Outsourcing the Climate Skeptics
Their views roundly dismissed in all but the most partisan right-wing outlets, climate skeptics are eagerly seeking new audiences - in some of the countries most likely to be hardest-hit by climate change. The Hindustan Times, a prominent newspaper published in India, recently published two very misleading articles on the subject of climate change that essentially argued that it wasn't such a big deal and that the sun's rays did contribute to the phenomenon.
As noted by Manu Sharma, an Indian blogger who works in the wind energy sector: "Both articles are highly misleading, contain factual inaccuracies and at the very least deliberately hide widely known facts that counter its argument to paint a biased picture." His complete, excruciatingly well-referenced analysis, which can be read here, elegantly dismantles the erroneous arguments put forth in both pieces and cites a brief e-mail from Rajendra K Pachauri, the renowned climate expert and director of the IPCC, and Malini Mehra of the Center for Social Markets.Here is part of the argument advanced in the first article:
"An international civil society report has debunked the claims of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saying there is no evidence available to show loss of human life directly due to climate change. The report of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change, to be released in India on Tuesday, says there is no evidence to suggest climate change has caused an increase in diseases.
"If the main causes of diseases such as diarrohea and malaria are properly addressed, climate change will not increase their incidence," the report says. Paul Reiter, an international health expert, says in the report that the complex interaction of these factors makes it difficult to predict the likely impact of long-term climate change on the transmission of malaria."
And here is Sharma's rebuttal:
"By pitting CSCCC directly against IPCC, the article creates the impression that both organisations are of similar stature. Nothing could be further from the truth. IPCC is a Noble prize winning United Nations body made up of hundreds of scientists and governmental representatives while CSCCC is merely a coalition of so-called global "think tanks" - corporate lobbyists funded by big oil corporations, the likes of ExxonMobil, to further their interests.
The HT article makes no mention of the background of CSCCC - who comprises the coalition and how are they funded. Unlike IPCC, which was formed two decades ago, CSCCC was only organised a little more than an year back by International Policy Network (IPN) which is a well known recipient of Exxon funding. IPN has received $390,000 from Exxon. Several other members of the coalition have also been a beneficiary.
Paul Reiter, the expert cited in the article, for example, sits on the "Scientific and Economic Advisory Council" of an organization called the "Annapolis Centre." What is Annapolis Centre? It's a US based "think tank" that has pocketed $793,575 from ExxonMobil and has been very active in playing down the human contribution to global warming."
The second article Sharma cites - pithily titled "Sun too causes global warming" - makes an even more dubious assertion (hard to believe, I know):
"Fresh research by Danish Space Research Centre can possibly give a new twist to the controversy whether Green House Gas emissions is the major contributor for global warming. The Center's research based on climate date of 150 years shows that varying activity of the Sun is the most systematic contributor to natural climate variations."
The skeptics' sun hypothesis was, of course, (once again) soundly debunked in a recent article published in Environmental Research Letters; the other claim, that there is no evidence to suggest that climate change is implicated in a higher prevalence of diseases, ignores the IPCC's latest findings, which clearly stated that rising global temperatures would alter the "spatial distribution of some infectious disease vectors" and other "mixed effects, such as the decrease or increase of the range and transmission potential of malaria in Africa." Furthermore, as elaborated in the UN Development Program's 2007 report:
"Climate change is the defining human development challenge of the 21st Century. Failure to respond to that challenge will stall and then reverse international efforts to reduce poverty. The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer the earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed least to the problem."
As Sharma put it to me, this biased reporting seems to have picked up in the wake of the latest IPCC report's release:
"There has been a big surge in climate change reports following the release of the latest IPCC report. At that time it was common to see full page stories on the topic. Prior to the release of IPCC report, the coverage was almost non-existent. When the Stern report came out there seemed to be a conspiracy of silence in the media. I remember scanning HT and TOI (two leading English newspapers) for a full week after the release and could not find a single story.
HT didn't mention the Stern report for several months until Sir Nicholas Stern visited India - when the report was mentioned for the first time - but it was a sanitized article that didn't say a word about the implications of delaying action on the world economy.
All this leads me to feel that there's a deliberate effort on part of the print publications (or pressure placed upon them) to play down the severity of climate change and to project it as controversial. Nevertheless, as a result of regular reporting over the past year, most educated people in the cities are well informed of the issue - though they lack understanding of its severity.
I hope that other news publications such as The Indian Express and The Hindu group, which have been known for their journalistic integrity, expose bodies such as the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change and reveal them for what they are before they gain a foothold in India."
Seeing as India and China, among other developing nations, have yet to readily embrace policies that would enforce stringent emissions cuts, the skeptics have much to gain from tipping public sentiment towards their own misguided beliefs. It remains to be seen how far they'll be willing to go to push their arguments, but - if this early salvo is any indication - it could be a long slog.
Image courtesy of oxfam international via flickr