masthead-highres

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Global Warming Consensus: Folks Who Believe There is One Can't Tell you What It Is

From page one of today's (Nov. 25) Washington Post, an article by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin that begins with a reference to "the scientific consensus about climate change" as if the "consensus" were an established fact:
While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.
Question: If "the consensus" truly is an established fact, why is it referred to as "a consensus"? Why not just state the facts about which there is a "consensus"? (After all, no one refers to the "consensus" that gravity is the reason an apple falls down after separation from a tree. Folks just call it "gravity.")

Answer: Because even among those who believe there is a consensus on global warming, there is no agreement about the consensus itself. To some believers it is a consensus that the planet has been warming (but with internal disagreement on since when and how much); to others it is a consensus that human-caused CO2 emissions are causing measurable warming (but how much it may cause and how quickly is disputed); to others it is a consensus that the expected warming will be catastrophic for the entire planet (while others believe it will benefit some areas while harming others, or believe warming would be negative but not necessarily catastrophic); to some it is a consensus that hurricanes, droughts, snowstorms, etc. have been altered by human behavior (while others say the jury is still out); to some it is a consensus in favor of one or more of the scientific theories combined with the advocacy of some specified political action, such as ratifying the Kyoto treaty (while others see the consensus as wholly scientific, with no political components). Etc.

Bottom line: The supposed consensus itself is a mass of contradictory opinions, a fact which says clearly to anyone with open ears that the science isn't settled on global warming.

So, even though the Washington Post apparently has decided to deny the existence of doubters to the global warming theory "consensus" (making Post reporters and editors "deniers" in the truest sense), the Post still can't do what it ought to have done in the lede: Define the consensus.

Cross-posted at Newsbusters.

Addendum: The Washington Post certainly has interesting ledes. From a November 26 global warming article by Blaine Harden and Juliet Eilperin:
SEATTLE -- As the Bush administration debates much of the world about what to do about global warming, butterflies and ski-lift operators, polar bears and hydroelectric planners are on the move.
There is a world-wide debate "about global warming, butterflies and ski-lift operators"?
In their separate ways, wild creatures, business executives and regional planners are responding to climate changes that are rapidly recalibrating their chances for survival, for profit and for effective delivery of public services...
As surprised as I am that climate changes have the ability to recalibrate their chances for survival, I'm even more surprised that, with their survival in doubt, the climate changes are still concerned about profit and the effective delivery of public services. (Shows what I know about climate changes.)

Subject-verb agreement problems aside, I don't think the Post meant to say "recalibrate." I think it meant "recalculate."

Oh, well, I shouldn't quibble about a few words. It is not as if we are trusting the Post to teach us about atmospheric physics or something.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:23 PM

Copyright The National Center for Public Policy Research