Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The complete media sellout to sensationalism -- truth regardless

Al Gore hasn't secretly bought every mainstream media news outlet, has he? Then why do so few journalists even pretend anymore to play fair, straight and skeptical on global warming?

This swing to subjective journalism on environmental issues began decades ago. But it reached a tipping point in 2001, when both U.S. News & World Report and Time jettisoned all pretense of objectivity and cranked out sensationalized cover stories about the various apocalypses that anthropogenic global warming was certain to bring to our tender planet. Since then, most mainstream journalists effectively have decreed that the global warming debate is over, that man's fossil-fuel burning is the primary culprit and that anyone who doesn't parrot the James Hansen-Laurie David party line is in bed with ExxonMobil or is the moral and intellectual equivalent of a Holocaust denier.

Today you rarely see or hear a skeptical peep on catastrophic global warming from CBS, NBC, PBS, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek or the already-know-it-alls at The New Yorker. Scientific American has devolved into a huckster for Al Gore. The senile tough guys at "60 Minutes" have gone soft. Only John Stossel of ABC's "20/20" can be counted on to regularly challenge the media's alarmist consensus on climate change.

Compare skeptic Stossel to Anderson Cooper. For his laughably one-sided "Planet in Peril" special last week, Cooper jetted to Greenland's treacherous ice sheets to demonstrate, ad nauseam, that global warming is causing glaciers there to melt at a faster rate than 10 years ago. In their journalism snow job, Cooper and his producers made sure to include the media's pet climate alarmist, NASA's James Hansen, but they left out the elements invariably left out when global warming issues are reported: balance and perspective.

No ice chip of skepticism threatened CNN's scary story line. Cooper -- who made a major gaffe when he said 40 percent of Greenland's ice sheet had gone away in the last 40 years [Recent scientific report showing overall GROWTH in the Greenland ice-sheet here] -- did manage to admit it was not likely the island's 630,000 cubic miles of ice were going to melt anytime soon.

But for perspective's sake, he might have noted how Greenland got its name -- because it was hotter -- and greener -- 900 years ago than it is today. So couldn't its current warming be part of a natural long-term cycle? Sorry, doesn't fit the standard story line.

Cooper's up-close-and-personal encounter with polar bears was just as journalistically sloppy. He rode along with a scientist who used a helicopter to chase down and dart a mother bear and her two cubs, who then were weighed and had who knows what else in the name of science done to them to see how they are coping with the shrinking polar ice cap that has liberaldom's top journalists in such a panic. Polar bears -- the official charismatic poster mammals of catastrophic global warming -- are under stress, underweight, acting strange and in danger of becoming extinct by 2050, Cooper said somberly. How many polar bears are there in the Arctic? How many separate bear populations? Are they all losing bears? Are they maybe under stress because they are being terrorized by helicopters, shot full of drugs and manhandled by mad scientists?

Don't ask Anderson. He was too busy playing Nanook of the North and exploiting polar bears the same way most of his fellow journalists in the unfair and unbalanced news media do -- as cliched props in a propaganda war.


A climate hysteria ripoff

Imagine you are an advocacy group and want to sway a government's policy development, but really want to keep your activism a secret. You could learn a lot by observing and then avoiding the practices of the Center for Climate Strategies, a group of global warming worrywarts. CCS in recent years has approached many states, including Washington, with an inexpensive, tantalizing offer: to establish and manage a process for climate change policy development. The results are a study legitimized by government that promotes onerous regulations, property rights infringement through smart growth initiatives, and new taxes and fees on fuels and utilities.

CCS operates in Washington in nearly the same way it's worked in every other state where it's been hired. First a governor (such as Gov. Chris Gregoire) issues an executive order declaring global warming a problem that must be confronted through state policy. Then a so-called stakeholder (political appointees and special interests, really) panel considers dozens of CCS-created policy options -- most of which impinge upon individual rights, increase energy costs, or add to the cost of government -- that ostensibly reduce CO2 emissions in the state. CCS holds the hand of the group through several meetings and its decision-making, until the threats to personal liberty and financial well-being are established as official government philosophy. Ideally (to CCS), legislatures will adopt them and add to everyone's cost of living. Nanny-staters celebrate.

But believe it or don't, CCS says it does not take a position on climate change solutions or push states into their greenhouse gas emissions decisions. Executive director Tom Peterson told me in an interview months ago, "(CCS) does not have an advocacy mission, and it doesn't have an advocacy history." But CCS' concealment of its activism is like the fat kid standing behind a flagpole in a game of hide and seek.

Start with its funding. CCS comes to states promising to bring money with them to pay for their greenhouse-gas reduction development. Who foots the bill? Several foundations on the global warming panic train: the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The (Ted) Turner Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, the Energy Foundation, and many others. For example, the state of Washington is paying only $200,000 for CCS' services -- half of what their cheap process has cost in other states.

Then CCS controls the entire policy development: the agenda, scheduling and oversight of their meetings; the CO2 reduction options that stakeholders consider; analysis (which is not an examination of cost/benefit or climate impact) of those options; the voting process; the changing and/or elimination of options; and the writing of all meeting minutes, presentations and reports.

Virtually every one of CCS's greenhouse gas-reducing options, which stakeholders find almost impossible to eliminate or alter (as if they wanted to) because the voting procedures are stacked against it, will curtail individual freedom or further burden taxpayers and consumers. Rather than surveying stakeholders in an up-or-down vote, options are instead considered already approved unless enough members (who are political appointees, with almost no scientists or economists) are bold and knowledgeable enough to object to them.

CCS has conducted this cookie-cutter process in more than a dozen states, and more are in its sights. The motives, tactics and plans are not hard to see, but they are a threat. State government watchdogs and free-market believers need to tag that kid behind the flagpole. He is only getting fatter.



Last July I was privileged to be in Aspen, Colo., where 10,000-square-foot luxury log cabins aspire to the soaring Rockies, billionaires tool Priuses to private jets and the world's powerful gather for cold salmon and big truths. And they were feeling bad.

About 20 of us--including venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and Washington strategists--were asked to imagine the year 2050. With few exceptions, our predictions were a grim amplification of all of today's worst headlines: global warming, famine, unending terrorism. Not much different, I'd guess, from what gets forecast at most salons and dinner parties when the talk turns this way: The future as a Mad Max movie, only without the style and thrills.

What's going on here? We were, by almost any measure of space or time, a group others would kill to become--affluent Americans in 2007. We are longer-lived and with access to more knowledge and experiences than any king or pope who has come before, never mind the lives of the countless billions whose ordinary tragedies are collectively called "history." This much luck should make us hug ourselves with delight.

Having slipped catastrophes like the 1914-1945 worldwide conflicts (with 100 million dead), or the nuclear threat of the 44 cold years that followed, there are also reasonable grounds to believe we can work out our problems. The daily advances in science and technology lend hope that on balance things can be even better. Except that we do not feel that way.

The opposite inclination, projecting a future of paradise on Earth, is the province of millennial movements like Communism, Nazism, the Crusades and much of today's Islamic fundamentalism. Usually someone has to die in those totalitarian scenarios, and in reality things works out bad for everyone. A decent future is going to have to have some chaos in it too--but that does not demand that we forecast despair.

Another nasty positive comes from the fact that we have gained a lot of power over nature, from fertilizers and antibiotics to nerve gas and nukes. We will have more. With so much good fortune on the upside, the downsides are higher, too. It worries some of the world's top scientists, who forecast exotic extinction scenarios (see "Our Final Hour"). Even they disagree about the actual risks, though, and most of us do not worry about runaway atomic colliders.

An apocalypse is sadly attractive. If we cause catastrophe--by our rape of the planet, our failure to address a social problem or we anger a deity--then our generation becomes the most important to ever have lived. Like the stolid bourgeois that the bohemians have always attacked, we are more likely to simply muddle through, trying to make things better where we can. Bo-ring.

Something else underlies all these reasons why we are so dark about the future, I believe. I call it "The Paramaribo Problem."

I began in journalism on a business newswire. I stayed up all night reading Associated Press dispatches from around the globe, and sending readers the stories that might matter to their markets. Mideast conflicts went on the wire, naturally, but so did earthquakes in Paramaribo, Surinam, since that mattered to shipping or oil pipelines. A bus heading off a cliff in rural India might not. The point is that I read them all--about every crisis, mass death and refugee exodus.

Pretty soon the work showed up in my life. Like almost all the other novices, I started washing my hands more, checking in with my wife several times during work and making small talk about scary-looking people whom I'd seen on the street, or the prospects of war. I was a walking case of the heebie-jeebies. It was normal, the seasoned vets told me: Before, I could not have found Paramaribo on a map; now I was in on its tragic loss of life. I knew about bus crashes in the abstract, but now I saw them scroll over a computer screen, soon replaced by a cholera outbreak in Sumatra or gunshots in Kinshasa. The awareness of so much chaos bore a terrible cost.

