Feb
16
2010

Dana Milbank, Snow and Climate Change

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank thinks it's pretty silly for Republicans and climate change deniers to say that the recent snowstorms mean that climate change is phony.

BUT…. don't think for a second that Milbank's going to let "greens" off the hook that easy. No way. As he put it on Sunday (2/14/10): "There's some rough justice in the conservatives' cheap shots. In Washington's blizzards, the greens were hoist by their own petard."

How so? Climate activists "have argued by anecdote to make their case," especially Al Gore, who has warned of a whole menuof negative consequences from climate change. Milbank writes: "It's not that Gore is wrong about these things. The problem is that his storm stories have conditioned people to expect an endless worldwide heatwave, when in fact the changes so far are subtle."

Milbank has more:

Scientific arguments, too, are problematic. In a conference call arranged Thursday by the liberal Center for American Progress to refute the snow antics of Inhofe et al., the center's Joe Romm made the well-worn statements that "the overwhelming weight of the scientific literature" points to human-caused warming and that doubters "don't understand the science."

The science is overwhelming–but not definitive. Romm's claim was inadvertently shot down by his partner on the call, the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters, who confessed that "there's a huge amount of natural variability in the climate system" and not enough years of measurements to know exactly what's going on. "Unfortunately we don't have that data so we are forced to make decisions based on inadequate data."

Aside from lamenting Romm's comments for being so "well-worn," did Jeff Masters really "shoot down" climate analyst Romm? That's not what Masters says happened; he has a response on his site, where he writes, "I agree with Dr. Romm's statement." Milbank's storyline–both sides are exaggerating–is a familiar one, but it's also entirely misleading. As is his drive-by summary of the whole "Climategate" scandal:

The scientific case has been further undermined by high-profile screw-ups. First there were the hacked e-mails of a British research center that suggested the scientists were stacking the deck to overstate the threat. Now comes word of numerous errors in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years.

There is no credible evidence that climate scientistswere "stacking the deck."It is hard to figure out what he means by"numerous" errors in the 2007 report; there are two prominent allegations, including the aforementioned glaciers error. The New York Times determined that the complaints have amounted to "half-truths." Milbank's assertion, then, that the "scientific case has been further undermined" is specious. But the point of climate change denial is to manufacture a political scandal–which is what journalism like this does well.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.