, I’ve seen him on TV and he is both unconvincing and uninformed.

If he stuck to the economics that wouldn’t be too bad, but hes working from bad science so his economics is bad too.

@Tim Worstall

“But Nigel Lawson doesn’t try to speak about the science of climate change. He speaks about what we should do about it. Which is entirely a question of economics.”

That is what Lawson often claims he is doing, but the reality is wholly different. Last time he I heard him on the Today programme he said he will only comment on policy issues in relation to climate change, then immediately went on to state that the world has not warmed “this century” (meaning the past the past 10 years). Look at the GWPF website and you will find a misleading graph presenting the only the past 10 years global mean temperature (ignoring the previous 150 years), and you find articles entitled:

Solar Influences

Australian Government Plays Down Sea Level Alarmism

Clouds Of Doubt Still Hang Over Climate Scientists

Labour MP Calls For Climategate Re-Assessment

BP’s Analysis Of CRU Emails

Where is the economics in any of the above?

The so-called Global Warming *Policy* Foundation is a sham and a front for science denialism.

Again, I direct similar sentiments to you Tim as I do Dizzy.

Lawson is not a friend to anyone who takes climate change seriously (as I know you do).

On the Global Warming Policy Foundation, it is worth noting that they have charitable status and that confers a number of financial benefits. However, Charity Commission rules state:

“18. No organisation can be charitable if…. it is created for political aims”

and also

“19. The following are examples of organisations or aims which are often assumed to be charitable, but in fact are not… the promotion of political or propagandist aims, or the promotion of a particular point of view.”

http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/publications/cc21.aspx

The GWPF is both political and propagandistic and there charitable status is therefore somewhat questionable. Maybe people need to start complaining to the Charity Commission.

“On Tuesday this week the Daily Telegraph was finally forced to issue a retraction and an apology for an earlier article with false claims about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) chief Rajendra Pachauri.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/7818375/Tata-an-Apology.html

Er … three mistakes for the price of one? It wasn’t the Daily Telegraph – it was the Sunday Telegraph, a different newspaper with different staff and editors; it wasn’t Tuesday this week – it was Sunday 13 June, nearly a month ago … and there was only one “false claim” (singular rather than plural) concerning Rajendra Pachauri about which we apologised, viz:

“We also accept Tata’s assurance that it has no relationship with the Chairman of the IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri.”

You will also note that we also accepted Tata’s assurance that it did not displace “hundreds of thousands” of villagers from its sites in Orissa and Jharkhand and that at its new site in Orissa. We had no difficulty in stating that, as we did not charge Tata with these deeds, attributing them to the Indian government.

Knowledgeable and fair-minded readers may judge the “false claims” to be the apology rather than the statements to which it referred, and draw their own conclusions as to why the apologies were made. If they wish to be further informed, they may wish to read this:

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/07/apology-too-far.html

16. Flowerpower

Sunny @ 9

Clearly you didn’t read the link properly. But then, I’m not surprised.

Oh, I read the link properly.

It was you who didn’t….. as spacedout (who, I’m guessing, is from the Torygraph itself) has spelled out in detail @ 15.

17. Rhys Williams

Bugger climate change,
The real end of the world will be the impact of an asteroid on the Earth’s surface
3 near misses this year
If you don’t see obama or cameron on the same day , you know it’s coming.
Flowerpower ” Well I blame Labour”
cjcjc ” Mummyyyyyyyyyyy”
Telegraph “It’s the fault of the immigrants”

@spacedout/Richard North

The article in question has been removed from the Telegraph website. The same happened over at The Times with your ‘Amazongate’ story. Removing the articles amounts to a full and complete retraction. No escaping that.

18. Paul A @ 2:12 pm, July 10, 2010

re: @spacedout/Richard North

“The article in question has been removed from the Telegraph website. The same happened over at The Times with your ‘Amazongate’ story. Removing the articles amounts to a full and complete retraction. No escaping that.”

You have no idea how little I care about the retraction … in the grander scheme of things, it is of little importance. The issue itself will go on. Those that have the interest will form their own opinions – the sheep will follow, as the sheep always do.

I was astonished to find the Global Warming Policy Foundation is a registered charity , number 1131448 . The BBC frequently describes it as an influential think tank but the Charities Commission website reveals it to be more of an advocacy group

http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityFramework.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=1131448&SubsidiaryNumber=0

You have no idea how little I care about the retraction …

Of course you don’t. Wonder why that is

“..the sheep will follow, as the sheep always do.”

As holds true for every f…wit from the blogosphere, Richard North thinks being contrary equals being clever.

Why the hell does anyone take Nigel Lawson seriously?

The Telegraph article that has been retracted wasn’t about climate change, so I don’t see why Sunny is using this particular case as a peg to discuss media coverage of the AGW issue.

Nor do I see why the BBC is supposed to be at fault on this question. It is required to be impartial and to host the full range of views, so Nigel Lawson is fine so long as he isn’t crowding out climate scientists or green groups. I’d say the BBC does a very fair and very thorough job on climate change.

