Top TV Networks Spread False Arctic Sea Ice Scare

Published January 1, 2009

High-profile media reports predicting the North Pole would lose its ice cover failed to materialize in 2008, as less Arctic sea ice melted than in 2007 and open water came nowhere near the North Pole.

Forecasts Way Off

On the July 28, 2008 NBC Nightly News, reporter Anne Thompson warned ominously of ice loss in the Arctic. “This summer, some scientists say that ice could retreat so dramatically that open water covers the North Pole, so much so that you could sail across it.”

Both the ice and the hype are still with us—according to a September 16 National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) report, such predictions were off by 1.74 million square miles.

NSIDC reported the Arctic summer ice melt was less in 2008 than in 2007 and open water never came anywhere near the North Pole.

“On September 12, 2008, sea ice extent dropped to 4.52 million square kilometers (1.74 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest point of the year, as sea has now begun its annual cycle of growth in response to autumn cooling,” NSIDC reported.

Rampant Predictions of Doom

In her report, Thompson interviewed two scientists who said the ice loss was ahead of schedule and could have a dangerous impact on U.S. weather. “Scientists say the cause is global warming and that dramatic loss of Arctic ice will impact the weather in the U.S.,” she said

She quoted Mark Serreze from NSIDC warning of a decline in ice cover. “If we compare the rate of loss of Arctic sea ice that we see now with what our computer simulations were telling us, we’re probably 20 to 30 years ahead of schedule,” he explained in her story.

Thompson wrongly predicted more ice loss. “This is what happened last year,” she said. “Satellite images show the record melt with big patches of open water where ice should be. This year the ice loss is already the size of California, and there are roughly two more months left in the melting season.”

Two days after Thompson’s report, on July 30, ABC weatherman Sam Champion told the Good Morning America audience Arctic ice loss was on a record pace. “Every summer we’re on a record pace for losing it. Last summer and this summer, we’re at the exact same pace.”

Earlier in the summer, other media outlets had ominously warned the Arctic ice could melt away entirely. NBC’s Today host Lester Holt described the speculative story as “surprising and, frankly, alarming news from the scientific community, a new report that says the North Pole could soon be ice-free.”

Ongoing Pattern of Scares

The summer’s network TV stories fit an ongoing pattern of media hype about climate change where outlets report alarming, speculative predictions but do not follow up by reporting when the predictions fail to materialize.

Global Warming Censored, a study published by the Business & Media Institute in 2008, showed the major TV network news programs rarely included dissenting voices in the climate debate. In media reports on global warming, alarmists were overwhelmingly more often quoted than those with more skeptical views, even when alarming predictions failed to materialize.

On average, NBC featured nearly 13 alarmists for every skeptic presented. ABC did a slightly better job with a seven-to-one 1 ratio, while CBS’s ratio was nearly 38 to one, the study found.

Dan Gainor ([email protected]) is the Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow at the Business & Media Institute.

For more information …

Global Warming Censored, Julia A. Seymour and Dan Gainor, Business & Media Institute: