Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.
In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.
My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.
The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.
Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.
Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.
According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.
An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?
In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:
In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.
In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.
Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.
If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.
The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.
Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect
Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.
He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.
His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:
Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”
Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.
Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.
Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.
They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.
Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.
Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press
The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists.
The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.
Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):
Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.
He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.
“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”
Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.
The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):
Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”
Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.
Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.
The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.
False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes
Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.
He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.
In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.
Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.
Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.
What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.
The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.
The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.
Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.
The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.
We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.
But what is cost of this?
Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.
At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.
But again – at what cost?
All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.
Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility
It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.
Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.
For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.
We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.
Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.
For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.
I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.
All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.
[Note: see also Graham Readfearn's piece on the same topic - what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]
[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog's author. ]