The daily disaster – climate change in the media

Harry Clarke isn’t happy that Quadrant rejected his article criticising the ‘denialist’ perspectives that have been getting plenty of space in its pages. Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle’s reasoning goes like this:

We find that the pro-IPCC position is very well represented in almost every media outlet in the country, including academic journals and websites, but it is very difficult for sceptics to find any outlet for their voices to be heard. Hence, in the interests of balance, we believe the sceptics deserve a fair go in a little journal like ours.

My month of media monitoring shows that the alarmists do indeed get a lot of coverage. I counted 47 alarmist stories in the media over the last month, so an average of about 1.6 different predictions of disaster per day. This underestimates the saturation coverage this issue receives – I did not count multiple versions of the same story in different media outlets, and decided against including most borderline cases, where pessimistic projections were reported in a neutral way without accompanying calls to action. Maybe the prophets of doom were working extra hard in the lead up to the Poznan conference, but overall it confirms my impression that the alarmists are relentlessly on-message.

The NIMBYists were, however, closely pursuing the alarmists for numbers of stories in the media until late last month, but it seems we ran out of industries that were going to be devastated by an ETS. The NIMBYists finished well behind the alarmists on 31 stories. This might also have been higher than usual, in the lead up to announcing the detail of the ETS.

As expected, and as Windschuttle claims, the denialists came a distant third in media coverage, with 10 stories. Eight of these were in News Ltd papers, and mostly relegated to the opinion section.

My impression that hapless denialists get a very tough time, while the NIMBYists get away with really sabotaging efforts to slow climate change, was not supported in the case of mainstream media. While in the blogosphere people like Tim Lambert vigilantly hunt denialists, in the mainstream media over the last month they have been ignored (though my main source of coverage, Google News, doesn’t seem to cover letters). By contrast, the Greens and the Climate Institute have been actively attacking the exception-seeking NIMBYists.

Unless there are people who read nothing but Quadrant, it’s impossible to escape the orthodox view on climate change. So Windschuttle is probably right that there is little value in a small magazine running material that is readily available elswhere. Quadrant has always published eccentric opinions, so giving space to climate change sceptics is part of a long tradition.

36 Responses to “The daily disaster – climate change in the media

  • 1
    Sinclair Davidson
    December 15th, 2008 06:56

    Harry’s article was rejected because it was prepublished. Now we can debate whether a blog post constitutes prepublication, but I have always found that editors tend to have firm views and its best to accomodate them.

  • 2
    conrad
    December 15th, 2008 06:58

    How is HC related to alarmists or denialists? I thought he was presenting pretty much the median opinion — alarmist and denialist makes him sound like an extremist loonie. I’ve always found his thoughts quite conservative.
    *
    I also fail to see how Quadrant balances anything, given that, according to its editor it’s a “little journal”. If it wants to be the journal of unheard opinions, perhaps it should rename itself and people could start sending unusual opinions in other areas too. I’ve always thought that implanting animal genetics into humans would be a good idea — imagine how much fun the Olympics would be, but no-one else will listen. If skeptics want to be heard, then they should publish real articles in real journals. A couple of Nature and Science papers showing how everyone else is wrong would easily sway public opinion.

  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    December 15th, 2008 07:15

    Sinc – True, Windschuttle told Harry that, but he told another rejected author that he had a general policy against publishing the orthodox view on climate change. So like Harry I think that even if he had not ‘prepublished’ he would have been rejected anyway.

    Conrad – I chose the names that the other side gives to each perspective, plus ‘NIMBYist’ to be equally unfair to all. I’m not trying to say that Harry is anything but calm and sensible.

  • 4
    derrida derider
    December 15th, 2008 12:10

    “… hapless denialists get a very tough time”
    Yes, and so do young-earth creationists, flat earthers, Velikovskians, scientologists, etc.

    What conrad said. People peddling known non-facts to pursue an ideological agenda have no right at all to expect media time. Sometimes unheard opinions are unheard for good reasons.

  • 5
    AlanC
    December 15th, 2008 12:29

    However much press the alarmists get, the argument that it is OK to exclude contrary opinions from one publication on the grounds of “balancing” others, is rather pathetic.
    Remember the good ol’days when defenders of left-wing bias in the ABC used to argue that all the commercial media were pro-capitalist, and so they were entitled to make the ABC biased in the other direction?
    As I seem to recall, in those days perhaps not Windschuttle himself, but certainly people of the persuasion he has subsequently come to embrace, did not find that argument acceptable.

  • 6
    Pedro S
    December 15th, 2008 12:39

    How many subscribers does Quadrant have? Surely it is quite legitimate for a niche publication to argue that it can represent some non-mainstream views.

    Comparing the ABC to Quadrant is very flattering to Quadrant.

