There are three main points to be made: scientists’ understanding of climate science was admittedly lacking at the time; though the world indeed cooled off from 1940 to 1970, there was no scientific consensus (pdf) about future temperature trends (such as exists today); and, finally, the observed cooling, now attributed to aerosols that have since declined in use, actually jibes with climate models. Will’s column quotes a number of media publications and scientific journals in an attempt to seem thorough, but, in the latter case especially, he misleads readers with cherry-picked sentences taken out of context.
Should that be so surprising, though? The truth is that guys like Will, Krauthammer, and Dobbs (not to mention Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck) don’t even cover global warming all that much. The far larger volume of quality climate-news reporting, which reflects an accurate understanding of the basic science, should far and away drown out the claptrap spewed by misinformed talking heads and columnists. But it doesn’t, and polls continue to show the majority of the pubic still does not understand the fundamental scientific evidence for global warming.
TPM’s Zachary Roth (a former CJR contributor) attempted to contact Will by phone and e-mail to ask him about the distortions in his column, but Will never responded. At a certain point, as Grist’s David Roberts noted on Sunday, it seems “futile” to keep refuting the same arguments. So what do we do? For starters, it would be nice to see opinion pages be more discerning about what they publish (and that goes for environmentalist screeds as well as those from deniers). But we might also consider the possibility that journalists are doing a fairly good job covering this story. As American University professor Matthew Nisbet suggested in a recent article for the Skeptical Inquirer:
The continued perceptual gridlock on climate change has little to do with science literacy, a lack of respect for science, poor reporting on the part of journalists, or a decline in the science beat at major news organizations such as CNN. Indeed, it is time to stop blaming the public, journalists, and media conglomerates. The communication burden instead rests with political leaders, scientists, advocates, and policy experts.
I still believe that journalists must continue to shoulder some of that burden, however, and one cannot ignore the undue influence of the “mainstream” media’s few remaining global-warming deniers.