Clearing up climate change misconceptions

Kudos to a journalist who debunked climate change myths and explained climate change facts.

It’s great to see a journalist write a succinct, accurate column debunking climate change myths and explaining the climate change facts. Chris Mooney recently did just that.

His extremely clear voice for science was published March 21 in an op-ed column in the Washington Post, entitled “Climate Change Myths and Facts.” In it, he dismantles the arguments of political columnist George Will, who in a February 15 column in the same paper offered several misleading ideas — some of them 30 years old — as to why he thinks climate change is a hypothetical crisis.

Mooney deftly picks apart Will’s claims: Was the scientific community convinced in the 1970s that global cooling was about to occur? No — an American Meteorological Society study shows that greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature back then, too.

Mooney then explains why Will’s focus on global sea ice levels in 1979 compared to today is misleading and unimportant (even though Will did get his facts wrong). Why? “Will’s focus on “global” sea ice at two arbitrarily selected points of time is a distraction. Scientists pay heed to long-term trends in sea ice, not snapshots in a noisy system,” wrote Mooney.

He also shows how Will tried to twist the facts and portray the World Meteorological Association as a climate-skeptic group that supports the idea of recent global “cooling.” Actually, the opposite is true – -the WMO acknowledges that climate change is happening and supports the consensus that humans are driving it. Just because 1998 was the warmest year on record and hasn’t been beaten since doesn’t mean we’re in a cooling period. Look at the trend: Seven of the warmest 10 years on record have come in the 2000s.

Mooney truly is a clear voice for science. His final paragraph argues that journalists and readers should become more scientific when they weigh information about such issues. “Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists — following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It’s also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be — now more than ever. ”

Here, here!

(By the way, Chris Mooney is a visiting associate at the Center for Collaborative History at Princeton University, and the author of three books, including ‘Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming,’ which I reviewed here in fall 2007. Mooney also co-authors The Intersection blog.)

Dan Kulpinski