From the ‘Oh! the irony! dept. Guest poster Martin Cohen blows the lid off NYT alarmism. Their major investors profit from their climate doomstering. I’m old fashoined and I just call this sort of thing by its old fashioned name: corruption. It seems ‘big oil’ prefers to do business with big selling papers rather than sceptical climate scientists and bloggers. You’ll see the mainstream media and warmist ranters averting their gaze from this story.
Posted by Martin Cohen, December 2012
One of the mysteries about the New York Times is why a paper so dedicated to accuracy and objectivity has for many years thrown all pretence of ‘reporting’ to the winds in its efforts to stop global warming.
The Times regularly claims that:
*melting Arctic Ice will cause sea levels to rise (drowning New York) – even though this is ruled out by the laws of physics (as ice displaces more water than it releases when melted)1;
*carbon dioxide is the major component in the Earth’s Greenhouse Effect (whereas by far and away the most important element is water vapour, and CO2 is responsible for a mere 20% of the effect) 2
* and that ‘the science is settled’, whereas only the NYT view is. (In fact the science is not only not settled but is unlikely ever to be as climate is fiendishly complicated and key elements are logically impossible to settle, involving non-linear relationships not amenable to prediction.)
At one level, it seems to be a kind of misguided environmental evangelism. But, it is ‘improper’, at the very least, to find that this paragon of ethical reporting has for years been propped up by businesses with a vested interest in promoting concern about carbon dioxide induced Climae Change. But then again, at another level, behind its lofty rhetoric, the NYT has always been a business, run for profit. That’s why, during the Second World War, with newsprint rationed, it increased the proportion of advertising to news, rather than vice versa. And if business interests drive its news policy, that might explain why in recent years, it has been very much focussed on serving an energy agenda that fits very well the needs of its shareholders, notably two of its biggest investors, the hedge funds Harbinger and T Rowe Price.
But first, let’s remind ourselves of how longstanding and deep the paper’s infatuation with Climate Change is. Flashback to 1988 and the Gray Lady is sermonizing on ‘Spring in the Greenhouse’.
‘Easter commemorates resurrection, Passover deliverance. With ancient roots in the spring equinox, both rites serve to mark the renewal of nature’s cycle. As is becoming slowly evident, that cycle is too easy to take for granted.’ (April 03, 1988)
This is Philip Shabecoff writing, chief environmental correspondent for The New York Times for fourteen of the thirty-two years he worked there. Does he sound like a hardnosed journo – or a man whose neutrality would be compromised by personal ideology? Clue perhaps, is that on leaving the Times, he founded and published Greenwire, an online daily digest of environmental news. Here, his personal position is broadcast loud and clear:
‘The mission of environmentalism is to mobilize society at all levels to confront the danger and disorder into which human activity has propelled us and guide us to a safer, saner way of living on the planet…. It is about alternatives, about changing course, about transforming the future.’
– Philip Shabecoff, from his website, Earth Rising
Now I like a lot of Shabecoff’s rhetoric too – I think there are too many chemicals in the environment and they probably do add to cancer. But when I want the facts about an issue, let alone an environmental issue I wouldn’t let a fanatical campaigner do the research. Unfortunately the New York Times doesn’t see things the same way.
Instead, Green rhetoric is given a newsy gloss and offered as investigative reporting. Thus, three weeks after ruminating on ‘Spring in the Greenhouse’ Shabecoff was trying to create the sense of superpowers working together to stop Armageddon by filing this exclusive:
‘Scientists in the United States and the Soviet Union, linked through desk top computers, have begun a conference on what the two nations can do to cope with an expected global warming caused by the ‘greenhouse effect,’ (April 26, 1988 )
The late Flora Lewis (wife of Times editor Sydney Gruson), whose column was once described as the ‘most boring regular column in the history of journalism’, confirmed that the comparison wasn’t just a duff bit of writing but part of a deadly serious NYT campaign. In a leader article, she sets out what would be the line for years to come:
‘The cold war isn’t over. But even as the political climate is warming, so is the world’s physical climate. There are many signs that the next general international crisis is going to be about the environment. It can become as abrasive, dangerous and costly as the arms race.’ (July 27, 1988.)
