Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Why Peter Sissons is wrong about BBC climate coverage (?)

A defence of the BBC from a confused Fiona Fox below -- quite openly admitting that she (and the BBC generally) accepts Warmism -- but claiming that it is unfair to brand the BBC as "unbalanced".

Fifi is such a bad journalist however that she cites not a single fact or statistic to show how "fair" the BBC is. Just a list of all the Warmists interviewed on TV in any particular year plus a list of all the skeptics interviewed in the same year would have been informative. She would not even need know how to count in order to provide that! No need to guess why she provided nothing of the sort, of course.

Peter Sissons spent many years reporting for the BBC and Fifi is the funnel through which science gets into the BBC, apparently. Some of the comments already up at the foot of her article are good too

Peter Sissons' attack on political correctness at the BBC will probably resonate with some of my friends who work there. Sissons was not the only seasoned reporter insulted by the compulsory Safeguarding Trust course - though interestingly all the journalists I spoke to, like Sissons, had a more positive experience on the course than they expected.

And I share his discomfort at the use of vox pops as any kind of valid representation of public opinion.

But his attack on the failure of the BBC to report both sides of the climate change debate is barely recognisable.

Sissons' argument that some BBC bosses at times got close to abandoning some of their beloved impartiality on climate change partly rings true. One long-serving BBC journalist told me that Mark Thomson's supportive introduction to Al Gore on his visit to Television Centre to promote his climate change film An Inconvenient Truth was unprecedented in BBC history.

Another reported that a senior BBC boss assured a room of scientists that a particular climate sceptic would never appear on the airwaves on his watch. Never? Really?

I also remember an email exchange with a leading scientist after the Live Earth concert was screened by the BBC together with a running commentary from a string of A list celebs. The scientist was demanding to know what the Science Media Centre (SMC, of which I am the Director) planned to do about the appearance of David Baddiel, who threw a spanner in the carefully choreographed works by coming out as a dyed-in-the-wool climate sceptic. My immediate reply was that I would do absolutely nothing about Baddiel unless I could also challenge the banal, and in many cases much more stupid, scientific claims peddled by the 'supportive' celebs. In this debate sceptics do not have a monopoly on bad science.

But the rest of Sissons' insights are selective and misleading. For every BBC boss who got over-excited about Al Gore or over-censorious about sceptics, I can point to another who fought with science reporters on a daily basis, often demanding that every news report on a complex new piece of climate science be reported through a 'disco' (discussion) between the researchers and 'A Sceptic' - irrespective of their expertise.

His claims that the time given to minority views was 'practically zero' and that the phones of the sceptics never rang are just not true. At the SMC, I have been dealing with BBC journalists reporting climate change for eight years now - covering much of the period that Sissons complains about. Yet, despite the fact that we reflect the mainstream view of climate change, our phones rang many times with BBC journalists searching for sceptics to 'balance' their news item.

Sceptics like Benny Peiser and Bjorn Lomburg have become household names to BBC audiences and off the top of his head, the BBC science and environment reporter David Shukman reels off a list of sceptics he alone has interviewed - Nigel Lawson, Penny Peiser, Viscount Monckton, Richard Linzden and David Holland to name but a few.

Where Sissons sees 'zero' sceptics, the scientists I know see a plague of them.

Indeed if I am asked what is the single greatest complaint about journalism from the scientific community in the past eight years it would have to be the anger amongst climate researchers at the BBC's devotion to balancing every climate science story with a sceptical view.

I have written about the dangers of journalistic balance applied to science before, but like so many aspects of the climate change debate, the discussion has become unhelpfully polarized and overly simplistic - with journalists like Sissons seeing any report that does not include both sides as 'propaganda' and some in science arguing for something close to a blanket ban.

Neither is right. What is needed is a more intelligent journalism - an attempt to select interviewees who can enlighten us on a complex subject and guide us somewhere closer to the truth. It seems to me that Sissons' demand for more sceptics - any old sceptics! - is just as crude.

Discussions about the wider impact of climate change and how we tackle it should include many voices. But the advice - lambasted by Sissons - that the weight of evidence on the basic science no longer justifies equal space being given to the tiny minority of scientific sceptics is absolutely right, and a bold move from the BBC.

