The New York Times has done numerous mistaken climate change stories. They would never run an obituary about someone who hasn’t died. They wouldn’t make up a sports result and say one team won the superbowl when in fact the other did. They wouldn’t say that the UK has left the EU when it hasn’t.
Why do journalists feel that it is okay to invent whatever you like about climate change and claim it is the truth?
Here are my annotations for this article using Hypothes.is, the academic web annotation tool:
Note - I have only annotated a few points here and there - I don't want to take the hours that would be needed to annotate even all the worst mistakes.
This sort of thing doesn’t mean the scientists got climate change wrong, it means that a journalist made up a story about the scientists getting climate change wrong.
This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of feeling suicidal about it, by such stories.
Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.
It would take a lot more work to debunk it than it took for them to write it.
For instance they say
In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group of thousands of scientists representing 195 countries, said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing,
So first calling the permafrost "methane-laden" shows the journalist doesn't have a clue as the methane isn't locked in the permafrost already, not in the permafrost on land - there are organics in the permafrost that can turn to methane or carbon dioxide or just soil organics as they warm up depending how they decompose and what depth in the soil, how damp or dry, what microbes colonize, the plants and peat, etc. Was he was confusing it with the methane clathrates below the sea bed, the basis of the now effectively disproved Clathrate gun hypothesis?
Then - they say the 1990 report said "Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, " - that seems highly unlikely So I checked and of course it has a long section about the permafrost thaw and predicting how much thawing there would be at 1 C and 2 C and warning about the effects on buildings built on permafrost foundations (effects we already see now which they predicted back in 1990).
Skip to: video
methane-laden Arctic permafrost
The permafrost in the Arctic is NOT methane-laden. It's got ancient organics from frozen vegetation and animal life. there are organics in the permafrost that can turn to methane or carbon dioxide or just soil organics as they warm up depending how they decompose and what depth in the soil, how damp or dry, what microbes colonize, the plants and peat, etc.
Whether it produces methane or carbon dioxide and whether the gases reach the surface depends on how it decomposes and at what depth. E.g. in damp anoxic conditions it produces methane but if there are overlying layers that are drier then the methane will be eaten by other microbes as it gets to the surface, if it is a dry area then the microbes produce carbon dioxide.
was not in danger of thawing,
The 1990 report not only said it was in danger of thawing, it said it WOULD thaw, just as it has today.
126.96.36.199 Changes in permafrost distribution
Under global warming of 1°C the most significant changes within the USSR are proposed for the southernmost portions of the permafrost with the boundary of the climatic zone which supports permafrost shifting northward and northeastward by 200-300 km. This will significantly expand the area of relict permafrost in western Siberia and the Pechora Valley. The boundary of the climatic zone which supports continuous permafrost will also recede approximately the same distance; however, in those areas where the ground temperatures are currently -5°C to -7°C continuous permafrost will be preserved. The thickness of the active layer (in loamy soils) is expected to increase by no more than 0.5 m.
A 2°C global warming (projected for 2020s) will shift the southern boundary of the climatic zone which supports permafrost over most of Siberia north and north eastward by no less than 500-700 km from its current position. In the north of Eastern Europe only relict permafrost will remain. The climatic zone supporting continuous permafrost will disappear from Western Siberia and will be restricted to north of the Arctic Circle in Eastern Siberia. The depth of the active layer (in loamy soils) is expected to increase by nearly 1 m (Figure 7.4a).
188.8.131.52 Vulnerability of human settlement to rapid thawing of the permafrost
Climate models have generally projected that arctic and subarctic areas are likely to warm more rapidly than the average global temperature increase. Such a rapid warming could result in a significant thawing of the permafrost in the subarctic, producing major disruption to buildings, roads and bridges, adversely affecting the stability of some existing structures and forcing changes in construction practice (French, 1989).
This has happened.
More likely, a separate United Nations report concluded, we are headed for warming of at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
This report is from 2017. The remaining carbon budget was under estimated in the earlier reports. Which also gives the lie to the idea that the IPCC always is over cautious. See
Then this year, a review of 40 years of satellite images suggested that the East Antarctic ice sheet, which was thought to be relatively stable, may also be shedding vast amounts of ice.
