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The Misinformation Highway

  • Posted by on March 9, 2010 in Business
  • It is generally agreed that there are two major impediments to passing climate change legislation in the United States: misinformation, and the claim that any serious attempt at tackling the problem will cripple the economy. A recent report, however, suggests that the two are really one and the same.

    The report, based on a study conducted by the Australian government, found that energy efficiency is not only good environmentalism, it’s also good business. Looking at 199 large energy users, the government concluded that improved energy efficiency alone could cut national emissions by over one percent, saving businesses over $700 million in the process.

    These findings provide much-needed data in the argument that climate change legislation will inherently destroy jobs and compound our economic woes.

    But there is still that more frustrating form of misinformation — the one that denies not only climate change’s solution, but its very existence. To this, Dr. Vicky Pope, the Head of Climate Change at the United Kingdom's National Weather Service, offers sage advice: stop making it easy for climate change skeptics to refute the science.

    The Greenland ice sheet offers a case in point. When the summer sea melt accelerated rapidly last decade, reports emerged that climate change itself was accelerating. Apocalyptic inferences ensued. When subsequent measurements showed the acceleration had stopped, a round of fresh skepticism followed. Deniers now had “proof” of climate change’s exaggerated claims.

    But the acceleration never was proof. And that it was presented as such illustrates a fundamental challenge in achieving a rational public debate: both sides are guilty of misinformation.

    Back in February of 2009 Dr. Pope cautioned, “overplaying natural variations in the weather as climate change is just as much a distortion of the science as underplaying them to claim that climate change has stopped or is not happening.”

    It’s simple. Changes in weather are observable from day-to-day, year-to-year. But climate change must necessarily be observed through long-term symptoms, and over the long-term. To present it otherwise gives a Chicken Little aspect to a matter that is practically scientific consensus. It makes a matter of fact into a matter of belief.

    But, as Dr. Pope said, “we [climate scientists] are increasingly asked whether we 'believe in climate change.' It is not a matter of belief...The scientific evidence is overwhelming.”

    - Lance Steagall

    Photo of Greenland ice sheet via Celsias


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