As policymakers around the world feverishly design measures to mitigate the catastrophic effects of long-term global warming, some media representatives stand out for their curious denial of the whole affair.
A couple months ago, the Mail on Sunday, an affiliate of British tabloid media conglomerate the Daily Mail, claimed scientists admitted they had fudged the facts when it comes to global warming.
The article, entitled “World’s top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said“, penned by journalist David Rose, was in response to the latest report on global climate change issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the the IPCC. Every six years, the IPCC publishes a massively peer-reviewed expert assessment on the state of the biome amid rising global temperatures caused by carbon-intensive economic activities.
Rose goes on to condemn prevailing computer climate models for having “exaggerated the effect of increased carbon emissions on world temperatures.” Top computer science colleges, the private sector and the government have helped expand the use of computer-driven predictions of Earth’s future climate, but opponents say computer climate models are inherently unreliable.
The problem with the Daily Mail‘s ‘scoop’ is it’s nothing of the sort. In fact, the latest IPCC report expresses confidence in its evaluation of a warming planet facing threatening changes, from loss of Arctic sea ice and ocean acidification to multiplying extreme weather events and the collapse of vulnerable species.
The thousands of scientists who contributed to the report say they are more certain that ever climate changes are driven by unsustainable human practices.
In the lead-up to the report’s release, the Guardian’s Michael Mann says “claims that members of the IPCC have downgraded their scientific confidence have been plentiful among the usual purveyors of climate change misinformation: Fox News, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and various conservative tabloids…”
The Daily Mail seems to have jumped onboard this bandwagon, with Rose at the helm dramatically declaring that “A leaked copy of the world’s most authoritative climate study reveals scientific forecasts of imminent doom were drastically wrong.”
The Daily Mail is the oldest of the UK’s sensationalist tabloid press, which is known for giving disproportionate credence to unsubstantiated gossip, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes. Despite its tabloid status, the outlet has the world’s twelfth largest circulation among English-language dailies. This reach often means its claims inspire instant controversy.
At the heart of the conflict is public support for programs designed to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2008, the world’s first legally binding climate change target—the Climate Change Act—committed the UK to reducing its GHG emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
But the law has encountered continual controversy from the beginning, with the latest opposition arising from the Treasury and now the tabloid press. Rose’s efforts are an attempt to frame the IPCC’s reports as wildly exaggerated and a tool used to “justify swingeing fossil fuel taxes and subsidies for ‘renewable’ energy.”
The problem with this slant is that fact-twisting and misrepresentation are needed to give it an air of legitimacy. Despite climate change’s clear and immense dangers to people, the economy, national security, and the environment, the Daily Mail tries to trick readers into believing the threat is nothing but a hoax and mitigating measures are part of an ongoing conspiracy to extract taxes and raise prices.
Positioning people’s short-term economic concerns in opposition to their long-term interests in a healthy environment intentionally confuses the issue. It dampens public support for critical policies on the basis of false premises.
Publishing unreliable figures, lifting comments out of context, and re-making data to fit an underlying political agenda all count among the most unethical journalistic techniques.
For a veteran reporter like David Rose, these reporting methods are, at best, negligent. For a sensationalist rag like the Daily Mail, it is perhaps par for the course. The Mail has a history of remaking issues, including climate change, to suit its yellow style of ‘journalism.’
Yet the stakes are higher than usual. The potential victim is not merely a single politician or celebrity, or even a single issue. Climate change affects every issue across the spectrum. The victim here is not only the Mail‘s readership, but all of humanity and the sensitive ecologies that support its existence.
For this reason, the application of misleading modes of reporting to the unresolved complexities of climate change is incredibly irresponsible. This ongoing problem shows deep disrespect to the planet, journalistic integrity, and the ordinary people to whom this false ‘news’ is pitched.