The paper they cite about the Eastern Antarctic is one of many investigating the ice balance in East Antarctica, I found a later cite of it here which says
Sasgen et al. , and Schröder et al.  used a regional climate model and associated firn densification model (FDM)  as a key constraint for ETM model. However, the density of conversion, whether ρice or ρsurf, is only exactly correct in an ideal condition that obviously deviates from the actual in many areas over the AIS, especially in the marginal areas where the mass fluctuations are noticeable. This will introduce some uncertainty into the estimation of ice sheet mass balance.
Their cite is the Schröder et al. in that sentence
and they came to the conclusion:
Over the period February 2003 to October 2009, the entire AIS changed in mass by −84 ± 31 Gt/yr (West Antarctica: −69 ± 24, East Antarctica: 12 ± 16 and the Antarctic Peninsula: −27 ± 8 ) A Joint Inversion Estimate of Antarctic Ice Sheet Mass Balance Using Multi-Geodetic Data Sets I.e. East Antarctica is still gaining ice.
I.e. East Antarctica is most likely still gaining ice.
It's a case of going through and writing paragraphs of content about their many mistakes for almost every sentence in the article. It would take me probably two or three hours to do a proper debunk since there are so many mistakes in it and many of the sentences would require two or three paragraphs of annotation.
I’ve got other priorities just now. These journalists need to start writing articles that are based on actually reading what they are writing about!
I have also talked about it in a YouTube video here where I go into some more details on some of those points but I haven’t bothered to talk about any of the other errors in it.
Birds vanishing from the US skies - FALSE
- Birds Are Vanishing From North America (New York Times)
One of the researchers is quoted by the NY Times as saying
“It’s not just these highly threatened birds that we’re afraid are going to go on the endangered species list,” he said. “It’s across the board.”
However, the reductions are mainly in the most common birds, and some of them nuisance species such as the starlings. These birds do not risk extinction. They use an analogy with the passenger pigeon in the paper which is the only support there for the idea of common birds vanishing from the skies:
Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon … provides a poignant reminder that even abundant species can go extinct rapidly.
However, Passenger pigeons became extinct because of determined hunting. It is only after the passenger pigeon went extinct that the first legal protections for migratory birds were put in place. This doesn’t tell us much about present day species.
Brian McGill is a macroecologist from the university of Maine, who studies how human-caused global change affects biodiversity and the global ecology. This is how he put it.
In some regions of the US experiencing reforestation, forest birds are gaining while the farmland birds are losing. So while I wouldn’t call it good news, this is hardly the most disastrous story out there. And these species may still be more abundant than they were before Europeans arrived even after large declines (and certainly are in the case of the two invasives). Its really a rather complex story.
He goes on to say that the US has seen some birds go extinct but others that made spectacular comebacks or that have increased due to major conservation efforts. There are a few dozen endangered bird species mainly in Hawaii. This is the real story.
It is a complex story and no, there is no risk of common US birds vanishing from the skies of North America. There’s an interesting discussion by experts here:
My debunk which goes into the passenger pigeon extinction argument us here:
- No We Do Not Risk Birds Vanishing From The US Skies - And Have We Really Lost 3 Billion Birds Since 1970?
Rising seas to erase cities - FALSE
- Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows
Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.
This is running with click bait titles suggesting massively more people are at risk of sea level flooding than before. But it’s just better elevation maps. The sea level rise is the same but more people than they thought are already living below sea level protected by dikes, as for the Netherlands.
It makes no difference at all if the elevation data is already good, as for the Netherlands - you will see the map is identical before and after for them.
- No Cities WON’T Be Erased By 2050 - Millions More ALREADY Living Below Sea Level Than Was Thought - Protected By Dikes
Insect collapse in Costa Rica - FALSE
- Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’ (Guardian) “Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished”
- The Insect Apocalypse Is Here
“It’s just another indication that we’re destroying the life-support system of the planet,” Lister says of the Puerto Rico study. “Nature’s resilient, but we’re pushing her to such extremes that eventually it will cause a collapse of the system.”
Research shown to be mistaken a year later, confused by effects on the forest of Hurricane Harvey - no correction of original story.
Yellowstone to erupt as a supervolcano soon - FALSE
New York Times made a big mistake in their article. They did not understand the research they reported.
Everyone else copied them and many added exaggerations.