For me, the biggest failure of science journalism in the past decade was demonstrated by an opinion poll which showed that more than 60% of the public understood from the media that medical science was divided about the safety of the MMR vaccine - when it isn't.

Conversely, that similar polls now show most people in the UK accept that climate scientists are agreed on the basics is something that the BBC should be proud of.

But I have also long argued that a more intelligent choice of guests would shed light on the real debates within mainstream science on the remaining uncertainties, especially around the future projections. Scientists facing Lord Lawson in a BBC studio are unlikely to focus on the gaps in knowledge when he is attacking the whole of climate science.

My views on climate change are rooted in eight years of running climate science press briefings at the SMC - privileged access that has left my confidence in the integrity of the UK's climate research unshaken.

Climate science does not need special favours from journalism: it can withstand all the scrutiny, scepticism and curiosity the BBC wants to throw at it. And where it falls short, the role of journalism is to expose that. Few would argue that any section of the media has got climate change right. But as we await the BBC Trust review on science we need an honest and intelligent analysis of its climate change coverage.


Arctic Ice Volume Has Increased 26% Over The Last Three Years

Have you ever wondered why the Warmists are always talking about the Arctic when 91% of the earth's glacial mass is in the Antarctic? It's because the Antarctic is MUCH more pesky for them. But even the Arctic seems to be letting them down now -- JR

According to US Navy PIPS2 maps, the area of thick Arctic ice has more than doubled, and the volume of Arctic ice has increased by 26% – since 2008. You can see from the graph below that ice thickness distribution has shifted dramatically to the right since the same date in 2008.

You can also see why NSIDC only likes to talk about 4+ year old ice. The reason being that it will take another two years to recover from the 2007 low.

The blink comparator below shows growth of ice greater than 2.5 metres thick.

SOURCE (See the original for links and more graphics)

EPA guilty of environmental hyperbole (To use a polite word)

On January 13, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed the issuance of a Clean Water Act permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Mingo Logan Coal Company for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. This is the first time the EPA has used this authority since the Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

We are in the midst of a difficult economy, and EPA’s unprecedented action will result in the loss of 250 jobs, paying on average $62,000, so one would think that the EPA has compelling case against the Spruce No. 1 Mine. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

An audit of the EPA’s veto, “Final Determination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Pursuant to 404(c) of the Clean Water Act Concerning the Spruce No. 1 Mine, Logan County, West Virginia (‘Final Determination’),” reveals some troubling findings.

The document is pure environmental hyperbole. It is riddled with mistakes, incorrect citations, and false certainty. Indeed, virtually all of the EPA’s definitive claims about the “unacceptable adverse impacts” to non-insect wildlife are unsupported by the literature it cites. Among the lowlights:

* The EPA’s claim that “6.6 miles of high quality stream” will be buried conveniently omits the fact that 99.6 percent of the streams are intermittent or ephemeral, that they scored “below average” on a habitat assessment, and that they fall well short of meeting West Virginia’s definition of “high quality” streams.

* The EPA asserts that five species of fish would be buried, despite the fact that no fish were found at the site.

* The EPA commits numerous referencing mistakes, including two direct misquotes. Throughout the document, the EPA draws incorrect conclusions from the literature it cites.

* The EPA has a serious language problem. Science writing is performed in the conditional. EPA, however, almost uniformly uses the declarative case. As its veto is based on a literature review, the EPA repeatedly infers certainty where there is none.

The EPA has evidence that certain genera of pollution-sensitive insects would be harmed downstream of the Spruce No. 1 Mine, due to increases in salinity discharge from the project. Everything else—including all of the EPA’s claims about amphibians, fish, and birds—is either scientifically unfounded or legally irrelevant. The Appendix addresses these issues in detail.


The Ethanol Idiocy that Will Not Die

Bipartisan common sense is no match for the inertia of a government subsidy

When Al Gore drops an environmental fad, it has truly reached its expiration date. In his wisdom, the Goracle recently acknowledged what almost all disinterested observers concluded long ago: Ethanol is a fraud. It has no environmental benefits, and harmful side effects. The subsidies that support its use are an object lesson in the incorrigibility of Washington’s gross special-interest politics. It is the monster that ate America’s corn crop.