  • 7
    johno
    December 15th, 2008 13:21

    AlanC

    There is an important difference between the ABC and Quadrant. Quadrant earns it money from the people who are prepared to pay for a it. The ABC gets its money from taxpayers, so the ABC has a greater responsibility to include a wider range of views than Quadrant and has fewer grounds to excluding materal. That said, the ABC has clearly failed in its responsibility and should be privatised to test whether enough Australias are interested in its narrow left wing agenda to support it.

  • 8
    Spiros
    December 15th, 2008 13:25

    Quadrant gets funded by the Australia Council. It is on the government teat and could not exist without it.

  • 9
    Andrew Norton
    December 15th, 2008 13:40

    Quadrant gets $30,000 a year from the Australia Council, which is equivalent to 400 subscriptions. I suspect much of it goes to pay literary editor Les Murray. I’ve heard Quadrant’s circulation is 5,000, but I am not sure. But I doubt losing $30K would threaten its existence.

    I agree with Johno – if you edit a small magazine the constant question you ask yourself is what you can offer that is not provided by other publications. There is no obligation to publish all views.

  • 10
    Tim Lambert
    December 15th, 2008 15:37

    Winschuttle declared that “People who are really confident [of their facts] relish debate.” So it seems that he has no confidence in the articles on global warming that he has published since he won’t allow a debate in Quadrant. The case he is trying to make against the climate scientists would only be strengthened if he published Harry’s criticism and the articles could stand up to it.

    There certainly can’t be a shortage of space for articles on the topic — Windschuttle has published nine such articles since March, including three by Ray Evans.

  • 11
    jc
    December 15th, 2008 18:58

    What Tim Lambert is referring to of course the Keith W’s rejection of David Karoly’s rejoinder to various articles on AGW. Harry’s was just a bonus as he didn’t know about it until Harry complained.

    It would be interesting to see if Lambert was as vocal about the same practices being evident in far left publications that he supports. When was the last time a well reasoned piece arguing in favor of free labor markets was ever seen in these publications.

    Can you point to an example, Tim? Don’t be shy about it either.

    Also you can you tell us if Keith approved of the private email correspondence that posted on your site. You said you had approval, however you weren’t clear who actually gave you the nod. Was it Keith or Karoly, Tim?

  • 12
    Rafe Champion
    December 15th, 2008 20:40

    The alternative view on climate change seems to be growing in strength, although the defenders of the faith would not want anyone to know about it.
    http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=2158072e-802a-23ad-45f0-274616db87e6

    The ABC has a charter to provide balance, not that you would know that nowadays. Quadrant has a charter to maintain diversity of opinion at the level of high journalism and to provide an alternative to the house journals of the left. It performed that task with distinction during the Cold War and it may turn out to be on the correct side again. Time and genuine debate will tell.

    Derrida, I would like to ask you the question that I put to someone else, (was it Conrad?). Do you claim to understand the science of climate change well enough to have an opinion of your own, based on deep study of the issues, or are you just going with the majority opinion?

  • 13
    ennui
    December 15th, 2008 21:58

    If we put aside the the rather trivial matter of Harry’s sensitivities (and the associated petty views), the most interesting issue is that raised by DD ie ” sometimes unheard opinions are unheard for good reason” – which surprisingly Rafe did not address but went off down another (dead-end)road. It is an issue I have always had difficulty in grappling with – particularly in a democracy where minority views should be heard but not be dominant – that is why the ABC charter is important.
    But why should a privately funded mag such as Quadrant subscribe to that sort of balance? There is no reason at all in my view – apart from a credibility issue. Partisanly advocating or supporting one side of a debate – even masked as an endeavour to redress some assumed general imbalance – does leave itself open to DD’s criticism.
    Maybe the CIS covers the more balanced conservative thinking and agenda in the broad sense but Quadrant does have a niche market (albeit a very small one) and one would hope it could retain some element of credibility – and avoid simply becoming an upmarket Readers Digest.

  • 14
    jc
    December 15th, 2008 23:41

    Ennui

    Okay lets move the discussion away from just the science and get it where where it belongs in the economics of dealing with AGW.

    There’s most certainly an argument to be made whether we should mitigate or leave GDP growth unmolested over the regular 2100 horizon period that people are using .

    How often do we hear the other side of that argument which to a great degree takes the pro-mitigation argument apart?

    So DD’s point isn’t exactly reasonable in that regards although it has merit in other ways.

    A cost/benefit analysis that properly measures cost of capital etc. would put mitigation back in its box all too quickly.

    How often do you see arguments put forward that way?

  • 15
    ennui
    December 16th, 2008 09:32

    jc
    I would agree that the ‘pro v no’ mitigation argument gets little air time. It does deserve much greater discussion in the debate – but to seriously address that issue one needs to initially accept the standard climate change “science”. It would seem that those who would argue the ‘no’ case are not prepared to take that initial step – thus leaving the ‘no mitigation’ case in limbo.