That is correct. https://t.co/DI9XQinV1N— Prof/Dr. Christy Till (@this_life) October 13, 2017
Mike Poland of the USGS, scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory, in respond to an email to a friend of mine wrote:
"Unfortunately, the NY Times article, which was then picked up by a number of other news outlets, is a good example of how some research can be misunderstood, exaggerated, and sensationalized. The research being described by the news articles is actually about the eruption that occurred approximately 631,000 years ago. Researchers think that there might have been some sort of magma mixing event a few decades before that eruption. The research has nothing to do with the current conditions beneath Yellowstone. This is a critically important bit of information that most news outlets seem to have omitted, perhaps in order to make their story more attractive to readers.
We have no indication that there is any similar magma mixing event happening now, and surely we would know from earthquake activity, ground deformation, thermal anomalies, water chemistry, and other indicators that would show changes. Yellowstone is one of the best monitored volcanoes on Earth, so these are changes we would not miss!"
(He gave me permission to use this quote in this article thanking me for helping to "tamp down the nonsense")
However, the NYTimes did not issue a correction of it. To this day the New York Times still tells any of its readers who find their article that this research showed that Yellowstone is about to erupt.
. Worldwide we get supervolcanoes often, between 22 and 1.4 per million years, last one 75,000 years ago. They do not cause mass extinctions. The Yellowstone volcano can't erupt as a supervolcano right now. The Magma chamber is the wrong shape.
Geologists say it's not likely to erupt in our lifetimes. Probably not in the next 1000 years. The chamber needs to change first in many ways, obvious to them. These changes are not happening and they see no reason why it would change in that way right now.
Ocean warming accelerating faster than thought - FALSE
- Ocean Warming Is Accelerating Faster Than Thought, New Research Finds
Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.
The Nature study was eventually retracted:
The New York Times report of this same study however doesn’t have a correction
Up to $27,000 carbon tax by 2100 to prevent climate crisis - FALSE
This is one of the worst of several seriously mistaken articles about the 2018 climate change report on the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming.
First, what is meant by a climate crisis? They mention wildfires, which we have already, and flooding. Apart from that the main crisis mentioned in the New York Times article is food shortages.
This is what the report itself said about food shortages around 2040 (doesn’t give an exact date). It is a scenario where the Paris agreement falls apart.
“Poverty levels increase to a very large scale, and the risk and incidence of starvation increase considerably as food stores dwindle in most countries; human health suffers.”
Box 8 of chapter 3 of the 2018 IPCC report
The main thing here is that it doesn’t make it clear which example this comes from, e.g. that it envisions a collapse of the Paris agreement.
However, it’s biggest mistake is the $27,000 carbon tax figure which got widely shared at the time, with people commenting saying that its impossible to do anything to stop global warming because it is too expensive. This is not what the report said.
But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees [Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius)] of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.
I can’t find anywhere where they say it is politically unlikely.
Contrast what Jim Skea (co-chair for Working group III, ) said:https://youtu.be/v8qXceAubnE
“The key message is that we can keep global warming below 1.5 degrees °C. It is possible within the laws of physics and chemistry. But it will require huge transitions in all sorts of systems, energy, land, transportation, but what the report has done is to send out a clear message to the governments that it is physically possible, it is now up to them to decide whether they want to take up the challenge.”
He is the co-chair of Working Group III, which is
“responsible for assessing the mitigation of climate change – responses and solutions to the threat of dangerous climate change by reducing emissions and enhancing sinks of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for global warming.”
He didn’t say it is “politically impossible”, he said “it is now up to them to decide if they want to take up the challenge” and that’s the general message of the report.
For instance, the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions — perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 — would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China.
This was based on confusion of the use of “price” in that section with its use of “tax” and the authors of this paper most likely made the same mistake:
The price of carbon assessed here is fundamentally different from the concepts of optimal carbon price in a cost–benefit analysis, or the social cost of carbon
The IPCC give these eyewateringly high prices:
For instance, undiscounted values under a Higher-2°C pathway range from 15–220 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2030, 45–1050 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1in 2050, 120–1100 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2070 and 175–2340 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2100. On the contrary, estimates for a Below-1.5°C pathway range from 135–6050 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2030, 245–14300 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2050, 420–19300 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2070 and 690–30100 USD2010 tCO2-eq−1 in 2100.
But these are not suggestions for prices for carbon taxes. When it goes on to discuss taxes it says:
Furthermore, a mix of stringent energy efficiency policies (e.g., minimum performance standards, building codes) combined with a carbon tax (rising from 10 USD2010 tCO2−1 in 2020 to 27 USD2010 tCO2−1 in 2040) is more cost-effective than a carbon tax alone (from 20 to 53 USD2010 tCO2−1) to generate a 1.5°C pathway for the U.S. electric sector (Brown and Li, 2018).
