Following withering critiques on one of his articles (here and here), New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin shows today why he is a pro. In his Dot Earth blog today, he meticulously takes apart George Will’s claims about climate change.
Will first showed his mastery of cherry picking and falsehood in a column on February 15 that has been widely debunked. In a second column, he claims — falsely (see here and here) — that only one of his assertions in the original column has been challenged. He also repeats many of the same inaccuracies, and engages in what Revkin documents as “irrelevant parsing” of the current state of Arctic sea ice. “Mr. Will’s overarching premise about sea ice and messages it holds related to human-caused climate change, was wrong,” Revkin writes, citing his interviews with scientific experts.
Meanwhile, climate change activists and bloggers went to considerable lengths yesterday to attack Revkin’s original news analysis on Will’s first column and Al Gore’s speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And in a comment on Revkin’s Dot Earth blog, Kalee Kreider, an aide to Al Gore, said she was “deeply troubled” by the article, saying it “conflates and missrepresents Mr. Gore’s tweaking of a particular slide in a 400+ slide presentation with someone who ignores wholesale the vast consensus that the climate crisis is real, it is caused by humans, and it will get worse unless we solve it.”
Kreider is right, in my opinion, that Revkin should not have given equal weight to George Will and Al Gore in his news analysis. But she is glossing over continuing exaggerations in Gore’s presentations. The idea that losses from hurricanes and other weather-related catastrophes are increasing because of global warming seems to be central to his argument — as the hurricane emerging from the smokestack on both the book and DVD of “An Inconvenient Truth” demonstrate. The problem is that scientists still have not been able to establish a conclusive link.
This was reaffirmed recently in a report from Munich Re— the very group Gore now relies on to make his case that global warming is linked to increasing natural catastrophes. The report concludes that socio-economic changes are largely to blame for increasing losses due to hurricanes in the U.S., “and weather-related natural catastrophes in general, the main reasons for this being increased wealth and greater settlement of exposed areas (cf. IPCC, 2007), as confirmed by our results.” The report goes on to say that studies “confirm the consensus reached in May 2006 at the international workshop in Hohenkammer attended by leading experts on climate change and natural catastrophe losses…”
Here was that consensus: “Societal change and economic development are mainly responsible for increasing losses in recent decades (Hoppe and Pielke 2006), as convincingly shown in analyses of long-term records of losses.”
So while there is no comparison between George Will’s absurd columns and Al Gore’s detailed presentation, the former vice president still appears to exaggerate to advance his case. My guess is that he continues to do it because he knows that natural catastrophes connect viscerally with the public, whereas melting sea ice and thawing ice sheets in remote polar regions do not. That’s fine, he’s a politician. But a reporter like Andrew Revkin is also quite right to point out the errors.
That’s his job, and he does it better than anyone else on this beat.