LizzieG,

Is the BBC balanced on the subject of flat earthism? Is it obliged to have racists on to argue against social cohesion? No.

It picks and chooses the topics it wants ‘balance’ on. Nigel Lawson has found a second life as a pundit on climate change and has, frankly, nothing worthwhile to say. There are a cohort of Westminster villagers who just love the idea that there are always two sides to everything, when sometimes only the lunatic fringe adopts the contrary position….

It seems to me that the precautionary principle ought to apply to the climate change debate, because the Nigel Lawson’s of this world are gambling with the future of your children or your childrens children. It is a pretty well typical of a politician that he can’t see beyond an electoral cycle.

I wonder whether the Clean Air Act would ever have been implemented nowadays in the present climate (hah!) of caring about the coalmen….

“It seems to me that the precautionary principle ought to apply to the climate change debate,”

Great, excellent, let’s do that.

So, quadrupling the cost of energy we know will make everyone vastly poorer and throw hundreds of thousands, if not millions, out of work.

So let’s not do that then, eh?

Tim Worstall,

Where are you getting your entirely alarmist figures from?

In any event, energy dependency on Russian gas makes you entirely deoendent on the price they will sell it at. And to some extent, beholden to them. Is that what you want Tim?

We have already been through price crunches on the price of oil. Which I’d have thought even an ivory tower economist such as your good self would have recognised. Doing it for ourselves, perhaps by way of a Severn dam, etc, would be a genuine investment in a move towards energy independence.

Anyway, you are just another gambler. You understand the cost of everything and the value nothing.

Most extraction of oil and gas takes place overseas. Doing it for ourselves, either through renewables or the like is going to be job creative rather than destructive. In any event, we will have a huge pool of labour after the shake down of the Civil Service.

You do talk some rubbish!

deoendent sound like a sort of dental treatment! ‘dependent’ is what I meant to type…

“Doing it for ourselves, either through renewables or the like is going to be job creative rather than destructive.”

Depends. If raising the price of energy destroys more jobs than creating the renewables does.

As a trivial example: Sheffield Foregemasters uses energy to produce those castings in steel. If we raise the price of energy, what effect does that have upon that company? Does it make it unprofitable? So those jobs go and perhaps that is fewer jobs than are created in producing renewables, perhaps it’s more.

So, it simply isn’t true that by definition moving to renewables will create more jobs than it destroys.

“Doing it for ourselves, perhaps by way of a Severn dam, etc, would be a genuine investment in a move towards energy independence.”

Oh, sure, it would be a move to energy independence, would even be an investment in it. But does it come at a price that we want to pay?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/11/severn-barrage

“If we throw £6bn or so at the shoots barrage (one of the various options) then we have an NPV of £3.5bn. Or £4.8bn at the Beachly version? – £3.2bn. And if we really go for the big one, spending £43.4bn on the Cardiff Weston barrage, then we lose, over the next century or so, £27.1bn at present values. Yes, we lose this much, not gain it. In fact, the more money we spend on these schemes, the more we lose.”

That’s an awful lot to pay for “energy independence”, don’t you think?

30. Matt Munro

Climate change is so, like, 2008.

Tim,

Not really.

We should be preparing now for the tipping point when non-renewables such as oil and gas become more expensive in kilowatt hour terms than renewables. It is called forward planning. And it is pretty well obvious that as a resource becomes scarce, it’s cost will increase. Didn’t they teach you anything when you did economics? And that is leaving the politics at home.

Your arguement depends on a finite resource and a short term viewpoint that is genuinely alarming.

To take your example, what percentage of the overall selling price of the goods that Sheffield Forgemasters produce are directly attributable to their energy costs? Do you know?

Someone, a while ago, created hydro electric power generation in Scotland. It has worked for ages now and as far as I know, no-one is calling on it to be scrapped or replaced by your favoured Combined Cycle Gas Turbines. Your entire arguement on Comment is Free is based on the quite odd idea, for an economist, that Net Present Value has the slightest merit. That absolves you from crystal ball gazing about trends in energy prices I suppose, but it is also completely unrealistic.

Projects such as the Severn dam have huge lead times and a decision now would have to take account of the likely future of energy generation costs. Otherwise you are just whistling in the wind. Aren’t you?

Anyway, 43.4 billion or so is chickenfeed when you compare it to what bloody bankers did to us 🙂 Oh! I see someone called Cormorant has said much the same thing on CiF.

“We should be preparing now for the tipping point when non-renewables such as oil and gas become more expensive in kilowatt hour terms than renewables. It is called forward planning. And it is pretty well obvious that as a resource becomes scarce, it’s cost will increase. Didn’t they teach you anything when you did economics?”

Sure. Which is exactly what we are doing, There are people all over the world (me among them) beavering away to bring down the cost of renewables so that that tipping point comes earlier. For example (a technology I am not involved with) the cost of x KWh from solar PV is falling by 4% a quarter….some 20% pa.

The tipping point is coming and I’m all for it doing so. For when we reach that tipping point then we’ll all naturally install, as the older generating capacity wears out, the new, cheaper, renewable, technologies.

