On October 10, 2010, the Calgary Herald, once considered a respectable paper, but now under new ownership, published an editorial about climate change, taking as its basis a new report from the Royal Society. The Royal Society is a fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence.
With its editorial, the Calgary Herald (and by extension, all the other news outlets in the chain), has firmly staked itself, along with Big Oil, in the “Let’s make money by denying climate change” camp. This editorial did absolutely nothing to enlighten its readership about the Royal Society’s report or about global warming – it was very much a cry from the wallet, aimed to impress the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and its constituent members, and the Conservative Party of Canada.
There are many people and organisations who stand to make serious money by denying climate change and global warming, and most of these folks, through their financial status, are in a position to influence people or government (e.g. the media, or industry lobbyists such as CAPP, the Koch Industries funded Tea Party), or control the population (e.g. politicians and political parties).
Quoting from the editorial:
Britain’s Royal Society, one of the most venerable science academies, has amended its idiot’s guide to global warming. Officially titled Climate Change, A Summary of the Science, the 19-page layman’s document is a refreshing departure from the strident, doom-and-gloom message that has characterized most scientific statements on global warming, which have been parroted by the Al Gores of the world thusly (sic): humans are to blame, sea levels will rise and the end of the world is fast approaching.
The Royal Society, however, puts it this way: (The numbers at the beginning of each paragraph are the paragraph numbers referred to in the text of the report; any emphasis is added).
1 Changes in climate have significant implications for present lives, for future generations and for ecosystems on which humanity depends. Consequently, climate change has been and continues to be the subject of intensive scientific research and public debate.
2 There is strong evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been caused largely by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, including agriculture and deforestation. The size of future temperature increases and other aspects of climate change, especially at the regional scale, are still subject to uncertainty. Nevertheless, the risks associated with some of these changes are substantial. It is important that decision makers have access to climate science of the highest quality, and can take account of its findings in formulating appropriate responses.
Continuing with the Herald’s version of the report:
“There is currently insufficient understanding of the enhanced melting and retreat of the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica to predict exactly how much the rate of sea level rise will increase above that observed in the past century for a given temperature increase. Similarly, the possibility of large changes in the circulation of the North Atlantic Ocean cannot be assessed with confidence. The latter limits the ability to predict with confidence what changes in climate will occur in Western Europe.”
What the Calgary Herald omits from the above quote is the reference to an earlier point in the report, (Paragraph 45) which states categorically that:
“Because of the thermal expansion of the ocean, it is very likely that for many centuries the rate of global sea-level rise will be at least as large as the rate of 20 cm per century that has been observed over the past century.
Paragraph 49 discusses the additional, but more uncertain, contribution to sea-level rise from the melting of land ice.
The Herald editorial continues: The Royal Society does not deny global warming is occurring, but admits no one cause can be assigned to it.
“There is very strong evidence to indicate that climate change has occurred on a wide range of different time scales from decades to many millions of years; human activity is a relatively recent addition to the list of potential causes of climate change,” it states.
This quote has been cut from the original, and appears to be deliberately out of context. What the report actually states follows :
25 Global-average CO2 concentrations have been observed to increase from levels of around 280 parts per million (ppm) in the mid-19th century to around 388 ppm by the end of 2009. CO2 concentrations can be measured in “ancient air” trapped in bubbles in ice, deep below the surface in Antarctica and Greenland; these show that present-day concentrations are higher than any that have been observed in the past 800,000 years, when CO2 varied between about 180 and 300 ppm. Various lines of evidence point strongly to human activity being the main reason for the recent increase, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) with smaller contributions from land-use changes and cement manufacture. The evidence includes the consistency between calculations of the emitted CO2 and that expected to have accumulated in the atmosphere, the analysis of the proportions of different CO2 isotopes, and the amount of oxygen in the air.
26 These observations show that about half of the CO2 emitted by human activity since the industrial revolution has remained in the atmosphere. The remainder has been taken up by the oceans, soils and plants although the exact amount going to each of these individually is less well known.
27 Concentrations of many other greenhouse gases have increased. The concentration of methane [a very potent greenhouse gas] has more than doubled in the past 150 years; this recent and rapid increase is unprecedented in the 800,000 year record and evidence strongly suggests that it arises mainly as a result of human activity.
The Herald editorial winds up: With the [Royal] society now on record that human activity is a “potential” cause of global warming, we wonder if the Alberta government’s $2 billion investment in the unproven technology of carbon capture needs a rethink. The society indicates such measures are necessary. With human activity likely the “dominant cause” of global warming, and the effects of carbon demonstrably profound, it warns the risks are great enough to proceed with climate mitigation strategies even in “the absence of perfect knowledge.”
We hope this ushers in an era of balance to a polarized debate. Science for too long has been engaged in climate activism. Skeptics, too, have been strident in their protestations.
“Science for too long has been engaged in climate activism?”
This is another misleading point. Science is an academic discipline. It does not engage in activism. Scientists are curious people who study what is around us, take an educated guess as to what is happening, and then try to prove, through observation and experiment, that their guess is right. If they can prove their theory, all is good. If not, back to the drawing board. Or perhaps it is the act of daring to publish and draw attention to their results that the editorial condemns. If there is any activism, (aside from the odd Green Peace demonstration), it comes from the other side, i.e. climate change deniers, the Tea Party, etc.
Also, it is worth keeping in mind that the flagship of the Post Media Network (who now own the Calgary paper) is the (Toronto) National Post, which has been a constant money loser since it was founded by Conrad Black in 1998. A newspaper (or any media outlet) depends on its readership in order to sell space to advertisers, but it is the advertisers who actually pay the bills and the shareholders.
The Conservative Party of Canada, along with the provincial Conservative Party, benefit each year from the royalties and taxes from the Alberta Oil Patch (and also forego billions of potential taxpayers’ money through excessive tax breaks and ridiculously low royalty payments).
These (and other) groups depend on a tame and submissive media to help them hold onto power – a newspaper which criticises these organisations too much is likely to lose its life-blood, advertising revenue. Stephen Harper and Ed Stelmach, Premier of Alberta, do not seriously believe in climate change, for purely economic reasons; therefore, to encourage further advertising from these two “leaders”, the Calgary Herald may not believe in climate change. More to the point, the federal government buys huge amounts of advertising, and this is the reason the paper may have taken a report by the Royal Society, the oldest and most prestigious scientific body in the world, and completely twisted it around to support its own ends.
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