Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gail Collins Misunderstands Climate Science

Just a few days after the NPR/Kristen Byrnes debacle, we have another example of the mainstream media's failure to understand even the simpliest things about climate change science.

On Saturday Gail Collins of the NY Times wrote:
"George W. Bush says we’re on track to meet the nation’s goals for
curbing global warming.

"I see some hands waving out there. Didn’t know we had any goals for
curbing global warming? Where were you in 2002 when the president put us
on the road toward reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 18
percent by 2012?"
In fact, Bush never committed to reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by anything. Growth is change in quantity over time.

Rather, in 2002 Bush "committed" to reducing greenhouse gas intensity by
18% over the next ten years.

Intensity is quantity over GDP.

In doing to, Bush relied on the mainstream media's inability to grasp the nuances of his argument -- in other words, on their basic scientific and analytical ignorance, their inability to distinguish GHG intensity from GHG growth from changes in the rate of GHG growth.

This ignorance is written all over Gail Collin's op-ed piece. She kind of gets that Bush is being sneaky, but she doesn't have the ability to pull apart the different numbers. She says she doesn't really understand changes in rates of growth, yet more evidence that calculas should be required of journalism students. In the end her piece ends inconclusively and without any real understanding that she's been had. Her analogy to Bush's weight is flawed (it would be weight compared to calories ingested), Her readers are, I'm sure, left even more confused.

Worse yet, this confusion is exactly what the Bush administration wanted to happen when they focused on GHG intensity instead of GHG levels themselves -- the latter being the only relevant parameter in climate science.

They wanted to make it look like they were making progress in the fight over climate change, when in fact GHG intensity has been declining for decades and decades, simply because we all want to use energy more efficiently in order to save ourselves money. Bush's "committment" was nothing more than to the rate at when GHG intensity has been declining for almost a century.

1 comment:

Michael Tobis said...

I'm with you on this one, but so long as we're exchanging spelling flames there's only one "a" in calculus.

Nice idea though. Maybe we could have a journalism license to go along with journalistic privilege. Maybe it should require freshman calc, physics and chemistry, a survey of civil engineering and maybe a splash of ecology.