Media Ignore Sound Science in Global Warming Coverage

Published January 1, 1999

On October 16, the Washington Post reported that an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware (92 miles long and 30 miles wide) had broken free from Antarctica, an event attributed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as “a possible indicator of global warming.”

Correspondent Paul Jensen consulted the 1996 edition of The American Navigator, a prestigious naval text updated annually since 1799. On page 748, Jensen found: “In 1854 and 1855, several ships in the south Atlantic reported a crescent-shaped iceberg with one horn 40 miles long, the other 60 miles long, and with an embayment 40 miles wide between the tips. In 1927 a berg 100 miles long, 100 miles wide, and 130 feet high above the water was reported. The largest iceberg ever reported was sighted in 1956 by the USS Glacier, a U.S. Navy icebreaker, about 150 miles west of Scott Island. This berg was 60 miles wide and 208 miles long, more than twice the size of Connecticut. Icebergs ten miles or more in length have been seen on many occasions in the Antarctic.”

Former U.S. government scientist Robert Stevenson reported to the Science and Environmental Policy Project that “there have been at least five space shuttle missions since 1981 from which photographs have been taken of sub-Antarctic icebergs that rival the extent, lengths, and widths of most states in New England. One, about the size of Rhode Island, was seen by the astronauts in 1982 just south of the Falkland Islands.”

In 1987, the Los Angeles Times reported that an iceberg 98 miles long and 25 miles wide had broken off in the Antarctic. This was before the government decided to promote global warming hysteria, and thus the event was regarded merely as a curiosity. Scientists attributed it to the usual causes of iceberg “calving” in the Antarctic: waves and tides.

Although the environmentalists can still bank on the cooperation of a news media wallowing in ignorance, the failure of science to support their agenda is making activists nervous.

Last year’s increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide was just 40 percent of that projected by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Increases in methane have virtually stopped. The European Space Agency (ESA), measuring the thickness and extent of Antarctic ice, found no change. ESA researchers concluded that the Antarctic ice cap is stable and will remain stable for the foreseeable future. The October 16 issue of the journal Science carried a research paper concluding that vegetation in North America may be absorbing the entire annual carbon dioxide emissions of the United States and Canada. (See “Will North American carbon sinks ‘sink’ Kyoto treaty,” this issue.)

How long can environmentalists count on the vague and embarrassed allusions of government scientists to create the fearmongering necessary to sustain their movement? More and more we are seeing calls, like that from Britain’s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, to base environment policy less on science and more on “public values” and “public opinion”–opinion warped by the kind of reporting noted above.

Candace Crandall is a research associate with the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Washington, DC,