De-smoging the press

Is it the media that’s ruining the environment? With climate scientists worldwide constantly communicating to the global population that climate change is indeed occurring and that it is undoubtedly in part due to humanity’s incessant consumption, how is it that reputable papers and well-trained journalists continue to claim that there are two sides to the climate change story?

Richard Littlemore, co-author of the DeSmog Blog and Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming is clearly the right individual to debunk the climate change myths. Intelligent, articulate and relatable, he presents information clearly and in a way that gives his audience the context needed to understand why it is that the press and public relations firms use these climate change deniers, and why people can’t help but believe them.

Regardless of what journalists may claim, they (the media) are usually not experts in a specific field. Journalists may have done extensive research and may have covered that subject for years but they likely do not have training in scientific methodology or have been exposed to the primary research that is transformed into accessible charts and documentation.

Littlemore understands this better than most. His long history in journalism and public relations gives him the background to decode the climate deniers’ convoluted logic, and his close relationships with climate scientists, notably with Dr. Dan Johnson, a tenured and extremely well regarded environmental science professor in the University of Lethbridge, gives him the information necessary to prove that although the media can be deceptive, the facts are irrefutable. Littlemore explains that, “It is all about being skeptical. Being skeptical isn’t about standing back from the information, being skeptical means doing your homework. You look hard at the people who are telling you things.”

The DeSmog Blog has a three-part test, a test that anyone can and should use before they take in information and believe it as fact. Firstly, are they really experts? Second, are they doing work in the field? Thirdly, are they self-interested in some way? Littlemore and James Hoggan – the other author of the above mention blog and book – recommend this test as a way for the average media consumer to decode the agendas behind controversial climate change statements.

Between 1993 and 2003, out of 928 articles discussing climate change in academic, peer-reviewed articles, not one mentioned a possible controversy regarding the scientific data or opinion available. Compare this to 636 articles written and published in mainstream media, by journalists who may or may not have a significant scientific background, of which 53% claim that a controversy over the validity of the climate change argument exists. Littlemore explains that, “it is a complicated issue, and you do have to do a little work to understand the science, but once you understands the science you are harder to swindle.”

The science though can be left by the wayside when political interests become more prevalent that scientific fact. Nothing exemplifies this better than the Copenhagen Conference. The discussion about climate change and the need for immediate action was greatly overshadowed by the political nature of the conference and the poor country versus rich country dilemma that overtook all ability to reach a consensus on action. As Littlemore stated, “If you look at what’s been happening over the past year, we have been losing, and losing badly.”

Bringing this issue even closer to home, a U of L professor and the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Grassland Ecosystems, Dr. Dan Johnson recently underwent a painful and drawn out legal battle with a well-known and unfortunately oft-cited climate change denier, Dr. Tim Ball, who is described as a “renowned environmental consultant and former climatology professor.” Dr. Ball is a former faculty member of the University of Winnipeg and currently works as a scientific advisor for the International Climate Science Coalition, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and the Friends of Science.

In April of 2006, Dr. Ball wrote an article for the Calgary Herald expounding on his views of climate change and denying the human involvement in this phenomenon. Dr. Johnson wrote a letter to the editor, exposing some of the inaccuracies of Dr. Ball’s statements regarding his term at the University of Winnipeg, as well as the claim that he was the first climatology PhD. In response to Dr. Johnson’s letter, Dr. Ball sued him, claiming defamation of character.

This is the kind of deus ex machina that climate chance deniers work with. When their credibility is questioned they use the overarching authority of the legal system, instead of the basic law of science. While they cannot prove they are right, they argue, and given enough money and time they can beat what is clearly the truth.

All of this looks bleak; it looks like the media will be humanity’s downfall and that good people like Dr. Johnson and Littlemore will not be listened to, as they should be. However, change is truly possible. When asked how we as a society move on, Littlemore responded with, “We really need to shut down the people who have now come to dominate the conversation, and we need to do that by pointing out how thin their information really is. Then, we have to get socially active. We need that kind of 1960’s style activism. That needs to start in the demonstration of the public appetite for action from government.”

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