Daily Mail's questionable coverage of climate change science

  • 18 Oct 2011, 17:00
  • Verity Payne

In the Guardian yesterday, Bob Ward, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, criticised Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre for the Mail's recent coverage of climate change and energy prices. He pointed out that as the chair of the editor's code of practice committee Mr Dacre really ought to be upholding the code of practice, particularly the first rule:

"The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures."

Ward also wrote that

"...the Mail's recent coverage of climate change and energy issues offers a clear demonstration of how an unaccountable newspaper editor can simply ignore the PCC [Press Complaint Commission]'s rules when he chooses to promote its own ideological views over the best interest of his readers."

Since the middle of summer the Mail has run a campaign against 'green stealth taxes'. As the Carbon Brief has documented, many of the figures used in this campaign have been based on dubious sources, misrepresented or impossible to verify. In August the Mail printed a correction to their claim (sourced to the Global Warming Policy Foundation) that green measures are adding £200 to energy bills, following a PCC complaint from the Carbon Brief.

According to the journal ENDS, the Mail's anti-green energy campaign kicked off as a result of a lunch between Lord Lawson and Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre.

Along with the dodgy energy bill numbers, the Mail has been carefully casting aspersions on the science behind climate change. For example, from a Mail editorial back in August:

"Experts say that our targets for reducing greenhouse gases - the toughest in the world - will cost Britain £13 billion in economic growth. And all at a time when the science of climate change remains shrouded in doubt."

And in an editorial today:

"...the science of climate change remains questionable."

The fundamentals behind the science of climate change are not in doubt. We know that greenhouse gases warm the Earth - in fact scientists consider the greenhouse effect to be "as real as gravity" (in the words of Richard Somerville, climate scientist and distinguished Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography).

It is also known that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are rising, that global temperatures have risen by close to 0.75 °C over the last century, and that this temperature rise cannot be explained without the influence of manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Thus far there is no doubt.

It is the specific effects of climate change that are not yet 'settled'. For example, whilst we know that pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will cause warming, we cannot quantify precisely how much warming - projections from the range from nearly 2 °C to 4 °C over the coming century. Projections of future temperature depend on the extent of future emissions and on how well the climate models can capture the climate under the future emissions scenarios.

It should be noted also that although various commentators seek to underplay the potential impacts of climate change even a 2 °C rise could have potentially serious impacts on society, the environment and the economy.

Perhaps when the Mail refer to climate science as "questionable" and "shrouded in doubt" they simply mean to refer to the questions that still remain within the discipline. However, they do not make this clear, and to the average reader it must seem that the whole science of climate change is not to be trusted.

The specific questions that remain in climate science do not make the fundamentals any less robust. Using these questions to cast doubt about the whole science of climate change in support of the Mail's anti-green energy campaign is both misleading and disingenuous.


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