Monday, March 14, 2005

Scare Tactics

I don't think much of Nicholas Kristof. During the election he slammed the Swift Boat Vets unfairly , more than once. Prior to the Iraq war he wrote an impassioned plea to continue the Clinton policy of containment (in other words, keep killing tens of thousands of Iraqis through sanctions).

When something becomes obvious to someone whose political judgment I distrust, you just have to take notice. Kristof's current column is about the environmental movement and how badly it is doing. His main point is that decades of scare stories are catching up with it.

The problem is that it is difficult to mobilize people with the truth so environmentalists use scare tactics. This is a major plot point in Crichton's book State of Fear. In it an environmental group that mainly exists to file lawsuits needs operating expenses. Early in the book, scientists are encouraged to change the slant of their papers so that there can be no doubt about global warming and its deleterious effects.

This part mirrors reality. Reasonable, informed people will agree that human-induced global warming has not been proven, that current warming trends are within natural cycles, and that the most reliable projects show that if local global warming does happen, it will be moderate and may well be benefitial.

That's not how it is reported. Reports say that it is an established fact, it is unprecedented, and that extinctions and world flooding will follow.

Here's an example of an environmental group that is using bad data.

Throughout the region, records indicate that growing seasons are becoming longer, and plants are blooming and fruiting earlier. Lilacs throughout the region (though research sites in Maine are limited) bloomed about four days sooner in 2001 than they did in 1965 when a large-scale study began. And in New York, apples and grapes appeared eight days sooner than they had in the 1960s.
Here's why I started this blog in the first place. I bet most people don't see any problems in this statement. I do.

Lilacs, apples, and grapes are not native to the US. They were all brought here from Europe. That means that this study is on plants that are cultivated. This in turn means that most of the plants studied are not in the wild but in urban areas.

It is an established fact that urban areas are warmer than the surrounding countryside. Forests are cool. Grasslands are warmer. Cement, blacktop, and asphalt roofs are very warm. This alone warms urban areas 4-5 degrees. Our cities have grown quite a bit in the last century - even in the last 40 years. Environmentalists refer to this as urban sprawl and they have quite a bit of documentation on it.

So sprawl causes localized warming and the plants being studied are in the sprawl areas. Does this prove anything? No.

This is also why global warming is so difficult to prove. For decades, the official temperatures have been taken at airports. In the first half of the century, airports were grass fields. Later they were paved but they were still in the country. Now they are surrounded by other developments. That's enough to raise the average readings.

Environmentalists have an agenda. In many cases they are not being deceitful, they simply disregard information that they don't like. We all do this. The difference is how rational you are about doing it.

It gets worse when the media picks up stories. Most reporters think that the environment is so important that the have to be advocates. The rest know that you get more viewers with scare stories than with moderate ones. I see this every time that snow is forecast. The National weather Service will forecast 1-3 inches of snow. The lead on the local newscast will be something to the effect that three or more inches of snow are about to fall and you will die unless you watch their weather report.

Anyone who pays attention will soon notice that actual snowfall seldom matches the forecast and that the world has yet to end no matter what environmentalists say.

No comments: