The Scientific Activist

Last Thursday, President George Bush unveiled a new climate change initiative, and this was further elaborated upon in a press conference by Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (all of this, interestingly enough, as NASA Administrator Michael Griffin bizarrely proclaims that global warming isn’t really a big deal after all). Although the Bush plan was given quite a bit of attention in the media, it’s not a major departure from administration policy, as it continues to flout the tried and true international process led by the UN and does not insist on mandatory emissions caps.

Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post describes this surprisingly credulous media reaction and comments on the differences between the responses of the American and international media. For example, check out the headlines from the major U.S. news sources. On 31 May, the Washington Post reports that “Bush Proposes Talks on Warming” and on 1 June, The New York Times reports that “Bush Proposes Goals on Greenhouse Gas Emissions” and the Los Angeles Times reports that “Bush offers to take climate lead”. In contrast, the Guardian reports on 1 June that “Bush kills off hopes for G8 climate change plan” and called “Bush’s emission plan ‘a delaying tactic’.” Although The New York Times published a fairly skeptical editorial entitled “Playing to the Crowd: Talk About Warming,” it is nothing compared to the commentary in The Independent entitled “Bush sidesteps G8’s climate change agenda.”

To be fair, even the stories in the American media are fairly nuanced and give a decent amount of coverage to the obvious downsides of Bush’s climate change plan. However, these objections are generally buried deep in the articles, and they are not apparent at all from the headlines. What may be even more telling, though, is the striking difference between the headlines released by the Associated Press (AP) and by its UK counterpart, Reuters.



Although a lot of this can probably be attributed to differing media cultures between the US and the UK, it is disappointing to see that the American media continues to give undue credence to the current president, at the expense of direct reporting on such an important issue as global warming.


  1. #1 Jeb, FCD
    June 3, 2007

    As an American in America, I don’t get it either. It’s truly baffling. Are they afraid that if they start honestly reporting on this dickhead, they might have to admit their mistakes relating to not critically examing his claims before the Iraq War (and after)?

  2. #2 Sean O
    June 4, 2007

    I run a site on global warming ( It is designed to try to give both sides of the issue, I think I do a fairly good job of it since has referenced me several times.

    I think we need to look more closely at Mr. Griffin’s words. If GW is caused by nefarious human activity than we should do something about it. But if GW is caused by the natural changes of global climate, then we need to live with it and adapt. There is a high likelihood that the latter is true and many climate scientists think humans are not the root cause. In fact, in a recent study of scientists only 39% felt that carbon dioxide reductions were a priority (

    We simply do not know enough about our climate to take dramatic action on this issue.

  3. #3 inel
    June 4, 2007

    This is not baffling at all. The US media you refer to do not exist to enlighten and inform people, especially on scientific and international policies and related topics. Unfortunately, climate change involves both ‘blind spots’.

  4. #4 Nick Anthis
    June 4, 2007

    First of all, the survey that you (Sean O) mention is from the National Registry of Environmental Professionals, which is not an organization of climate scientists or even environmental scientists. Regardless, if we look at the results of their survey (found here), it’s a little different than you let on. For example, “59 percent respond that current climactic activity exceeding norms calibrated by over 100 years of weather data collection can be, in large part, attributed to human activity.” Also, “58 percent of those practitioners surveyed think the U.S. is in a position to begin taking concrete public policy steps that have a good chance of slowing the negative effects of global warming. 67 percent report they think the U.S. Government is NOT doing enough to address the effects of global warming.” And, “53 percent of professionals polled consider international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, provide a solid framework from which large volume energy producing countries like the U.S. can play a positive role in combating the effects of global climate change.”

    Most importantly, though, this 39% number you give is complete and total bullshit. The question was “Which human activity would you say should be regulated the most to generate an effective public policy response to global warming?” 38.6% of respondents answered “carbon emissions as a whole.” The remaining 61.4% gave a variety of other answers, including “energy production”, “modes of transportation”, “deforestation”, “ocean pollution”, and “air pollution”. This in no way implies that “only 39% [of scientists] felt that carbon dioxide reductions were a priority.” Did you even look at the survey?

  5. #5 inel
    June 4, 2007

    Sean O’s comment up there is a good example of a misleading statement intended to divert us off-topic to discuss irrelevancies and bogus arguments.

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