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Media ineptitude and world awash with disinformation

by 20 Jan 2010Cartoons, Climate disinformation0 comments

Classical propaganda is instantly recognisable.

Scott Landing

First Gull: I said we needn’t obsess about sea level rise. Second Gull: No you said ‘It won’t happen in my lifetime!’ cartoon Majorlook Productions

It flutters to earth from an enemy aircraft or is plastered up in the form of clumsy government-printed posters in public places.

But the art of the propagandist has become extraordinarily sophisticated, and civilisation is awash in a rising sea of disinformation, masquerading as news.

Take the case of Mojib Latif, the German meteorologist and oceanographer.

Professor Latif has been misquoted by the Daily News, the New York Times and the increasingly disrespected New Scientist, to name but a few. Typical of the headlines used by this dissolute lot is that of Fox News: 30 Years of Global Cooling Are Coming, Leading Scientist Says.

Imagine the frustration felt by a scientist sufficiently exercised by global warming to write Climate Change: The Point of No Return, and who says if his name wasn’t Mojib Latif it would be Global Warming. And doubly galling given that Professor Latif received the Max Planck Award for his ability to explain complicated research in a way that is accessible and understandable.

It should serve as a salutary warning: Be suitably sceptical of stories that fly in the face of the conclusive and continually amassing scientific evidence of anthropogenic global warming. If in doubt, a little persistence on the internet will generally turn up a diligent, in-depth exposé of any particular piece of shoddy and/or cynical deadline-driven drivel. The editors in question are failing, either by being abjectly uninformed or by wilfully exploiting the purported lack of scientific consensus.

The only lack of scientific consensus is regarding how much change and how quickly, and whether capping and trading is sound or silly.

Global warming was always going to be a hard sell; an unintuitive pill to swallow—climate science is fiendishly complex. Inherently, we trust our instincts—‘I won’t believe it until I’ve seen it with my own eyes’, has generally served us well. It was this instinct that Samuel Birley Rowbotham a.k.a Parallax parlayed into a popular movement, the forerunner of the Flat Earth Society. As recently as the 1970s there were about 3000 adherents—after all, the Earth didn’t feel as though it was hurtling through space; and what would all those academics know, anyway!

But it is also a bitter pill—we are good people, we are not fond of finding that we are the bad guys. Consequently there is a ready market for equivocal material, to allay the discomfort generated by an unrelenting flow of deeply troubling scientific reports.

The coal industry is often the origin of the corruptible seedBut power and greed and corruptible seed Seem to be all that there is. Blind Willie McTell, Bod Dylan 1983 that, through plausible-sounding intermediaries, finally finds expression in the all too-fertile soil of undiscerning publications.

The New Zealand Herald claims that its December poll indicates that nearly half of New Zealanders doubt global warming. Twenty-eight responded to the option: ‘global warming has not been conclusively proved.’ Putting aside how many in that group were taking the concept of conclusive proof rather literally, and were otherwise convinced, disinformation is unquestionably muddying the waters.

Unfortunately, this matters to the Mahurangi and the task of un-muddying its waters. The community and councils are attempting develop a holistic action plan sparked by the need to address the harbour’s elevated sediment accumulation rate.

An action plan for a harbour cannot be holistic if it ignores sea level rise, the rate of which has recently doubled and now probably matches the 2–4‍ ‍millimetre per year sediment accumulation rate at Hamilton Landing.

The action plan, to date, has been strongly science-based. Simply ignoring the science that relates to sea level rise is not an option; opinion must give way to objective examination.

Of course the secret of a quiet life for scientists is to write for other scientists, running the gauntlet only of their peers, who revere objectivity.

Fortunately, some scientists are prepared to also run the tabloid gauntlet and write highly readable accounts of climate change. Mojib Latif was ambushed when he described natural climate variations whereby years, but not decades, may see ‘a lower temperature increase than we would expect from the current trend’.

The friends of the Mahurangi collaborating on the action plan have little choice but to do a little quiet reading, and ignore the insincere ‘sceptical’ reports—the unprincipled or lazy within the media will milk the mistrust for as long as it favours ratings/readership, and then mostly move on. However, if the tabloid appetite for reporting on the rantings of flat-Earthers is anything to go by, the stories will continue despite the crushing evidence as to their folly.

With a 1.21-metre tide on the evening of the Mahurangi Regatta, it will be a fitting time to contemplate long-term solutions for treasured buildings currently at sea level:

A regatta prize-giving and dance where the Jane Gifford floats alongside Scott Homestead?