Sunday, 23 January 2011

Is Canada's Flagship TV Newscast Telling the Whole Story of Climate Change?

"The National "- a Critique - by Larry Powell 
(Please also watch video at end.)
Overall, I believe the coverage of global warming by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is great, on such programs as “The Nature of Things” and “Doc Zone.” On the other hand, “The National,” the network’s nightly TV newscast, continues to disappoint.

And here’s why.

Last month, it carried a story on the horrific, record-breaking storms, which ravaged many parts of Canada in 2010. Was this climate change, it asked?

For the answer, it went to Dave Phillips, official spokesperson for Environment Canada's Meteorological Service, famous for his “weather trivia” calendars.

Phillips said it would be "bad science" to suggest a link between these storms and global climate change!

Bad science?

Phillips did not say; there may be a link but it's not possible to conclude, scientifically, at least not yet.

Nor did he say; the storms were at least consistent with the now abundant body of scienctific evidence on the matter.

He did say, all these storms may be a dress rehearsal or taste of things to come. But he would not say climate change!

The website of Phillip's own employer, the Government of Canada, at least until about five years ago, was pretty clear;

"Extreme events, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, hailstorms, heat waves and droughts, may become more frequent on the Prairies due to climate change. Warmer winters may increase the potential for more intense winter storms, and more frequent rain. In the summer, flooding may increase with heavy rains."

That website was taken down in 2006, the year Stephen Harper came to power. Since then, Harper has carved out a reputation as the world leader with arguably the most hostile attitude toward the environment and the least inclined to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.
And this is the response I got from Ian Hanington, Communications Specialist with the Suzuki Foundation when I invited that group to comment on my story.

"Although it is difficult to link any individual extreme weather event to global warming, scientists have shown that global warming brings with it increases in the intensity and frequency of these types of events.  In other words, although direct cause and effect is always difficult to prove in individual cases, the overall patterns were seeing are consistent with scientific predictions about climate change."
So what am I suggesting here, you may be asking?

I am suggesting that Phillips may, for political reasons, be "pulling his punches" here. Or, he may actually be afraid for his career if he becomes more candid. 

While some may be shocked at such a suggestion, let's look at recent history.

In a news release last spring, the advocacy group, Climate Action Network Canada, listed what it called "A troubling catalogue of actions by Ottawa to muzzle its own climate scientists and weaken the research capacity of Canada's climate science community."

Please also read: "Stephen Harper's War on Climate Science," here.

Recently, a top US climate scientist, *Kevin Trenberth, was interviewed on this very topic - the link between global warming and extreme weather - and the tendency of even his colleagues to play it down.

 “I find it systematically tends to get underplayed by my fellow scientists. I’m sure you’ve probably heard, ‘Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.’ But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events nowadays because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”

Another weather expert I contacted for this story, falls into the category Trenberth talks about. Scott Stephens is a meteorologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Referring to the "bad science" remark, Stephens responded, "The statement made is correct. One event or even a series of events cannot be directly linked to climate change. Having said that, one of the basic tenets of global warming would be for increasing extreme events around the globe. (Emphasis mine.) But, you would have to look at an increasing frequency of such events over a much longer period of time in order to be able to connect the dots."

This begs the question, how many more catastrophic storms and weather extremes must we endure before these "dots are connected?" 

*Dr. Trenberth is Senior Scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. He was also a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) when it issued its famous assessment report in 2007. The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Prize for its groundbreaking work.

In fact, the scientific record now abounds with evidence supporting Trenberth.

For example, a new study by Duke University suggests that global warming is the main cause of a significant intensification of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern United States.

So just how bad was it last year in Canada?

Can all those storms be considered “just a bad year?” You be the judge. This is just a “smattering” of what it was like last year in this country:
  • A vicious Atlantic hurricane dubbed "Igor" became Newfoundland's most destructive, ever.
  •  Prairie farmers experienced their wettest growing season, ever.
  •  British Columbia lost huge tracts of valuable timber to wild fires in one of the most expensive years ever for fire fighters. 
For a more complete list, just click here: Environment Canada’s page on our “worst 10 storms of 2010. 
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.

Claire Martin of CBC's Weather Centre appears each weeknight on "The National." I watch regularly. I've never heard her mention "climate change!"

She recently attributed the monster flooding now ravaging Australia to La Niña, an ancient, natural phenomenon that sees ocean currents cool down, below normal.

Later, also on The National, Bob MacDonald of CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks, gave a similar interpretation. No mention of the dreaded "c" "c" words!

I do not question that they were technically correct in their analyses - as far is they went.

What they both failed to mention is that both La Niñas (cooling trends) and El Niños (warming ones), have been scientifically shown to be behaving strangely in recent years, with the onset of global warming!

In the early ‘90s, several El Niños were recorded, but with no La Niñas in between! The IPCC describes this occurrence as "highly unusual and very unlikely to be accounted for solely by natural variability.”

Then, in the spring of 1997 until the summer of '98, perhaps the most devastating and prolonged El Niños of all time slammed into Ecuador, in South America. It caused a staggering $2.6 billion in damage to that country's infrastructure, farms, fisheries, homes and businesses.

Events like this have prompted the IPCC itself to observe "Whether global warming is affecting El Niños is now a key question."

Meanwhile, the La Niña plaguing Australia is being described as one of the worst on record and unlikely to let up soon! 

Anything else? You bet! 

Even more recently, the host of "The National,” Peter Mansbridge, interviewed Prime Minister Harper. He did not even ask him about climate change, his attitude toward it, or the low esteem in which Harper is held in the rest of the world for the contempt he seems to display, not only for environmentalists, but climate science itself! 
(Some observers have even attributed this "anti-science" attitude as one reason Canada lost its bid last year for a seat on the UN Security Council!)

Finally, Global TV News featured a major story last week, reporting that 2010 had gone down on record, tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record.

What did The National report?  Nothing.

Surely the accuracy, integrity and completeness of media coverage of the climate change phenomenon are key to public understanding of this global crisis. Without enlightened and well-informed citizens, chances of averting or even lessening this scourge (which some of our best brains warn could actually lead to an unihabitable planet) become slim, indeed. Surely incorrect, incomplete or sloppy media messages can only provide comfort to the climate deniers of this world who will then press on with their dishonourable, dangerous and self-serving crusade for "business as usual."

And our leaders of government, industry and way too many individuals who've already shown zero backbone to do anything about this, will have even less reason to do what must be done to save our common home from a grave and uncertain future - reduce greenhouse gases!
Please also watch this video.

Does your place of residence make you immune from climate calamity? I think not! (Opinion)

by Larry Powell I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard one of my fellow "prairie dogs" remark, how "lucky" or...