I.e. it's recommending a range of carbon tax rising from $20 in 2020 to $50 in 2040 if you use a carbon tax alone for the US electricity sector, but a mix of carbon taxes of $10 rising to $27 with stringent energy efficiency policies is more effective.
$10 rising to $27 is hardly "much higher" than $15.25.
But it goes on to say that an even lower carbon price of $7 per ton is optimal:
Likewise, a policy mix encompassing a moderate carbon price (7 USD2010 tCO2−1 in 2015) combined with a ban on new coal-based power plants and dedicated policies addressing renewable electricity generation capacity and electric vehicles reduces efficiency losses compared with an optimal carbon pricing in 2030 (Bertram et al., 2015b).
I.e. a ban on new coal based power plants and dedicated policies addressing renewables and electric vehicles works better even than the best carbon tax pricing.
It goes on
A bottom-up approach shows that stringent minimum performance standards (MEPS) for appliances (e.g., refrigerators) can effectively complement explicit carbon pricing, as tightened MEPS can achieve ambitious efficiency improvements that cannot be assured by carbon prices of 100 USD2010 tCO2−1 or higher (Sonnenschein et al., 2018).
I.e. even a carbon tax of $100 per ton is not as good as setting stringent minimum performance standards.
Also taxing CO2 emissions is just one of many ways of tackling it, and one of the innovations is that the Paris agreement lets countries decide for themselves how to do it.
For more on all this see again my:
- No Scientific Cliff Edge Of 12 Years To Save Planet (or 18 Months) - Can IPCC Challenge 'Deadlines Make Headlines' Misreporting?
Even most scientists probably don’t realize how much of the scientific news in the mainstream press, especially about climate change, is elaborated with numerous inventions by journalists and is not correctly summarizing the research.
This article is about the New York Times, but you could write similar articles about most of the mainstream media. I’d like to single out the BBC as one of the worst, especially on the subject of climate change. But just about all the mainstream media have run at least a few mistaken climate change stories in the last year.
Indeed it is hard to find any source that is accurate on climate change except the more specialist Carbon Brief.
- Some of the worst doomsday fear fact checking errors in the mainstream press - most are about climate change
It’s the journalists driving the misinformation and politicizing of science here, and then activists seizing on the work of the journalists and adding their own inventions.
The scientists are just following the science wherever it leads to the best of their ability. Scientists can’t be controlled by politicians in a democracy with free speech but journalists tend to be the gate keepers of whether what the scientists say gets heard by the general public and the journalists often have either political agendas or they are just driven by the need to create dramatic storylines to grab the attention of people who have got a bit jaded by the climate exaggerations, driven to say things that are even more extreme and dramatic.
But I think there is a growing appetite amongst the public for the truth here, for plain simple straightforward reporting of the science, what the scientists say. Just as they say it. Let’s for instance have interviews with the scientists themselves the IPCC scientists. How many published interviews have you seen with the IPCC co-chairs for instance?
So many journalists and members of the general public are so certain of what the IPCC said.
How many of you have actually listened to any of the actual IPCC scientists speaking?
Especially the co-chairs and the ones tasked with leading the working groups who have the broadest overview of the science?
These short videos are meant for the public to watch but the journalists NEVER share them. AFAIK I am the only science blogger to share the IPCC keynote videos to the general public in my blog post.
- What The IPCC Scientists Really Said - NOT 'All Going To Die' - Key Points, Press Conference And Some Highlights From The Report
Same for IPBES.
Then if you have more time you can listen to the press conferences. These are not techy either. They are meant for journalists to listen to, and are far far better than what the journalists write. You often wonder if they went to the same thing. I include a video link to the press conferences in those above links too.
Also check out my:
- Some of the worst doomsday fear fact checking errors in the mainstream press - most are about climate change
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Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears
If you are scared: Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears which also talks about health professionals and how they can help.
If in the middle of a panic attack, see
- Breathe in and out slowly and deeply to calm a panic attack by Robert Walker on Debunking Doomsday
- Tips from CBT - might help some of you to deal with doomsday anxieties
- STOPP skill
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If you are suicidal don’t forget there’s always help a phone call away with the List of suicide crisis lines - Wikipedia