“It is not good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” the former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient said, referring to corn-based ethanol. He called the fuel “a mistake,” and confessed one reason he fell so hard for it is that he “had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa.” These farmers vote in the First in the Nation caucuses and practically insist that their favored presidential candidates drink ethanol at breakfast and hail it as the nectar of the gods.

Al Gore’s ethanol apostasy is a symptom of a left-right coalition that has arisen to expose the former wonder fuel. (The Gore of old insisted that “the more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely used product, the better off our farmers and our environment will be.”) But common sense, even cross-ideological, bipartisan common sense with all the evidence on its side, is no match for Congress’s boundless appetite for expensive favors for powerful lobbies and constituent groups.

Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, the Democratic and Republican senators from Iowa respectively, stand at the doors of Congress declaring: Ethanol now, ethanol forever. They have graced the Obama-McConnell tax bargain with an extension of a tax credit for ethanol that costs about $6 billion a year, and with an extension of a tariff on ethanol imports. Ethanol is so uneconomical that Congress supports it three different ways — with a mandate for its use, a tax credit to subsidize it, and a tariff to keep out competitors. Rarely are so many levers of government used to prop up one woeful product.

During the past decade, ethanol enjoyed a good run as a notional part of the solution to global warming. Then, environmentalists began to realize it may actually increase greenhouse emissions. Ethanol releases less carbon dioxide per gallon than gasoline. Once the emissions necessary to convert land to corn production and then grow and process it are taken into account, though, ethanol doesn’t look so green anymore.

So much corn — about 40 percent of the U.S. crop — is feeding into the maw of government-created demand for the fuel, that it could be increasing worldwide food prices. In short, in exchange for not reducing greenhouse emissions, ethanol reduces the availability of food to the poor.

The multiple layers of subsidization have their own perversity. Since there’s already a mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline, the tax credit is giving away money for something that would happen anyway. Environmental groups say this pads the bottom line of Big Oil. Harry de Gorter of the free-market Cato Institute has a more complicated take — the subsidy decreases the cost and therefore the price of gasoline, effectively subsidizing its consumption. Your Congress at work.

But who cares about the facts? Once we have fired up a vast machine that from cornfield to distilleries produces 38 million gallons of ethanol a day, it will be nearly impossible to turn it off. Too many people will have a vested interest in continuing the scam, and its supporters — like Harkin and Grassley now — will always argue that any change is too disruptive. We’ll still be mandating ethanol long after the internal-combustion engine is obsolete.

The ethanol experience should counsel against blithely creating new government-supported industries on the basis of dubious promises of cost-free environmental benefits. Judging by the tax bargain, festooned with all manner of other green subsidies and credits, it’s a lesson ignored. In Washington, the boondoggles may lose their luster, but they never die.


Another Environmental Disaster

Hollywood often makes heroes out of undeserving people in order to further their unenlightened agenda. Ten years ago, it was “Erin Brockovich” that received Tinseltown’s royal treatment. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (who would later deify Che Guevera in “Che”), the film starred another leftist, Julia Roberts, who won the Academy Award for this propaganda. We now find out that the entire story was a hoax and that Brockovich has gone on to destroy even bigger targets on her fictitious crusade.

For those of you who missed this sterling piece of modern cinema, Brockovich (with virtually no qualifications) single-handedly discovers that the town of Hinkley, California, has been exposed to dangerous chemicals that cause cancer. She hooks up with a heroic personal injury attorney, Ed Masry, and they manage to get PG & E, a major utility company, to settle for $333 million and thereby line their own pockets quite nicely, thank you.

It turns out, however, that a recent state survey found that the frequency of cancer cases in the Hinkley area for the period of 1996-2008 was actually 12.5% below the state average. Brockovich neither called PG & E to return the falsely-extorted money nor did she return to Hinkley to calm the residents who still have irrational fears stirred up by her antics. She has been too busy destroying other communities.

Brockovich next took aim at Beverly Hills (yes, that one), which for ages has famously had oil wells on its high school campus. She snuck onto the campus at night to gin up accusations that caused years of legal battles. The lawsuit was eventually thrown out in a summary judgment, forcing Erin and her merry band of town wreckers to pony up $450,000 to cover Beverly Hills’ legal fees.

All these shenanigans are chronicled in the new book by Norma Zager, Erin Brockovich and the Beverly Hills Greenscam. Ms. Zager happened to be a witness to this entire sordid affair as editor of the local newspaper, the Beverly Hills Courier.

