Media Blows Climate Change Story

Posted: Dec 11, 2009 2:52 PM
Media Blows Climate Change Story

As the world trains its attention on Copenhagen for the United Nations climate change summit, much is being made in the mainstream media about the bold pledges global leaders supposedly are making to combat rampant warming. Not surprisingly, however, the press is bungling the climate change story.

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The Los Angeles Times trumpeted that China—the planet’s leading emitter of greenhouse gas emissions—had pledged to cut those emissions an astonishing 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Washington Post did much the same, with a front-page story headlined: “China Sets Target For Emissions Cuts.” India, meanwhile, was reported by numerous outlets to have made a similar pledge to cut its rapidly rising greenhouse gas output.

And President Obama garnered front page headlines all over the world with an announcement setting a U.S. emissions reduction target of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020.

There’s a big problem with this emerging storyline of a unified international community willing to make the hard choices and sacrifices necessary to save the planet: It’s patently untrue. Despite the evident desire of the mainstream media and the Obama administration to advance the idea that global climate change regulation is inevitable, the facts tell otherwise.

China, for instance, did not pledge to cut its carbon emissions, but rather its carbon intensity. Those are two very different things. Carbon intensity is the measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP. China is industrializing and modernizing its economy at breakneck speed. As it grows richer and its economy grows more efficient, China’s carbon intensity naturally will decline.

As for China’s presently soaring carbon emissions, those will continue to rise in absolute terms even as carbon intensity drops. China is averaging building one new coal plant every week or so to fuel its economic expansion, and the mandarins in Beijing have made clear they plan to continue along that path for years to come.

Consider these Energy Information Administration (EIA) numbers: In 2006, China’s electric generation amounted to 2,773 billion kilowatt hours, of which 79 percent came from coal. In 2030, the Middle Kingdom’s electric generation is estimated to more than triple, to 8,547 billion KWh.

The EIA figures that coal will account for only 75 percent of China’s electric generation two decades from now. That’s a slightly smaller share of the pie compared to today. But the pie will be vastly bigger in 2030, so China’s greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation could be roughly three times more than they are today. Factor in hundreds of millions of peasants upgrading from bicycles to motor vehicles, and CO2 emissions soar further.

India’s story is much the same. Its diplomats head to Copenhagen not with an official promise to curb carbon emissions but to cut carbon intensity by 24 percent by 2020. Like China, its emissions will keep rising.

The Los Angeles Times was forced to run an embarrassing correction admitting it had had muddled the distinction between carbon emissions and carbon intensity. That confusion, inspired by media cheerleading for another landmark climate change pact, probably explains most of the sloppy journalism on this important issue. But what is its excuse for blowing coverage of the Obama administration’s strategy?

The White House announced that Obama would travel to Copenhagen to personally pledge that the U.S. intends to cut its own emissions by 17 percent over the next decade compared to 2005 levels. The media reported that correctly, and loudly. But what it failed to note is that this is a promise Obama does not have authority to make on his own. For that Obama needs Capitol Hill, but Senate Democrats have made clear they will not pass any cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme this year. The chances of getting the full Congress to pass cap-and-trade in 2010, when the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate face re-election, are no less remote.

Perhaps Obama and his friends in the nation’s newsrooms believe that their brand of global warming reporting is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Publicizing that certain things are happening will cement in the public’s mind that they are, thus making them inevitable. Declaring that China and India are slashing emissions is supposed to guilt American lawmakers into passing a regulatory scheme to cut our absolute emissions.

We have been down this road before. Those agitating for major governmental controls to fight global warming have insisted the argument is over. They hoped that declaring the science to be settled would settle the matter in their favor. But the recent scandal at the Hadley Climate Research Unit in England, which revealed the perfidy of several of the world’s most important advocates of that notion, starkly shows that the science is not settled at all. The arguments for global warming regulation rest too heavily on easily manipulated computer models and data that global warming alarmists admit were massaged to fit their biases.

That outrage is the real news about climate change as Copenhagen gets under way, yet the media has largely ignored it. Instead of investigating the scandal, the press has chased a different story—about nations supposedly united to cut emissions—and gotten it wrong to boot. No wonder the newspaper industry is in such dismal shape, and that increasing numbers of people claim to get their information not from traditional media outlets but from blogs or the Daily Show.