And then we’re done, aren’t we? Problem solved?

“Someone, a while ago, created hydro electric power generation in Scotland. It has worked for ages now and as far as I know, no-one is calling on it to be scrapped or replaced by your favoured Combined Cycle Gas Turbines. ”

1) They’re not “my favoured” gas turbines. They’re what the govt used in preparing the report.

2) And of course no one argues to replace hydro with them because we’ve already spent the money building the hydro: sunk costs, you know?

Umm, why do you think that econmists shouldn’t use NPV? That’s a really bizarre observation.

“That absolves you from crystal ball gazing about trends in energy prices I suppose,”

No, that crystal ball gazing is all contained in the report the govt wrote. That’s how we reach the NPV….

Tim,

If you agree that we should move to renewables, then you’d have a stronger case – within the context of renewables – that there is an arguement that the Severn dam would use money that could otherwise be used for other renewable projects. You’ll not get an arguement from me on that. I believe you guys like to call that opportunity costing or something.

However, the Severn Dam is within the ambit of what we can certainly do now, rather than awaiting some perpetual motion engine in the future. It is the ‘do nowt’ attitude I am railing against – you did notice I am railing – I am not arguing for a specific scheme.

So.

I am all in favour of scientific research into fusion power, etc. And there is a shed load of money being spent on ITER, etc. 10 billion Euros over it’s lifetime. I am not holding my breath for a useful outcome from that in the near future. Should we cease and desist just because we can’t see a short term economic case?

Economics is indeed the dismal science 🙂

“It is the ‘do nowt’ attitude I am railing against – you did notice I am railing –”

But we’re not doing nowt. Millions upon millions of people (of whom I am one) are spending their working lives working towards the solution.

Douglas Clark @ 25

Is the BBC balanced on the subject of flat earthism?

Nigel Lawson appears as a spokesman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Also on the board of that outfit are:

Joel Barnett (former chief sec to Treasury)
Bernard Donoghue (adviser to two Lab Prime Ministers)
Emma Nicholson (former LibDem MP)
Andrew Turnbull (former Cabinet Secretary)
Martin Jacomb (former director of the Bank of England)

Flat earthers?

Surely whether they are flat earthers depends on what they actually believe rather than what positions they might have held in their careers. Never underestimate the ability of otherwise intelligent people to believe very silly things.

@Left Outside

Jesus wept. I wasn’t making a straw man attack on climate change science, or being anti it. I was just pointing out that the problems highlighted by this post about media coverage actually cut both ways.

It’s a bit like the whole “liberal bias” vs “right wing bias” argument. Both claims of bias have salient positions when they make them but the people making them are almost always blinkered to the other side at all costs.

Frankly, it’s pathetic, and the idea I’ve had my “head shot off” is nuts because I wasn;t making an argument against climate change rather I was making the argument that yes, Sunny is right, the media has a habit of choosing certain things and ignoring others on this subject and as a result it’s not possible to have a discussion about it without one side shouting about some big conspiracy to tax us more whilst the other screams “denier” in order to make some idiotic equivalence ot the Holocaust.

Now, on a personal note, I’ve been pretty clear about climate change on here in the past. I couldn’t give a crap about it one way or the other. Is it man made or is it not man made? Who cares? I don’t.

However, if you’re going to post about terrible media coverage of something, and by that what you actually mean is media coverage of a scientific subject upon which you disagree with the coverage of said subject because of bias etc, then you’re going to have to accept that sometimes it does cut the other way.

I think what’s really sad is the way the discourse on this subject by the people who “read” about research differs so wildly from the people who “do” the research. I mean, those who “read” tend to say things like “ahh but they’re a phsyicist/geologist etc not a climatologist therefore we can discredit their experiemtns on that basis”, or “well they’ve been paid by the oil companies therefore what they’ve researched is false”.

Thank God the scientists are not like that. Thank Allah that when a paper comes out others look at it, critique it, and the author goes, “oh yeah good point, back to the drawing board”, or “well actually we covered for that critique in table X if you look in the Appendix”.

Thank God they’re adults and their discussions are not like trying to discuss where dinosaurs came from with an evanglical.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Should the UK press be taken seriously on climate change? http://bit.ly/bDTSaO

  2. Colette Harris

    RT @libcon: Should the UK press be taken seriously on climate change? http://bit.ly/bDTSaO

  3. sunny hundal

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  4. Eddy Anderson

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  5. J Al-Exander

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  6. Dave M

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  7. Chris Coltrane

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  8. jamie mckay

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  9. Stephen Hann

    Should the UK press be taken seriously on climate change? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/YsiFzbV via @libcon

  10. Andy Bolton

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  11. TheCreativeCrip

    Let me qualify last tweet. Here's a bunch of apologies & retractions Telegraph issued over climate reporting http://t.co/QxlaSwV

  12. Nicky Crampsey

    RT @libcon: Should the UK press be taken seriously on climate change? http://t.co/qmTJh2A0





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