Zager presents a thorough history and analysis of the events that disrupted an entire community. Residents’ lives were upended as they confronted fears similar to those churned up in Hinkley. Parents were misled into thinking that sending their children to one of the most respected public high schools in the United States represented a health risk, and many of them decided to relocate or send their kids to private school. The all-consuming lawsuit caused the resignation of both the Superintendent of Schools and the City Manager, neither of whom wanted to spend their career focused on a lawsuit that motivated residents to hysterical fits. They felt that it was better to move on than let their careers be trampled by the Brockovich/Masry machine.

Even after the panic subsided and Brockovich and her cronies had their case thrown out of court, the parasites did not stop. Most people would just slink way, but they had already lined their pockets and were still seeking more. The perpetrators of this fraud, having successfully shaken down Frontier Oil for over $10 million, attempted to extort funds from other oil companies as well. Even though they lost the lawsuit and pointlessly disrupted hundreds of lives, they were still able to walk away with their ill-gotten gains.

The best part of the story is the transformation of the book’s author, Ms. Zager. She grew up with a Republican father but lived a life outside of commerce, comfortably nestled in the womb of the left. As an author and then a stand-up comedienne, she had never experienced the wrath of the trial lawyers. After seeing them “up close and personal,” she likened them to a swarm of locusts in the magnitude of their destruction. Ms. Zager had an epiphany and now fully realizes what damage these con-artists can do and how harmful the left can be. She told me that her new political guiding light is Charles Krauthammer, and that she listens to Dennis Prager almost every day.

Erin Brockovich and the Beverly Hills Greenscam clearly describes how the legal community and the environmental movement have conspired to destroy lives for the blind purpose of their cause. Much like Alar, DDT, and Global Warming, another eco-hoax has been perpetrated on the American people. The only way they can be stopped is when more good people like Norma Zager realize how dangerous these people are and lead the fight to stop them.


Both plastic bags AND paper bags are in the gun in Oregon

Get out your "organic" cane basket!

Oregon’s state Senate will be conducting a hearing on Tuesday to determine whether the state should be the first in the union to ban non-reusable shopping bags in all retail outlets. The proposed ban would include both paper and plastic bags, with the exception of paper bags containing at least 40 percent recyclable materials. For those bags, shoppers would have to pay 5 cents per sack.

Critics of the proposal say it’s a “purely symbolic” piece of legislation and won’t solve any problems. In fact, some critics say it will create problems by trying to solve non-issues.

In a recent “bag tax” study, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found that a year-old tax on “single-use” grocery bags in Washington, D.C., was ineffective and actually eliminated approximately 100 jobs at retailers throughout the nation’s capitol. By extension, they found that all retail workers will make $18 less on average per year, which doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but adds up over time, affecting the local economy measurably over the period of a decade or more.

The proposal has at least a fighting shot of making it into law, according to Patrick Gleason, the director of state affairs for ATR. The Oregon House of Representatives is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, and the state Senate has a slight Democratic majority. Gleason told The Daily Caller that ATR is taking this legislation seriously enough to send a representative to Oregon to testify before the state Senate hearing.

“People buy less goods when there’s a tax on the bags, and they’ll avoid the tax,” Gleason said in a phone interview. “They force people to use reusable bags and force people to purchase reusable bags.”

Gleason said consumers in D.C., as predicted, adjusted their behavior to either avoid the tax or budget for it, and that leads to less consumer spending, which, by extension, hurts the economy.

Todd Wynn of Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute, a free market public policy organization that’s fighting this legislation, told TheDC it’s a “feel good” proposal for “greenies” and won’t solve any real problems.

“It’s interesting because they don’t want plastic in the environment, and none of us do,” Wynn said in a phone interview. “But, it’s really a symbol for the environmental movement as anti-consumerism. It’s an attack on the consumerism ideology.”

Wynn said there are two Republicans in Oregon’s state legislature who are supporting this legislation, state Sen. Jason Atkinson and state Rep. Vic Gilliam. Neither returned TheDC’s requests for comment, but Wynn and Jason Williams of the Oregon Taxpayers Association said they think Gilliam and Atkinson are on board with this proposal for the positive press and publicity – without considering the fact that they’re effectively issuing a tax.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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