Shabecoff and Lewis have gone. But Matthew L. Wald is still there. ‘Elevated levels of carbon dioxide are thought to be responsible for half the greenhouse effect’, he wrote 25 years ago. He writes the same sort of stuff now.
But much of it is just not correct. Take that oft-repeated line about CO2. In actual fact, ALL the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is thought to contribute a rather modest 20% or so to the Greenhouse effect. There is some debate (which I don’t pretend to have an opinion on) as to whether the present levels of CO2 already trap all the heat radiation possible for the gas to, or whether increased levels will trap more, but if we took the simple minded assumption that, by doubling the atmospheric levels of CO2, we humans had doubled the heat trapping effect, we would still come nowhere near the NYT’s claimed consequences. 3
Matthew Wald has written at least 5 000 stories for the NYT on environmental matters, since he started there in 1974. He holds a B.A. in urban studies from Brown University, and a certificate in auto mechanics from the Providence Vocational Technical Facility. He is, I am sure, a nice chap, but not a reliable authority on Climate Change.
The NYT however, thinks its correspondents are. 4 That’s why, in recent months, Justin Gillis has been going well beyond even the most pessimistic claims of the United Nations’ own ‘expert’ panel, the IPCC, to foresee sea levels rising by ‘perhaps three feet by 2100 — an increase that, should it come to pass, would pose a threat to coastal regions the world over’ – even though the IPCC gives only a projected rise of between 20 and 60 cm.5 As Anthony Watts, a prominent climate skeptic, says, converting cm to feet is not so tricky, and it is certainly not possible to get ‘three feet’ out of the IPCC estimates, far less six feet. 6
A minor discrepancy. Because later in the article, Gillis goes further still, saying that ‘the calculations suggest that the rise could conceivably exceed six feet, which would put thousands of square miles of the American coastline under water and would probably displace tens of millions of people in Asia.’
On December 2nd, in another Gillis piece, ‘Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming'(2012/12/03) timed to guide the debate in ongoing climate treaty talks at Doha, Qatar, the NYT was able to repeat the same errors (and a few more). Starting with:
‘The level of carbon dioxide, the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere…’
Now you can redefine ‘heat trapping gases’ if you like to not include water vapour, which is in fact what the IPCC tend to do, but in so doing, you cease to describe the world’s weather systems. Either as clouds or as invisible vapour, water may block the sun, causing cooling, and at night they may block heat being reflected back into space, causing warming. Either way, water vapour decides most of the day’s temperature, and most of the longer term trends too. But back to the article. What was that point about CO2 again? That it:
‘ …has increased about 41 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and scientists fear it could double or triple before emissions are brought under control.’
About 41%? That’s a pretty precise figure for a pretty vague concept. Bear in mind that carbon dioxide levels vary depending on where you measure them – at what time of day, in what season, at what height, near which vegetation, on ocean temperatures and currents… and I don’t suppose the benchmark figures for 250 years ago are much better either.
Another spuriously precise claim trotted out is that ‘The temperature of the planet has already increased about 1.5 degrees since 1850.’ This is a change from the usual one about the 20th century. The thing that is journalistically dodgy here is that any figure can be picked out of a hat depending on the start and finish dates. If you pick the years 1940 and 1975, for example, the IPCC itself allows there was a slight cooling trend, which explains why in the seventies the science journalists were being paid to worry about ‘global cooling’. On the other hand, the ‘warming’ claimed for the full 150 year period mainly took place in just thirty years, between 1910 and 1940. The reality is that there is no global record of temperatures worth the name, certainly not prior to arrival of satellites, and even now temperature statistics are much contested – and with good reason.
The NYT is wrong on the details, and wrong on the generalities too. It is confusing scare-mongering that may be good for political campaigns with objective reporting – let alone ‘science’. Instead, passages like this fall from the Gray Lady’s lips like pearls before swine.
‘Further increases in carbon dioxide are likely to have a profound effect on climate, scientists say, leading to higher seas and greater coastal flooding, more intense weather disasters like droughts and heat waves, and an extreme acidification of the ocean. Many experts believe the effects are already being seen, but they are projected to worsen.’
So if the reporting is so bad, now come no one is stopping it? Yet the falling standards just might be serving a function for the paper.
