Media Exaggeration and Climate Change

Juliette Jowit, in THE OBSERVER, 18 Mar 07, reports that climate change experts have warned of the dangers of exaggerating global warning. Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier of the Royal Meteorolgical Society said scientists, campaign groups, politicians and the media were guilty of saying that catastrophic events were likely when this could not be proved.

They also criticised the tendency to attribute extreme events - such as the Birmingham typhoon and the Boscastle floods - to climate change.

They criticised a report last month by the American Association for the Advancement of Science which said that intensification of droughts, heatwaves, floods, wild fires and storms were 'early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come'.

Media reporting of the recent study written by the UN International Panel on Climate Change, was also criticised, especially for the use of the words 'catastrophic', 'terrifying' and 'devastating' which were not in the report.

'Campaigners, media and some scientists seem to be appealing to fear in order to generate a sense of urgency,' said Professor Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia and a contributor to yesterday's report. 'If they want to engage the public in responding to climate change, this is unreliable at best and counterproductive at worst.'

Scientists had to be more honest about the uncertainties surrounding climate change prediction to avoid losing public trust, said Hardaker. 'Once you begin to exaggerate the science in either direction the debate gets out of control'..

Their comments were backed today by other leading figures in the debate.


Claim: Extreme weather events like the one-in-400-years floods in Boscastle in 2004 are happening more and more frequently.

Reality: It can sound alarming to know that a major flood such as this may happen two years running, but that translates into a 0.25 per cent chance of a flood happening in any one year; the chance remains the same whatever happened in the previous 12 months.

Claim: The disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro are due to global warming

Reality: This may not have much to do with man's activities. It appears to have begun in the 1880s and the most likely explanation seems to be the change to drier conditions in East Africa. There is little evidence that the retreating glaciers can be blamed on rising temperatures and hence on human activity.

Source: Sense about Science charitable trust.

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