Accuracy in Media

On October 29, a left-wing British newspaper, The Guardian, ran a sad story about Tuvalu, nine tiny islands in the Pacific inhabited by 11,000 people. The Guardian reported that they were being forced to leave their islands because they are doomed by the rising sea level caused by global warming. The inhabitants have asked New Zealand to accept them as “environmental refugees.” The New Zealand government has agreed to do so, beginning next year.

This story was picked up by Lester Brown, a veteran prophet of environmental doom who runs an organization called the Earth Policy Institute. Brown reported this, saying that during the twentieth century, the sea level rose by eight to twelve inches and that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a rise of as much as one meter during this century. He said the sea level is rising because of the melting of glaciers and the warming of the ocean as a result of climate change caused by the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That he blamed largely on the burning of fossil fuels.

Brown said that as the sea level has risen, Tuvalu has experienced lowland flooding, and saltwater intrusion is adversely affecting its drinking water and food production. He added that the higher temperatures were causing more destructive storms that were eroding the coasts of the nine islands that comprise Tuvalu. This was brought to our attention by Progressive Review, an operation that disseminated material of this type on the Internet.

But it so happened that just a week before this showed up in our e-mail in-box, Patrick Michaels has a column in the Washington Times in which he explained what was really going on in Tuvalu. Citing a recent issue of “Science” magazine, he said that the sea level around Tuvalu has fallen sharply in the past fifty years according to French scientists who have studied the historical record. They found a close correlation between sea level and the rise and fall of the deep-ocean temperature. The temperature record goes back to 1955. It shows that the ocean around Tuvalu has cooled sharply since then, and the sea level has dropped correspondingly.

Dr. Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, says that if the global temperature rises even at the highest rate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it will take fifty years for the sea level around Tuvalu to return to where it was forty-five years ago. That, he says, is very unlikely to happen. So why are the inhabitants so anxious to leave?

Michaels says bluntly that it is because Tuvalu “sucks.” It has no rivers or sources of potable water. Most of the vegetation has been burned as fuel, and the beaches have eroded because the sand has been used as building material. He says the people want to leave because they have wrecked the place. This is a good example of how incorrect information is spread by journalists, folks like Lester Brown and Progressive Review. They don’t check the facts because they might spoil a great story? one they like because it supports their pessimistic forecasts of environmental doom.

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