Over the last 6 months, readers of The West Australian newspaper have been subjected to a barrage of hysteria over global warming. Very bad news stories of one kind or another are published almost every day, all with the common theme that civilisation as we know it is about to be destroyed.
Some of these stories are simply laughable, like the article asserting that a rise in temperature of 1-2 degrees will result in the extinction of the karri forest. Another reported that rising sea levels (caused by global warming) will, amongst other calamities, lead to a killer increase in salinity in the Swan River. Many readers were surprised by this, since the Swan River is a tidal estuary in its lower reaches, and is fed by the salt-laden Avon River in its upper reaches.
Day after day The West Australian delivers stories unequivocally foretelling the melting of ice caps and glaciers, death of forests, disease outbreaks, the collapse of agriculture, social disruption, loss of coastal communities and beaches, catastrophic storms, floods, droughts and bushfires. All of this is based on an unquestioning acceptance of the theory that human-induced CO2 emissions are causing the world to heat up, and an unquestioning belief in the link between projected warming and ghastly consequences.
I am curious about this lack of editorial scepticism. When it comes to reporting politics or community issues, journalists generally pride themselves on pricking sacred balloons, cutting down tall poppies, exposing spin and highlighting hidden agendas, in short doing what journalists do. The West Australian is quite good in this area, even if their judgement is not always infallible. They have not been afraid to attack government Ministers or powerful Union bosses or to probe politically-incorrect issues, such as alcoholism and education in Indigenous communities. But on global warming their stance is one of uncritical acceptance of Worst Case Scenarios. The whole package of political game-playing and agenda-driven alarmism is taken at face value and delivered on to readers as if the newspaper was a propaganda pamphlet, rather than a mature organ of the Australian media.
It is not just The West Australian. ABC current affairs journalists to a man and woman are also promoters of Global Warming Apocalypse. A good example was the recent segment on The 7.30 Report which suggested that a slight projected increase in temperature would result in a regime of completely unstoppable bushfires. This proposition was put to the gullible journalist by a climatologist and an environmental activist, neither of whom had any experience in bushfire science or management. No one with this knowledge or experience was interviewed.
And just before the Global Warming True Believers launch their barbs at me, I assure them that I accept the idea of climate change – the climate is always changing. I am also concerned about air pollution from industry and vehicles. However, I regard as unproven the theory of ‘accelerated global warming” as a result of human CO2 emissions. And I consider the worst-case scenarios uncritically presented as fact by journalists to be unhelpful to a community struggling to make sense of a complex issue.
There are risks associated with constant promotion of Worst Case Scenarios. The first is that people will start to shrug their shoulders, feeling that the whole situation is beyond hope: the planet is doomed, so we might as well live for the minute. This leads to the second risk: doomsday projections becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.
The one-sided reporting of the global warming debate is perhaps explained by the fact that journalists are frightened of presenting both sides of the global warming story. They do not want to alienate those powerful sections of the community who will attack them if they do, i.e. environmentalists, academics and business interests profiting from global warming alarm. Alternatively we are just seeing another example of the professional immaturity of the Australian media. I have observed that they have always regarded dramatic disasters and fearsome calamities as more newsworthy than everyday life or good citizenship. Thus trees being chainsawed to the accompaniment of wailing protesters is a far “better” story than a forest quietly regrowing under the stewardship of dedicated foresters. I can see no solution to this.
Perth, Western Australia
PS: I sent a copy of this article to the Editor of The West asking for any comments before I posted it on this blog. He did not reply. However, a week later a short article appeared with the first positive comment about global warming I have ever seen in this newspaper. The journalist reported the view of a marine scientist that global warming would lead to extensive new coral reefs forming all along the Western Australian coast, perhaps as far south as Perth. That will be nice.
In September 14, 2006, I posted a piece entitled ‘Déjà Vu on the ABC’ by Roger Underwood which went on to win a place in the On Line Opinion best blogs competition for that year. This article is also about inaccurate and misleading media reporting of an environmental issue. Read more here: http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/001633.html.