Global warming is an immensely complex issue. It is all encompassing: politics, economics, geography and science. Needless to say, it is incredibly difficult to understand.
This doesn’t seem to bother Fox News and the Mail, however. Media Matters has highlighted a piece run by Fox earlier this month that claimed global warming “ended” 16 years ago.
Their report was based upon an article in the Mail on Sunday, a paper (along with the sister Daily Mail) that is described by Media Matters as having “repeatedly misrepresented climate science”.
The article itself is based upon deliberately misleading statistics. Their time frame of 16 years is entirely arbitrary.
In response to this publication the Met Office released a statement saying only multi-decade data is useful in the measuring of global warming. An overall trend is only detectable in the long term; short term data, such as the set chosen by the Mail, is not representative.
Global temperatures ebb and flow on a yearly basis but in a much longer term scale there is a definite rise in global temperatures. According to both the Met Office and NASA the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record and previous to that it was the 1990s. The phenomenon of short term cooling does not disprove global warming.
The Mail also misrepresented a statement from climate scientist Judith Curry, and used a quote she does not recall ever having given, in its argument. In the time since, she has come out criticising the Mail for twisting her statement and misconstruing her views.
This story offers an insight into the much wider problem of climate change misrepresentation throughout all media. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found evidence that, over a period of six months, 93% of Fox News’s representation of climate change was wrong.
This problem is not one restricted to just Fox News, however, and appears to have infected other arms of News Corp. The report also implicates the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. The broadsheet newspaper is widely regarded as being part of the ‘quality press’ and so not expected to fall foul of scientific misunderstanding.
Peter Hitchens demonstrated the problem clearly when he claimed the greenhouse effect “probably doesn’t exist”, and there is “no evidence” to suggest it does. Despite there being general consensus by the scientific community since the mid 19th century the greenhouse effect exists, Hitchens, Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday columnist, felt himself qualified to refute that.
Part of the problem is that the vast complexity of climate change (of which global warming is a constituent part) means a lot of data can easily be misrepresented, giving rise to data being twisted for ideological purposes.
A famous example of this occurring is the 2007 TV documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle”. The premise of this programme was that global temperature variations were not in fact a result of the increase in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but rather due to radiation from the sun.
The documentary came under immense criticism after broadcast, including from scientists whose work was referenced in the programme, whose research was represented in a selective and ideological fashion by the controversial film maker Mark Durkin.
The documentary went entirely against the scientific grain.
This leads us onto a disturbing fact - that it is incredibly easy to be entirely wrong and yet still be successful in pursuit of an ideological point. Whilst President George W Bush was in office there was a memo leaked on how to politically handle climate change. Instead of pursuing climate change denial, the official line instead encouraged Republicans to muddy the water. Expressing concerns about the science behind climate change and claiming there was ‘serious doubt’ were the lynchpins of this tactic.
It is worrying to think we live in a world where one of the most important issues of our time is twisted and used for ideological reasons, by politicians and press, seriously damaging our understanding and awareness of such a grave problem.