    Back to the broader ‘balance’ issue: my interpretation of DD’s criticism is simply that ‘balance’ denotes ‘fairness’ but it assumes all parties possess arguments of reasonable value or merit. If they are not then why promote shoddy material under the guise of balance. The ABC is required under its Charter to allow for minority views – even if some might be crap. However, in my view Quadrant is not so restricted and would be better off if it was guided by merit re contributions, and a desire to gain credibility beyond its present limited readership.

  • 16
    Rafe
    December 16th, 2008 12:37

    “the most interesting issue is that raised by DD ie ” sometimes unheard opinions are unheard for good reason” – which surprisingly Rafe did not address but went off down another (dead-end)road.”
    I don’t think it is a dead end to ask whether people are on top of particular issues to a point where their views add weight to the debate. I appreciate that almost all the time we have to follow people who we hope are genuinely on top of things, and in the natural sciences that used to be a fair bet. Not so in the soft social sciences, and increasingly not so in other sciences that have been corrupted by politics and the quest for funds.

  • 17
    charles
    December 16th, 2008 13:38

    There are still flat earthers and it is not hard to find creationists. After the north pole ice cap is no more and Greenland has melted I am sure it will still be possible to find people who deny climate change so why get upset about it.

    It will be interesting to see how and were they get published in the next few years.

    Like any bit of wackery it really isn’t a problem if people that matter follow the science and ignore the fairy tales. As for the Quadrant editor making a fool of himself, it really isn’t new news.

  • 18
    jc
    December 16th, 2008 14:20

    Charles:

    Put you money where your mouth is.

    AL Gore says that the north pole ice cap will not exist in 5 years time. If you are so sure too, I am willing to bet $100,000 to $300,000 that it will. 3:1 my favor.

    This goes for both you and Lambert.

    Happy to escrow with a law firm

  • 19
    charles
    December 16th, 2008 14:32

    jc

    Your not very confident. How about 3:1 my favor.

  • 20
    charles
    December 16th, 2008 14:34

    And jc i’d prefer it to be based on parts per million not time. At this stage I’m not willing to bet that without a green bubble we will get out of the current economic downturn.

  • 21
    jc
    December 16th, 2008 14:46

    You’re the one who said:

    after the north pole ice cap is no more and Greenland has melted

    if you’re that certain my bet is very generous in fact, Charles especially now that you have the former law and divinity schools dropout backing you up that it’s going to happen in 5 years.

    What are you odds then for that bet, Charles…. (No tears).

    We escrow.

  • 22
    alanc
    December 16th, 2008 14:56

    Just so we’re straight, I don’t object to Quadrant, or any other niche magazine, giving a voice to reasonable niche opinions per se (I say “reasonable” just to preclude questions about incitement to various illegalities etc etc). I also agree that more may be expected of big national institutions like the ABC (just as more might be expected of any oligopoly or monopoly than of smaller companies).
    But Windschuttle, as quoted by Andrew, cited the grounds of “balance” and “fair go”, and this conjunction of citing “balance” while practicing imbalance reeks of a very old-style leftish double-speak.

  • 23
    jc
    December 16th, 2008 15:05

    I disagree Alanc.

    Quadrant has only so many pages it can fill.

    The ABC does a fine job of only presenting the alarmist case of AGW, something which we are all forced to pay for despite its charter.

    Farleftfax does a decent job of scaring the doctors wives.

    The Oz presents opinions on both sides.

    So KeithW is perfectly fine in arguing his case for a small periodical.

    Any of those suggesting otherwise, lets see the evidence they have agitated in favor of the sceptics case being included in left wing periodicals.

  • 24
    charles
    December 16th, 2008 16:50

    As things stand JC I’m not willing to bet we will get out of this recession without a green revolution (we need something other than a US war to top up the economy).

    So there you have my view JC, if something else isn’t found to top up the economy falling living standards and a solution to the problem if denial wins the day, on the other hand, increased living standards and a solution if the green revolution is supported.

    A bit of a twisted world in my view, those that put the economy first are creating an outcome that has the economy coming last.

    Lets make it interesting but not stupid, capital is not something you tie up for 5 years just to make a point.

    I will put up $1,000 dollars, you put up $1000, I get $2,000 plus interest if:

    a) We stay in recession for 5 years and global carbon emission decrease as a result.
    b) If the Northern shipping lane from Europe to North America in used for commercial shipping in the next 5 years.
    c) The world comes to it’s senses, we have a decent green revolution and carbon emissions fall with increased economic activity.

    You get the money if we come out of recession, carbon emissions increase and the north shipping lane is not open for commercial use in the next five years.

