Global Cooling? The Jellyfish Answer
Editor’s Note: The Right’s massive investment in media over the past several decades has made it possible to sell any number of misleading arguments to tens of millions of people, who then can be counted on to pass along the misinformation to many more millions of people.
This capacity for spreading confusion is especially effective when a topic is relatively complicated like the science of global warming, as Michael Winship notes in this guest essay:
There are certain newspaper headlines that catch your eye and stop you in your tracks.
It Like the New York Post's famous "Headless Body in Topless Bar." Or such tabloid greats as "Evil Cows Ate My Garden," "Double Decker Bus Found on Moon," and my personal favorite, "Proof of Reincarnation: Baby Born with Wooden Leg."
Along similar lines, I was startled this week when London's Daily Mail published an article headlined, "Could we be in for 30 years of global COOLING?"
Triggered by the unusual cold and snow in the United Kingdom over the last few weeks, the article began, "Britain's big freeze is the start of a worldwide trend towards colder weather that seriously challenges global warming theories, eminent scientists claimed yesterday."
The story went on to reference various researchers and their institutions, including the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, which reported, according to the Mail, that, "the warming of the Earth since 1900 is due to natural oceanic cycles, and not man-made greenhouse gases."
This was followed by an article on the Fox News Web site with the headline, "30 Years of Global Cooling Are Coming, Leading Scientist Says."
There are only two small problems, as was pointed out by Steve Benen on Washington Monthly magazine's "Political Animal" blog: "First, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said no such thing. The director of the NSIDC said, 'This is completely false. NSIDC has never made such a statement and we were never contacted by anyone from the Daily Mail.'"
(Subsequently, both Fox and the Mail removed the reference to the NSIDC in their articles.)
Second, as proof of global cooling, both stories cited research conducted by Mojib Latif, a prominent climate modeler with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Latif's response to their reporting? "I don't know what to do," he said. "They just make these things up."
Latif's work on climatology is complex and often difficult to understand, which is why the Fox and Daily Mail reporters may have his story mixed up - it wouldn't be the first time journalists have been confused by his findings.
But as cogently interpreted by the physicist and climate expert Dr. Joseph Romm of the liberal Center for American Progress, "Latif has NOT predicted a cooling trend - or a 'decades-long deep freeze' - but rather a short-time span where human-caused warming might be partly offset by ocean cycles, staying at current record levels, but then followed by 'accelerated' warming where you catch up to the long-term human-caused trend. He does NOT forecast 2 or 3 decades of cooling."
In fact, as Latif told the British newspaper the Guardian, "I believe in manmade global warming... There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."
And if you don't believe him, ask the jellyfish.
Jellyfish don't lie. Well, sometimes they lie - deceased and desiccated along the beach, which from strolling along various Eastern Seaboard shores is about the extent of my knowledge of them. That, and that Ogden Nash couplet, the one that goes, "Who wants my jellyfish? I am not sellyfish!"
But according to the Associated Press, the jellyfish population is rising. The news service reports, "Scientists believe climate change - the warming of oceans - has allowed some of the almost 2,000 jellyfish species to expand their ranges, appear earlier in the year and increase overall numbers, much as warming has helped ticks, bark beetles and other pests to spread to new latitudes."
This has led to all manner of consequences, some you would expect, others not. A 2008 National Science Foundation study found populations growing along the East Coast - in the Chesapeake Bay area, people are stung about half a million times a year.
In the Middle East and Africa, swarms have jammed hydroelectric and desalination plants, forcing them to shut down. In Japan, the fishing industry is losing up to $332 million a year because jellyfish swarms fill the nets, crowding out mackerel, sea bass and other fish.
The AP reports that in October, off the eastern coast of Japan, "Jelly-filled nets capsized a 10-ton trawler as its crew tried to pull them up. The three fishermen were rescued." I know this all sounds like something out of a Godzilla movie, but it's serious stuff.
And speaking of jellyfish, here's a headline you may not see anytime soon: "Senate Passes Sweeping Climate Bill."
Although in a Jan. 14 speech to the Energy Finance Forum, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "Taking on the clean-energy challenge... may be the most important policy we will ever pass. And we cannot afford to wait any longer to act," the cap-and-trade climate bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives back in June malingers in the purgatory of the Senate.
And next week, Sen. Reid will allow a vote on an amendment to the legislation lifting the Federal debt ceiling. Proposed by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, it would block the enforcement funding of the Environmental Protection Agency, giving free rein to the coal industry and other big polluters to ignore the Clean Air Act.
The activist group Credo Action, part of the company Working Assets, notes "You would think this would be easy to stop, but the vote is predicted to be close with many Democrats considering voting for the bill... The coal industry has been working furiously to close deals with senators across the political spectrum, including those who say they want to protect the environment."
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.
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