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7.02.2006

Tom Brokaw's Green Party Audition Tape

A few days ago, I received a screener DVD for an upcoming (7/16/06) Discovery Channel special on global warming called "Global Warming: What You Need To Know", hosted by Tom Brokaw.

Crew Creative promised the special "presents the facts and leaves it up to the viewers to determine their own truth about global warming."

Since even a cursory glance at MoltenThought reveals that we are extremely skeptical on the subject, I volunteered to view the special and post a review on this site. Crew Creative is clearly a savvy outfit, willing to reach out to even skeptical bloggers and solicit opinions. While I don't believe the final product will change in any form based on such feedback, it demonstrates a willingness to engage the public typically not present in these kind of endeavors. Anyone producing such shows ought seriously consider engaging companies which are smart enough to tap the blogosphere.

Unfortunately the show is nothing more than the usual pro-Kyoto Protocol agitprop, less fair and less accurate than what Al Gore churns out between fawning lecture stops.

For a show claiming to present facts and let viewers make up their own minds, not one global warming skeptic appears on-camera, is referenced by name, nor has any of their arguments or criticisms discussed. Not one.

Moreover, human-caused global warming is presented as a simple fact, not as an ongoing and often cantankerous debate.

Here is the list of pro-global warming scientists and activists presented in the show:

Stephan Harrison, glaciologist, Exeter University (not identified in the program as a consultant in climate risk)
Michael Oppenheimer, not identified as global warming activist and key contributor to development of the Kyoto Protocol
Mark Serreze, National Snow and Ice Data Center
Stephen Pacala, biologist
Dan Nepstad, Woods Hole Research Center
Bob Spicer, Geologist, The Open University
James Hansen, NASA (you might remember this guy)
Ove Hoegh-Gulberg, Ecologist, University of Queensland
Diana Semi, resident, Tuvalu
Hilla Vavae, senior meteorologist, Tuvalu
John Hunter, oceanographer, University of Tasmania
Greg Holland, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Peter Cox, Hadley Center for Climate Research

The show basically consists of Tom Brokaw dramatically describing a looming catastrophe, often by resorting to formulations such as "Many scientists agree" or "Scientists are sure of" before asking one of the global warming activists for some additional soundbites to launch into the next prognostication of doom. Television being a visual medium, naturally the talking head shots are intercut with archive footage of fire, flood, and storm and Irwin Allen nightmare-style CGI.

Here are some of the claims made in the program:

1. "By the year 2100, our world will be a drastically different place."
2. "A vast majority [of scientists] believe global warming is real and is having a disastrous impact."
3. Climate change within the last decade is much too large to be normal.
4. Of the 100 hottest years on record, 20 have occurred since 1980.
5. CO2 levels are higher than at any time in the past 600,000 years.
6. "Scientific community no longer even questions how we got to this point [in global warming]."
7. Polar bears are on their way to extinction.
8. By 2060, there will be no sea ice in the Arctic during summer months.
9. If warming continues, New York will be underwater.
10. "Scientists are sure of warming and rising oceans worldwide."
11. "Many scientists are making the connection between global warming and the strength of hurricanes."
12. 99.9% of all scientists agree that global warming is happening.
13. There has been a major increase in Cat 4 and 5 hurricanes since 1917.
14. "Severe weather will bevome the norm rather than the exception."
15. "Scientists say...heavy rain will batter some regions while in other areas severe rain will give way to severe drought."
16. Hansen's climate model predicted impact of Mt Pinatubo eruption to within 1/10 of a degree.
17. According to Hansen's model, Earth will lose 1/2 of its plant and animal species as a result of global warming.
18. There will be more insect-borne diseases.
19. There may not be enough drinking water for the western U.S.
20. Chinese CO2 emissions are #2 in the world, behind the U.S.
21. The U.S. has 5% of the world population, yet produces 25% of CO2.
22. There is a "persistent minority of people who refuse to believe global warming is a fact."
23. Global warming skeptics have a financial interest in not acknowledging global warming exists and is caused by man. [Oppenheimer]
24. Replacing light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs will have significant impact on global warming.
25. Using mass transit and hybrid vehicles will have significant impact on global warming.
26. Recycling will have significant impact on global warming.
27. Ethanol will have significant impact on global warming.
28. Wind power will have significant impact on global warming.

