Monday, January 14, 2013

Daily Mail misleads over Met Office climate data a cabbie can understand

Long haul flights always make me feel like I'm doing my bit for climate change. Every time I board a plane, I hope for some acceleration to scale of aviation biofuels.

Last night, on the way back from London to San Francisco, I read the Daily Mail. It's not my usual choice of newspaper, but it always offers an insightful glimpse into Britain's unlikeable aspects.
One piece in particular caught my eye by David Rose, a controversial journalist who was discredited for his blind reporting in the run up to the Iraq war of Ahmed Chalabi's claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Even Chalabi later retracted his claims, according to George Monbiot, forcing Rose to admit he was wrong.
Monbiot has previously criticised Rose's reporting on climate change - something that Rose himself seems proud of, boasting in his column yesterday that Planet 3.0 had awarded him its Golden Horseshoe award for the "most brazenly damaging and malign bad science of 2013". Praise indeed. Perhaps he can hang his horseshoe over the mantelpiece where his award for his reporting on Iraq should have been.

Rose claims that Met Office data shows global warming stopped 16 years ago  because of a revision in its decadal forecast which is routinely updated every December. But this assertion looks almost like comedy. Even before it was published, attempts by Britain's right wing press to join the dots  with the most migraine-inducing logic were debunked by the Met Office itself:
8 January 2013 - There has been media coverage today about our experimental decadal global temperature prediction, which is routinely updated in December each year.
The latest decadal prediction suggests that global temperatures over the next five years are likely to be a little lower than predicted from the previous prediction issued in December 2011.
However, both versions are consistent in predicting that we will continue to see near-record levels of global temperatures in the next few years.
This means temperatures will remain well above the long-term average and we will continue to see temperatures like those which resulted in 2000-2009 being the warmest decade in the instrumental record dating back to 1850.
Why can't Rose be bothered to mention this?
But like war, this really is no laughing matter if you believe that columnists help readers form opinions that they are too busy to develop through their own research and that opinion can be converted into political power at the ballot box. Rose contrives an argument to get readers to believe there is really no urgent need to deal with climate change as he contrived an argument for the need for action on non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But the stakes are higher and if such "thought leadership" prevails, it could potentially lead us into a crisis much worse than even the disastrous tragedy of the Iraq war. 

To be fair to Rose, he does acknowledge the need to develop lower carbon energy sources. That's much more than you might expect from a US right-wing columnist. But he perniciously suggests that the Met Office data indicates that we have many more decades to act on climate change.
Rose isn't a moron. He knows exactly what he is doing: manipulating the reader. Unfortunately like too many journalists, he clearly writes from a perspective that shows contempt for his readers and that they are not intelligent as he.
And even worse, if you're not a member of the digerati, you have no hope in hell of finding out the truth. My mum reads the Mail, but she has no internet. But people like my mum never have the advantage of limitless information over the internet to scrape away the artifice of posturing columnists like Rose and uncover the simple fact that Rose and the Daily Mail had their knuckles rapped by the Met Office when it tried to get away with the same nonsense in October.
My taxi driver in London yesterday told me that he left school without any qualifications at 16. Alan, now 44, described himself as "uneducated". But in the 40 minutes to Heathrow, he talked informatively about climate change, extreme weather, the energy industry, colonisation of other planets if we screw this one up… not bad for someone without even a CSE to his name. Alan said he was a Sun reader, because the Guardian was "too deep". But if Alan can get his head around such complex concepts and issues of our time, surely there's hope they can see beyond this tit for tat willy waving that no one else cares about except expensively educated and highly paid columnists. 
The newspaper-buying and tax-paying public deserve better discourse about climate change.

In December, I went to see climate scientist Michael Mann in a panel discussion during which he spoke about the six stages of denial where Rose's argument fits squarely. In my next blog, I will explore the demands on scientists like Mann to defend their work in a way that scientists in no other disciplines are required to.

No comments:

Post a Comment