It’s well known that the NYT is ‘family owned’ – by the Arthur Sulzburger family. The family have a controlling interest and also own 20 percent of the Class A shares. It is less often noted, and certainly not at the bottom of the NYT’s scary pieces, that the paper has received significant investments from hedge funds with financial interests in the raising of the political profile of climate change science. From late 2007 and up to the time of the ‘peak’ in media coverage of the issue, late in 2010, the second largest Class A shareholder in the New York Times was Harbinger Capital Partners, a hedge fund run by Philip Falcone, with around 20 per cent, and the third-largest Class A shareholder was T. Rowe Price, with 10 percent. (Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications billionaire came next, with 7 percent.)  7 In November 2010 the fund significantly downsized its investment in the New York Times Company, to 2.6%, selling the shares for barely half of what it had originally paid.
In terms of conventional dividends, the Times was a poor choice for Falcone. However, Harbinger have energy interests that cannot have been harmed by a steady trickle of propaganda for raising the costs of energy. For example, in November 2012, Harbinger Group Inc. established an Energy Operating Business Joint Venture with EXCO Resources to create a private oil and gas limited partnership to purchase and operate EXCO’s U.S. oil and gas assets, for a total consideration of $725 million. Although foolish talk (including in the Times) of oil money funding ‘denial’ of Climate Change confuses many people, in fact oil companies (who also invariably own and exploit gas reserves) are one of the big winners of the political push to put up the price of energy by imposing a carbon levy.
As for T Rowe Price, this fund (a long-standing investor in the Times) has important interests in biofuels, a sector whose growth is closely linked to mandatory targets for blending biofuels into ‘real fuels’ – all of course part of saving the planet from climate change. According to Seeking Alpha, as of January 2012, T Row Price had a tidy $330 billion invested in biofuels. The Times shares its interest, regularly running stories looking forward to the Brave New World of biofuels. Matthew Wald again:
‘Turning algae into fuel or other chemicals that are now made from oil could have commercial benefits when oil prices are high. But it could also make financial sense in countries that have put a price on carbon dioxide emissions to combat global warming, since the algae consume the carbon and reuse it in their product.’
(‘Another Path to Biofuels’, November 23, 2012 8
Not mentioned is that shareholder link. Nor even that biofuels are a very inefficient form of energy. They require large amounts of conventional energy to produce, have significantly put up the price of basic foodstuffs for the world’s poorest people and the end result (stuff that comes out of car tailpipes) is believed to be a major source of cancer in the developed world.
Arthur Sulzburger is famous for crafting ‘mission statements’ for the newspaper and the company: ‘We have it written down and we carry it with us,’ he told Charlie Rose in 2001, according to a Vanity Fair retrospective on the Times owner a few years ago 9 which added: ‘He handed over the mission statements on-camera with a flourish, and when asked later about his proudest achievement came back to this “defining vision of what we are and where we have to go”.’
It is easy to think that ‘saving the planet’ is Sulzburger and the Times’ self-appointed mission, and that in its zeal, journalistic standards have slipped. But that might be too generous an interpretation. There does not need to have been any direct mechanism for business structures to subtly, and not so subtly, influence employees.
Notes and links
- 1For example, November 29 2012 sees this story: ‘By September, the level of Arctic ice was the lowest since satellite records began and had shrunk by nearly half — an area nearly the size of India.. The ice melt will contribute to rising sea levels that are already 20 centimeters, or nearly 8 inches, higher than a century ago,’http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/science/earth/un-agency-says-2012-ranks-among-hottest-years.html
- 2For example, ‘With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming’, By Justin Gillis and John M. Broder, December 2, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/03/world/emissions-of-carbon-dioxide-hit-record-in-2011-researchers-say.html
- 3See, for example, the Global Warming concerned magazine, the New Scientist on this.
- 4Justin Gillis even offers himself as very much a referee in the debate, for example here answering readers questions about climate science:http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/answering-questions-about-clouds-and-climate/ Curiously, there appear to be no biographical details on this journalist on the site, or indeed anywhere. Could it be a pen name?
- 5Just-in Gillis’ alarming claims are in this article,http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/science/earth/14ice.html,and the IPCC’s relatively mild warnings are here:http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html
- 6Anthony Watts – a prominent climate skeptic – points out some of JG’s scientific slip-ups here:http://wattsupwiththat.com