In sum, then, the show rests on the following:

1. The Earth is getting warmer.
2. A warming Earth will result in catastrophe.
3. The most significant cause of the warming is CO2 emission.
4. The most significant cause of CO2 emission is attributable to humans.
5. Following the program's recommendations will significantly reduce CO2 emissions and cool the Earth.

Now, it may surprise you to note that points 1-5 above are ALL hotly debated, within the scientific community and without.

There is question as to whether the Earth is in fact getting warmer, or weather ground readings are off due to measurement error, the lack of a long-term record, or other factors such as the heat island effect. None of this controversy is discussed in the program.

There is serious question as to what impact a warming Earth will have. We have been warming since the last ice age; this has not resulted in a mass extinction event like Hansen posits. There is no question of anything but the most dire consequences put forth by this program. Brokaw himself lends the most hysterically negative spin to every factoid and speculation his experts put forth.

There is question as to whether CO2 emission's are the culprit of what warming has occurred. There is some evidence that the sun has itself gotten hotter; Mars seems to be getting warmer, despite the lack of humans clear-cutting Amazon rainforest on the red planet. None of this is touched on in the program.

There is question as to how much of the CO2 increase we are seeing is due to humans, versus, say, volcanic activity (Pinatubo threw more CO2 into the atmosphere than humans have) or trapped gas underwater bubbling to the surface. None of this debate is hinted at in the program.

The program's recommendations are the same tepid bilgewater the Left invariably tosses up no matter what problem is to be solved. Nuclear power is a proven technology which today could eliminate every coal plant in America with huge reductions in CO2; it's not even mentioned in the program. If the problem is CO2 emission, and failing to address it will result in the loss of half the life on Earth, wouldn't you think nuclear power would be considered? It would certainly be more practical than turning the Midwest into one big wind farm. Perhaps Tom Brokaw could have been less of a carbon hog had he not jetted all over the world for 30 seconds of video footage for this program---the China to New York leg alone must have generated more carbon emissions than the poor family Brokaw guilted into recycling and driving a clown car produced all year.

Moreover, if the U.S. indeed produces 25% of the world's CO2 emissions, and the recommendations the program makes resulted in a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions within the U.S., and if CO2 hangs around in the atmosphere for milennia, as the program claims, doesn't it follow that a net 12.5% reduction in global CO2 emissions today is not going to stave off a catastrophe expected within the next 10 years?

I don't have a PhD, but this kind of reasoning seems rather specious on its face.

The fact is, the debate is not over, and there is no such thing as considerable consensus much less the unanimity on the subject this program tries to claim exists. Even the "hockey stick" model so many of the experts in the program rely upon has been largely debunked.

As for the other sources of debate, this timely Wall Street Journal op-ed from a scientist at MIT should put to rest the notion that "everyone agrees" when it comes to global warming.

He must be on the payroll of the vast right-wing conspiracy against global warming. As opposed to scientists whose grant money, consulting money, lecture and appearance fees all rest on the amount of hysteria they can whip up over a complicated and deeply questionable climatological phenomenon.

If you think this round of Nostradamus-like prognostications of doom is spot-on, you've got a short memory: the Earth was long since wiped out by that ice age they predicted in the 70s, or the terrible overpopulation that led to rampant cannibalism, or the asteroid that was set to strike ANY DAY NOW for the past 50 years or so.

This program doesn't tell Americans "what you need to know" about global warming---it doesn't even try. It simply recycles the same propaganda you've seen elsewhere, tarts it up with disaster-film animation and basso profundo apocalyptic incantations, and pretends no one in their right mind even questions the fact that WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE IN A CATACLYSMIC CATASTROPHE wrought by you bloody Americans and your SUVs.

What you need to know is this:

We don't know what is happening. We don't know what the weather will be like next week, much less 100 years from now. We don't know what causes climate change. We don't know how to control the weather.

You can worry all you want, but the only certainty is this: catastrophes will continue to occur, as they always have, and no TV talking head trying out for a Democratic political nomination can do anything about it.