  • 25
    jc
    December 16th, 2008 16:57

    Nope Charles. Sorry no bet as I’m not interested. I’m only interested in the north pole disappears in 5 years bet with odds in my favor. Let me know if you change you mind. If Al gore thinks it’s a certainty you should too while offering odds 3:1.

    An emissions free world will arrive at some stage, not not a moment sooner than technology will allow and it isn’t now.

    Why would I bet on a northern shipping lane through the pole as we had one this summer? Charles, i would be losing the bet from the very beginning. You’re doing a Bernie Madoff on me and my money.

  • 26
    ennui
    December 16th, 2008 21:02

    Rafe
    It wasn’t my intention to disparage your qst re DDs qualifications to support his views. I simply believe that discussions of that nature becomes a meaningless exercise – perhaps cul-de-sac may a more accurate metaphor than dead end road!
    An interesting aside to this point is that historically “sceptics support the scientific consensus” eg HIV aids, holocaust, etc. However AGW sceptics have been pushed into the “denialist” camp or at least labeled as such.
    This may well be the result of ones respect for the particular “scientific consensus” itself. In other words such respect should be proportional to the strength of the consensus itself. ie the breadth of consensus among experts and the depth of the evidence on which that consensus is based.

    This does leave me a bit uncomfortable although I would place myself in the the so-called “scientific consensus” camp on climate change. The reason for my discomfort is that what a scientific consensus actually says is not always clear on many issues – in fact there are few issues in science for which a strong consensus exists and even fewer in the social sciences.
    Where there is no consensus or perhaps a dodgy one then there is every reason for an individual to exercise critical thinking and arrive at a personal (non-expert) assessment or view – or even reserve judgment. This surely is a legitimate exercise of personal discretion – of course the actual credibility of that view ultimately lies in the hands of others!

  • 27
    charles
    December 16th, 2008 21:39

    jc

    Oh yes you are right; sorry.

    Put up the definition your willing to accept the 3:1 bet on.

  • 28
    charles
    December 16th, 2008 21:41

    Andrew

    I’m curious do you count articles that just give the facts as they are today, for example the one I linked to above as alarmist?

  • 29
    Andrew Norton
    December 17th, 2008 06:01

    Charles – No, I would not have counted that one. A shipping lane is a positive aspect of climate change. Similarly I did not count articles pointing to possible business opportunities in catering to climate change.

  • 30
    charles
    December 17th, 2008 14:12

    Is the coal industry claiming employment will fall with carbon trading included, or is it just things like, near coastal properties will become coastal type stuff.

  • 31
    Mitch
    December 17th, 2008 16:10

    Something I realised recently is that an ETS would have the opposite effect that tariffs are designed to have. The former benefits offshore businesses at the expense of Australian ones, and the latter vice versa. In this respect, they cancel each other out to some extent, except that we still get the massive overhead costs associated with both.
    It’s also particularly odd that one side of politics largely favours both, suggesting to me a degree of inconsistency.

  • 32
    Libertarian news & views (18/12/08) « Thoughts on Freedom
    December 18th, 2008 17:13

    [...] Libertarian news & views (18/12/08) Once again, climate change was a big issue in the libertarian blogosphere. Jennifer Marohasy notes the Rudd 5% commitment and discusses the role of oceans in climate change, we hear that Al Gore says the arctic may disapear, Jim Fryar gives the facts of stranded polar bears, Tim Wilson looks at the climate policy & free trade, while Andrew Norton looks at climate change in the media. [...]

  • 33
    wilful
    December 19th, 2008 11:28

    jc, if you made it ten years (recalling that the IPCC said it would be 80 years) I’d take it at odds.

    You’re a real wacker if you think there’s any real doubt about the science of climate change.

    Happy to agree there’s a whole lotta economics to work through, but anyone who questions the basic science, well they live in a very strange place.

  • 34
    charles
    December 19th, 2008 21:42

    Another positive and interesting article.

  • 35
    charles
    December 20th, 2008 09:01

    Mitch

    If that was the case international trade would increase. I bet you Carbon miles and tariff barriers based on untaxed carbon will become the order of the day, with Europe being the first to impose them.

    Lump it or like it we are entering a new age.

  • 36
    jc
    December 20th, 2008 15:02

    Careful with the abuse, wiful.

    Go ask Algore why he chose 5 years. He was the one who recently said that the polar cop will be gone in that time. Seeing Gore is the leader of the green movement I would have thought most of his zombies would acceot what he says.

    So yea, it’s a 5 year bet that the cap is gone.

    Are reasonable , intelligent people questioning the science?

    Sure they are, David Evans the former head of the Green house office who left after he realized AGW was a ballony is currently giving Tim lambert an intellectual hiding over at Troppo forcing Lambert ro appear like a dribbling baby.

    Here go take a look.

    http://clubtroppo.com.au/2008/12/19/david-evans-greenhouse-sceptic-debates-his-views-on-troppo/