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This item was posted on March 2, 2009, and it was categorized as Andrew Revkin, Climate Change, Environmental journalism, Global Warming.
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  • Update 9:30 p.m., 3/2/09: Keith Kloor has a marvelous post here on a parallel between the treatment of Andrew Revkin and what William Cronon had to endure from some environmentalists back in the 1990s. 
  • Update 11:15 a.m., 3/2/09: Roger Pielke, Jr. corrects “misinformation and inaccuracies” in Joe Romm’s post.
  • Update 11:05 a.m., 3/2/09: John Fleck’s post artfully rebuts George Will’s “glib trashing” of the late, great Walter Sullivan, who is arguably the father of modern science writing.
  • Update 10:15 a.m., 3/2/09: Michael Zimmerman, director of the Center for the Humanities and Arts here at the University of Colorado has just posted this thoughtful and revealing article on Prometheus: “Coal Trains, Death Camps, and Recent Anti-Modernism.” It is an intelligent antidote to the emotionalism and extremism I describe below.


In a 3,000-word post today at Climate Progress, Joe Romm continues his unseemly campaign against Andrew Revkin and Roger Pielke, Jr. over what he perceives to be deadly sins in their work on climate change.

Pielke has criticized Gore for drawing unsubstantiated connections between natural disasters and global warming. In his post, Romm describes this as a “vicious assault.” Meanwhile, he claims that Revkin’s recent news analysis, which points out the exaggeration in Gore’s AAAS presentation, is an “indefensible overinterpretation of one word by Gore.”

The word in question — the single word that Romm focuses much of his emotional, feature-length post on — is, “this.”  

More on that in a minute. But first,  Romm isn’t the only one to raise the level of inflammatory rhetoric on this issue. In a post on his blog, climate scientist Michael Tobis accuses Revkin of being “evil” for writing about Al Gore and George Will in the same news analysis. Not mistaken. Not misguided. Evil. In fact, Tobis uses that word twice to describe Andy, once in his original post and again in a response within the comments section. (Why do I feel a reference to Hitler and the Nazis coming on…)

For the record: I believe that former Vice President Al Gore has done more than most people to raise awareness of climate change. He is certainly to be admired and his slide show applauded. But to argue as Romm does  that Gore does not tie natural disasters to global warming is to ignore the obvious.

Romm focuses intensely on the fact that there is no antecedent to the word “this” in the former vice president’s speech. Because of the missing antecedent, Romm argues that Gore was not really implicating global warming in a rising toll from natural disasters. (You’re going to have to read Romm’s post to learn how he reaches that conclusion, because it would take too long for me to explain his Olympic-quality mental gymnastics.) Yet Romm conveniently ignores the slide immediately following Gore’s three or so minute description of natural disasters. That slide details the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

So I guess Romm is technically correct that Gore never actually says that the word “this” refers to “global warming.” Which makes his point ideal for use today in my Principles of Journalism class as an example of how something can be factually true but substantially false. Thank you Joe for helping me with class prep today.

It’s also curious, by the way, that Romm ignores the hurricane spiraling out of the smokestack on the book and DVD versions of Inconvenient Truth. 

Accuracy is a preeminent journalistic value. And accuracy must be judged not just on the minutiae of individual words and their antecedents, but what major impressions they give readers and viewers. To imply that viewers don’t leave Gore’s presentation thinking that natural disasters are closely tied to global warming is silly.

Gore does indeed pay meticulous attention to scientific detail, and his achievements on raising awareness of climate change are singularly impressive. But in this case, he did exaggerate. (A politician who exaggerates? I’m shocked! Simply shocked!!)

I won’t dignify Michael Tobis’s attack on Revkin by devoting more space to it. Suffice it to say that I view it, along with Romm’s inflammatory rhetoric, as a sign that public discourse on climate change is taking a decided turn for the worse  — a turn that will make finding solutions more difficult, not less so.

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  1. Posted March 2, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    [...] of the vile is aimed at Roger Pielke Jr., For those of you new to the controversy, check out this excellent dissection of Tobis and Romm by Tom Yulsman, and this broader overview of the whole ruckus at the Knight [...]

  2. Posted March 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    [...] 3 March, 2009 (14:33) | Data Comparisons Written by: lucia Have any of you been following the criticism of Will & Gore, Revkin and Roger Pielke Jr (in chronological order?) Roger discussed some today linking to Keith Kloor who links to Tom Yulsman. [...]

  3. Posted March 3, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    [...] Have any of you been following the criticism of Will & Gore, Revkin and Roger Pielke Jr (in chronological order?) Roger discussed some today linking to Keith Kloor who links to Tom Yulsman. [...]

  4. Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    [...] CEJournal 3/2/09 Tom Yulsman blog, “Hostilities Mount in Climate Change Wars“. [...]

  5. Posted March 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    [...] CEJ, Hostilities mount in climate change wars, 3 March 09 is an impassioned defense of Andrew Revkin from questioning and challenges [...]

  6. Posted March 8, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    [...] time the same day, CE Journal posted an article mostly on Joe Romm vs Revkin which happened to also criticize Tobis’ use of the word “evil” in discussing his [...]

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