Extreme weather, global warming, and the media

by Mike Gaworecki

September 2, 2008

All too often these days, the mainstream media reports on an issue with a tragically skewed sense of “fairness:” they report what both sides say about an issue equally, and shy away from reporting any actual facts or independent research that might refute or bolster either claim. Tired of allegations that they are too liberal, many, many reporters have all but abandoned their role as watchdogs and investigators.

On no issue is this more evident than global warming.

Despite overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that mankind’s actions are warming the planet and changing the global climate for the worse, the mainstream media continues to report the views of misguided global warming deniers as if they have equal merit. A recent AP story is a good case in point:

Global warming has probably made Hurricane Gustav a bit stronger and wetter, some top scientists said Sunday, but the specific connection between climate change and stronger hurricanes remains an issue of debate.

To be fair, this is actually overall a pretty decent article about the effect global warming is having on hurricanes. While it’s true that no single storm can be attrributed to global warming, it is quite clear that hurricanes are getting bigger and more destructive thanks to global warming. The IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report makes this assertion, and so does a report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year. But you won’t find references to either of those reports in the article, though together they represent the findings of literally thousands of climate scientists.

Instead, the reporter chose to find a few scientists quibbling about just how much global warming is actually contributing to the size and strength of hurricanes, like this guy: “’We have a real effect due to climate change,’ Willoughby said. ‘But the dominant effect in my mind is just bad luck.’” In the end, the article doesn’t directly challenge the idea that global warming is making hurricanes more destructive, but it does create the sense that there are several equally viable theories about the effect global warming has on hurricanes. The risk, obviously, is that this will in turn give the unitiated the impression that they needn’t worry about global warming making weather more extreme because everyone is just guessing anyway.

But to those who read the entire article, the numbers quoted in the last line pretty much speak for themselves:

From 1975 to 1990, about 17 percent of all hurricanes around the world were Category 4 and 5. From 1990 to 2004, that jumped to 35 percent. And from 2003 through last year it was up to 41 percent — not including this year’s Gustav.

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