On Saturday the Australian published a story by John Stapleton offering as evidence against global warming the fact that “the Arctic ice is expanding”. Something that happens every winter. Anyway, Stapleton’s piece is about biased reporting on global warming. Stapleton is oblivious to the extraordinary bias displayed by the Australian — he’s alleging that it is the ABC and Fairfax who are biased.
The sole piece of evidence that Stapleton offers for this is their reporting on the question of whether global warming is reducing the Southern Ocean’s ability to soak up carbon dioxide. Last year a study found that it was, but a new study published last week found that it wasn’t. The first study was (“breathlessly according to Stapleton) reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, but the second was not. To Stapleton, this is an example of Fairfax bias. But Stapleton does not mention that three News Limited papers (the Herald Sun, The Courier Mail and The Advertiser) did exactly the same thing — reporting on the first study and not the second one. In any case, one single example is hardly enough to support a claim of bias. For that you would need evidence of a pattern in the reporting.
The ABC reported on both studies, which would suggest to a normal person that they were not biased, but not to Stapleton. He misrepresents the ABC reporting, writing that they ran it “as evidence the Southern Ocean was adapting to climate change”, implying that the ABC did not mention that it contradicted the previous study. In fact, the ABC did mention this, and the CSIRO press release states that climate change is affecting the Southern Ocean:
“Co-author, CSIRO’s Dr Steve Rintoul, says the Southern Ocean was found to have become warmer and fresher since the 1960s – a pattern consistent with the ‘fingerprint’ of climate change caused by carbon emissions from human activity.”
This finding of the study is not mentioned by Stapleton.
Stapleton finishes his article by quoting three global warming skeptics Keith Windschuttle, Bob Carter, and William Kininmonth. All of them agree that the media was biased against them, with Windschuttle arguing that the ABC was required to produce a diversity of views. But there was no diversity of views amongst the three people Stapleton quoted. Perhaps Stapleton had been unable to find anyone who disagreed with Windschuttle and co? Stapleton had interviewed CSIRO’s Steve Rintoul (though he got his name wrong), so I asked Rintoul what he had told Stapleton. He replied:
“I made it clear to Stapleton that I did not agree with his proposition that climate change sceptics were unable to get their message out in the media; indeed, that I felt it was the other way around.”
I think we can be sure that if Rintoul had agreed with Stapleton’s proposition, Rintoul’s agreement would have made it into the story.
Rintoul wrote to the Australian to try to set the record straight:
An article (“Cold snap fails to cool protagonists of global warming”, 29-30/11) and editorial (“Unthinking dogma“) in the weekend paper cited a science paper we published showing the Southern Ocean was more resistant to changes in winds than expected.
The pieces argue that lack of media coverage of our results was an example of media bias on global warming. I note that the ABC did cover the story on TV, radio and online; the story was covered by Reuters and picked up by newspapers around the world.
Our (CSIRO) study shows that the Southern Ocean is warming and current systems are shifting to the south, consistent with projections of climate change caused by human activities.
We also conclude that the ability of the Southern Ocean to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has not decreased.
While the fact that the Southern Ocean continues to remove carbon dioxide is good news, overall the study provides yet more evidence that climate is changing.
I do believe the media coverage of climate change is uneven: the sceptics get much more air-time than the quality and relevance of their scientific arguments justify, giving the public the impression that the science is more uncertain than is the case.
The overwhelming majority of experts in the field are convinced by the evidence that climate change is real, is mainly caused by human activities, and that strong action is required now to slow the rate of climate change and to adapt to change we can’t avoid.