Update:

A couple of notes I didn't include above as it might be too boring for the bulk of our readers:

1. The main problem with this program (and with general media coverage of the issue) is an inability to understand the difference between correlation and causation. A quick example: the total amount of hours of talk radio programming has increased steadily over the last 100 years. The amount of CO2 emissions has increased steadily over the same period. Does this mean that more talk has resulted in more hot air?

No, it does not. Over any given time period, there are an extremely large number of variables which will correlate to a degree, yet have no causal relationship whatsoever. Correlation may be shown simply by gathering the data; causation may only be demonstrated by experiment.

It is never sufficient to demonstrate causation through correlation.

Thus, to say, "Global mean temperature is rising. CO2 emissions are rising. Therefore, CO2 emissions cause global mean temperatures to rise" is a fallacy. While CO2 emissions MAY be a cause of mean temperature rise, it does not follow from mere correlation that CO2 emissions ARE causing mean global temperature to rise, much less that they are the most significant cause.

2. When building mathematical models for the purpose of understanding systems and making predictions where experimentation is impractical or even impossible (one cannot recreate our solar system elsewhere and run through various experiments to explore global warming hypotheses, certainly) there are two primary concerns: how well the model fits the data, and how significant the variables are. If we build a model of mean global temperature, there are no doubt many variables which might factor into it. However, each variable we include acts as a sponge to soak up noise in the model, artificially inflating the model's fit. Thus, when someone claims a model to be very predictive of a complex phenomenon, one must wonder if they've simply saturated it. A couple of years back, a law professor friend of mind shared a study in progress on Texas death penalty cases wherein the author claimed he had empirically proven racial discrimination. Once I looked at the data, it was clear that the model fit was achieved by saturating the model with 27 different variables, of which only a couple were significant (interestingly, race of defendant was not one of them). Rerunning the model with the significant factors only yielded a very poor model fit (and less attractive headlines, certainly). This makes it very, very difficult to build a predictive model of any complex phenomenon, even moreso when the metric you're looking at moves very little over time.

3. The mean only tells part of the story, usually a very small part. Global warming implies that temperatures are going up everywhere on Earth, yet this is not so. Some places are getting warmer, some cooler, some staying the same. If you think about it, that's what the mean really means----some more, some less, some the same magnitude. The variation is typically more significant to know, but in the case of climate science, there is a lot of variation injected into data due to a) the variety of measurement methods it is necessary to employ, b) the complexity of the system, and c) the need to make predictions over a long period of time. An example: let's say every year, on your birthday, I punch you in the nose. Now, that may seem like a big deal at the time, but in fact on average I only punch you 1/365th of the year. That means on any given day, there is a mere 0.3% chance of me punching you in the nose. Hardly seems worth worrying about, right? Yet if you looked at the week of your birthday each year (let's say it's on Wed) you'd see Mon - 0, Tue - 0, Wed - 1, Thur - 0, Fri - 0, Sat -0, Sun - 0---understanding the variation is key to knowing that you really ought to duck when you see me coming your way on your birthday, or at least stop inviting me to your party.

Update II:

Robert J. Samuelson has thoughts in a similar vein.

Update III:

Brainster gives thumbs-up to the review.

Bull Dog Punditjoins the fray:

Well, it turns out that the show is so full of BS that it's actually worse than Algore's movie.


John Stossel writes a separate concurrence.

Update IV:

Welcome, Media Bloggers and other NROniks! Please have a look around.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Julia said...

Great Post and readable facts.
I've shared it with a bunch of clueless friends.

FYI Here's a History of Modern Math that should help explain why people fall for this stuff.

Math 1964-2006

____________________________________

1. Teaching Math to the Class of 1964:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is
4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

____________________________________

2. Teaching Math to the Class of 1974:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is
4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

____________________________________

3. Teaching Math to the Class of 1984:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is
$80. Did he make a profit?

____________________________________

4. Teaching Math to the Class of 1994

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80
and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

____________________________________

5. Teaching Math to the Class of 2004

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and
inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our
woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of
this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the
question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their
homes?
(There are no wrong answers.)

____________________________________

6. Teaching Math to the Class of 2006

Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100. El costo de la producciones es $80.

10:21 AM  

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