That was 20 years ago, and now thanks to cable television and the Internet we are all in a much bigger and incessant newsroom. There's a Paramaribo every minute, compounded by a digital fight for our attention. Even the advertisements and technology breakthroughs play a role, creating expectations of how things might be that can never match our mortal realities. The alarming news of the present, raised to a level of continual urgency, has taught us to think of the future in terms of continual catastrophe. It affects some more than others--my friends in Aspen are very well-informed people.

In my newsroom days, the Paramaribo Problem took care of itself over time. You read a lot of the stories, and maybe your heart broke enough to scar over, but you gained the perspective to resume some kind of normality. Experience taught that our close world of work and loved ones continued on pretty well.

Perhaps we can learn to do that again in our thoughts about the future of the planet. I suspect that it will be harder to gain the necessary experience, though. You only get to play out the next 50 years once.



I'm old enough to recall the days in the late 1960s when people wore those trendy buttons that read: "Stop the Planet I Want to Get Off." And I will never forget that era's "educational" films of what life would be like in the year 2000. Played on clanky 16-millimeter projectors, they showed images of people walking down the streets of Manhattan with masks on, so they could avoid breathing the poison gases our industrial society was spewing.

The future seemed mighty bleak back then, and you merely had to open the newspapers for the latest story confirming how the human species was speeding down a congested highway to extinction. A group of scientists calling themselves the Club of Rome issued a report called "Limits to Growth." It explained that lifeboat Earth had become so weighed down with humans that we were running out of food, minerals, forests, water, energy and just about everything else that we need for survival. Paul Ehrlich's best-selling book "The Population Bomb" (1968) gave England a 50-50 chance of surviving into the 21st century. In 1980, Jimmy Carter released the "Global 2000 Report," which declared that life on Earth was getting worse in every measurable way.

So imagine how shocked I was to learn, officially, that we're not doomed after all. A new United Nations report called "State of the Future" concludes: "People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer."

Yes, of course, there was the obligatory bad news: Global warming is said to be getting worse and income disparities are widening. But the joyous trends in health and wealth documented in the report indicate a gigantic leap forward for humanity. This is probably the first time you've heard any of this because--while the grim "Global 2000" and "Limits to Growth" reports were deemed worthy of headlines across the country--the media mostly ignored the good news and the upbeat predictions of "State of the Future."

But here they are: World-wide illiteracy rates have fallen by half since 1970 and now stand at an all-time low of 18%. More people live in free countries than ever before. The average human being today will live 50% longer in 2025 than one born in 1955.

To what do we owe this improvement? Capitalism, according to the U.N. Free trade is rightly recognized as the engine of global prosperity in recent years. In 1981, 40% of the world's population lived on less than $1 a day. Now that percentage is only 25%, adjusted for inflation. And at current rates of growth, "world poverty will be cut in half between 2000 and 2015"--which is arguably one of the greatest triumphs in human history. Trade and technology are closing the global "digital divide," and the report notes hopefully that soon laptop computers will cost $100 and almost every schoolchild will be a mouse click away from the Internet (and, regrettably, those interminable computer games).

It also turns out that the Malthusians (who worried that we would overpopulate the planet) got the story wrong. Human beings aren't reproducing like Norwegian field mice. Demographers now say that in the second half of this century, the human population will stabilize and then fall. If we use the same absurd extrapolation techniques demographers used in the 1970s, Japan, with its current low birth rate, will have only a few thousand citizens left in 300 years.

I take special pleasure in reciting all of this global betterment because my first professional job was working with the "doom-slaying" economist Julian Simon. Starting 30 years ago, Simon (who died in 1998) told anyone who would listen--which wasn't many people--that the faddish declinism of that era was bunk. He called the "Global 2000" report "globaloney." Armed with an arsenal of factual missiles, he showed that life on Earth was getting better, and that the combination of free markets and human ingenuity was the recipe for solving environmental and economic problems. Mr. Ehrlich, in response, said Simon proved that the one thing the world isn't running out of "is lunatics."

Mr. Ehrlich, whose every prediction turned out wrong, won a MacArthur Foundation "genius award"; Simon, who got the story right, never won so much as a McDonald's hamburger. But now who looks like the lunatic? This latest survey of the planet is certainly sweet vindication of Simon and others, like Herman Kahn, who in the 1970s dared challenge the "settled science." (Are you listening, global-warming alarmists?)

The media's collective yawn over "State of the Future" is typical of the reaction to just about any good news. When 2006 was declared the hottest year on record, there were thousands of news stories. But last month's revised data, indicating that 1934 was actually warmer, barely warranted a paragraph-long correction in most papers.

So I'm happy to report that the world's six billion people are living longer, healthier and more comfortably than ever before. If only it were easy to fit that on a button.



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


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