Accuracy in Media

Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins minced no words in a recent piece called “How the media corrupted climate policy,” calling out the mainstream media for perpetually reporting on worst-case only climate scenarios (projections which often fail to materialize) without proper context, thus misleading the public.

“In the latest development, a New York Times headline accuses the Trump administration of wanting to ‘put science on trial,’” Jenkins writes. “Why? Because it is trying to rein in agency shamanizing that uses century-long, worst-case projections to mislead the public. Not all administration efforts spring from the mind of Donald Trump.

“It’s hard to see this one as anything but a logical response to the media’s own disastrous bungling of last year’s U.S. National Climate Assessment. Virtually every story punted on a key metric. None bothered to relate the estimated climate damage risk—$500 billion a year by 2090—to the expected size of the U.S. economy, which would have tended to dampen the panic talk.

“Not a single news report mentioned that this outcome was associated with an extreme worst-case temperature increase of more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Not one mentioned that the assessment relied on an emissions scenario, known as RCP 8.5, so extreme that it implies much bigger problems for future humanity than just a warmer climate. Instead, just about every U.S. news story satisfied itself with shrill adjectives suggesting the report promised a climate doom that it didn’t.”

Jenkins pointed out that the private sector is already incentivized to find climate change mitigating technology.

“I mean every word of the following: Ignore climate-science reporting in major U.S. news organs,” Jenkins said. “The press has given up wrestling with the limits of knowledge or accurately relaying the caveats tied to highly abstract computer models.

“If a worst-case scenario materializes, humanity will have recourse to relatively cheap geoengineering solutions to attempt to mitigate warming. In the meantime, there is no reason to believe the world will forcibly wean itself off fossil fuels. At the same time, the relentless hunt for efficiency and progress of technology will continue to reduce the carbon intensity of our industrial civilization. It’s even possible to think of cost-effective, pro-growth policies that would accelerate this progress. Unfortunately, these lack the faux-heroic scale and price tags that excite the virtuous left nowadays.”

Jenkins specifically warns of niche media outlets that are particularly misleading.

“The media, for whatever reason, has chosen a role for itself as a cheerleader for climate boondoggles,” he wrote. “And the more specialized the media—the website Inside Climate News is your example here—the more completely it will devote itself to misleading the public about the true nature of the climate challenge in our democracy.”

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