How Sloppy Reporting Has Become an Obstacle To Passing Climate Legislation

new york times building photo

photo: Jason Kuffer via flickr

When the newly-formed iceberg four times the size of Manhattan broke from Greenland over the weekend, John Rudolf of the New York Times wrote an artciled titled "Iceberg as a Metaphor for Inaction." In it he contends that "Despite the scientific uncertainty, Mr. Markey used the image of the ice island as a logjam of Republican opposition to climate change legislation in the Senate."

What's more disturbing than Markey jumping at the opportunity to bash Republicans is that "scientific uncertainty" comes into this at all. It may not be the most eloquent metaphor, but Markey's intent is right on when he says:

Last summer, the House passed landmark legislation to create clean energy jobs that cut carbon pollution. However, it's still unclear how many giant blocks of ice it will take to break the block of Republican climate deniers in the US Senate who continue to hold this critical clean energy and climate legislation hostage.

Debate About Event Causes Isn't Uncertainty About Climate Change
It may be true that we don't know the exact cause of why the Petermann Glacier lost quite a bit off the snout end. Some scientists studying the glacier immediately attributed it to "part of a climate warming pattern." Andreas Muenchow, however, urged caution in immediately chalking this one up to climate change and said that jumping to that conclusion "cheapens and discredits those findings where global warming is a real and immediate cause for observable phenomena."

Fair enough. But when reporting those differing viewpoints on one event, immediately following it by describing those perspectives as "scientific uncertainty" and implying that Rep. Markey may not be on firm ground in seeing symbolism in the event is (perhaps unwittingly) injecting far more uncertainty into the situation than is proper.

We Know More Than Enough About Climate Change to Know We Have to Act
One event's causes can be debated, without a doubt, but what the overwhelming majority (we're talking high 90% here) of scientists would agree with--including the two cited by Rudolf in all likelihood--is that when it comes to whether or not climate change is happening and that humans are the main cause of it, there is no uncertainty. At least to the degree that inaction is the proper course of action, which is what Markey is on about.

Even though some of the details of the science of climate change may need more research, we know more than enough to know that unless we radically depart from a business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions scenario, we're going to create a planet far less hospitable than we'd like. We've known more than enough for some time to make acting to prevent climate change as much as we can an ethical imperative.

Continuing to imply that we don't know this much by using the phrase "scientific uncertainty" here is just sloppy at best and wholly inaccurate at worst.

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