You know journalism has reached a new peak of excellence when reporters and various scientists start associating climate change with all sorts of other dubiously related phenomenon. Cause and effect gives way to guilt by association.
Here are a few examples.
In June 2021, the BBC News reported marine mucilage (slime also called “sea snot”) gathered around the nation of Turkey. “Experts blame pollution and climate change,” they wrote, but also admitted that marine mucilage was “a naturally-occurring green sludge that forms when algae is overloaded with nutrients as a result of hot weather and water pollution.”
Remember, even if the weather cools, “sea snot” will not become an endangered species.
Similarly, Garin Flowers of Yahoo News reported a story regarding red tides in Florida, quoting the Sierra Club’s Cris Costello: “Climate change, climate disruption, has warmed our water.” But Costello also admitted that warm water infused with nitrogen and phosphorus was responsible for the algae making the red tides. Costello added the requisite doomsday claim that “our water bodies are at the tipping point,” indicating the myth of equilibrium, as if water bodies had ever been in “balance” throughout billions of years of geological history.
In both of these cases, agricultural fertilizer runoff was the obvious main culprit, but the reporters and the people they interviewed threw in climate change for good measure, even though they’re actually discussing weather (there’s a difference). This is standard procedure these days, and reflects the dogmatic climate alarmism milieu.
But mainly during summertime.
Global warming stories are rare during the northern hemisphere’s winter.
The levels of absurdity in connecting climate change to various problems runs even deeper than these two examples. The policy advocacy car (an electric vehicle) has picked up the climate change hitchhiker.
In September 2019, NPR’s Mandalit del Barco interviewed James Cuno (of the J. Paul Getty Trust) about preserving ancient monuments. Cuno was obliged to mention the obvious, how ISIS had notably destroyed various monuments, but added, “Ancient sites are also at risk of decay or destruction from climate change and overdevelopment.”
We have photographs of ISIS members destroying ancient sculptures, but the last time I checked, sledge hammers had nothing to do with climate change. Maybe the sledgehammers were extra hot from a summertime heat wave?
In October 2019, the BBC News interviewed Dr. Jennifer Jackson (of the British Antarctic Survey) regarding an increased incidence of whales stranding themselves on beaches. Jackson admitted that whale populations are recovering, so this positive development (all by itself) possibly increased the higher incidence of stranded whales. But in the audio for the story (not included in the print version), Jackson added, “As whales recover, we also have the effect of climate change which is going to perturb, and increasingly perturb, the feeding grounds that whales rely on.”
This seems a little strange, considering how the earth’s climate has been warming (generally) for the past 11,000 years after the last ice age began retreating, for pure geological and astrophysical reasons. Whales have been adapting to ocean feeding grounds . . . well, for as long as the whales species have existed, because feeding grounds themselves are always changing for one reason or another.
We might apply the same logic to a (supposed) recent uptick in shark attacks. Time Magazine reported that “experts” (writing for the journal Progress in Oceanography) attributed these increased shark attacks to climate change, saying it was “pushing sharks and other marine species northward.” What about people who have always swam in tropical ocean waters? What about a statistical tally of people swimming in various oceans over the decades correlated with shark attacks in those same waters? Answering those questions (if possible) would push us toward a more systematic answer.
But then, consider an impossible yet crucial scientific question: how have the shark populations fluctuated over the last few centuries? No one knows. I guess those shark census people have been falling down on the job. But you know how politicized the census sometimes gets.
Cause and effect has a propensity to become muddled, even in the honest life sciences. So, on the face of it, some of these climate hitchhiking stories sound more like agenda-fulfilling guesswork.
In May 2021, NPR reported that “Climate change, pesticides and habitat loss are putting many [bee] species at risk.” Well, we’ve all heard of bee colony collapse probably associated with a new generation of pesticides (neonicotinoids), but the claim of habitat loss is ironic, to say the least, considering that the common honey bee is of European origin. What were they doing in America habitats in the first place? Beekeeper Erika Thompson said, “Bees are just a key factor in creating diverse and healthy ecosystems.”
So, in this case, an introduced species is not an “invasive species.” Of course not. You escape the damning “invasive” label when you make tasty honey and pollinate our massive agricultural crops — all of which are native species in their natural habitat, of course.
In October 2019, Danielle Paquette (Washington Post) reported that climate change was responsible for a disproportionate ratio of female sea turtle births, due to higher sand temperatures at nesting sites. Let’s ask some obvious questions about this. What was the gender ratio a hundred years ago? No one knows. What is the global gender ratio now? No one knows. Paquette herself reported that sea turtles have been around for a couple hundred million years — don’t you think the climate has fluctuated wildly during that time? Of course it has. During climate changes of the geological past, species like sea turtles obviously moved to conducive climates or otherwise adapted and survived.
But now, suddenly they are threatened because of anthropogenic climate change? Ah, the agenda (I mean, the science) starts to become clear.
Paquette dutifully reported that, “The past five years have been the hottest on record for the globe.” Since when? Since we began nurturing illusions of a static Eden in which climate never changes? Obviously the earth has been much hotter in the geological past, particularly during the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum only tens of millions of years ago. How did the sea turtles survive that?
Paquette’s reporting doesn’t even stand up to common sense, much less science. And yet it is typical of such news stories.
In late 2019, Christopher Flavelle and Patricia Mazzei (New York Times) and Greg Allen (NPR) reported on Florida Keys neighborhoods suffering from sea water inundation. Allen reported about one neighborhood in Key Largo that was built on un-compacted fill, so the settling earth was at least partly to blame. Flavelle and Mazzei reported that “climate change [was] encroaching” on a “treehouse paradise” in Sugarloaf Key. As mentioned, we should always remember that (generally) sea levels have been rising for at least the past 11,000 years due to the geologically-initiated retreat of the last ice age. But we should also remember that, until recent times, people had enough common sense to avoid building houses only a couple of feet above sea level. The latter is the most obvious culprit in these and other stories involving housing developments located along ocean seashores.
By the way, never underestimate the vagaries of changing status symbols. Seashore towns (like Monterey, California) used to be strictly working class. Now you have to be a millionaire to buy property there. It’s a far cry from cannery row. But apparently the ocean doesn’t give a damn one way or another.
A similar juxtaposition of obvious actual cause and purported climate exacerbation frequently appears in media reporting about health issues.
Americans are not the healthiest people in the world. Though only about five percent of the world’s population, they consume well over half of pharmaceutical drugs worldwide. Statins (for heart disease) are the best-sellers overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity has risen from 30% of American adults in 1999 to over 42% in 2018. Not a good trend. But what does this have to do with climate change?
Journalists like to describe unhealthy people responding poorly to heat waves. Here, journalists (and some doctors) conflate weather with climate, and gloss over the elephant in the room: serious underlying health problems related to poverty, obesity, malnourishment, and lifelong lack of exercise. Aside from all this, such stories never mention health problems related to cold weather. Statistician Bjørn Lomborg (favorite beating boy among climate alarmists) regularly reports how cold-related human deaths consistently outpace heat-related deaths worldwide. But “climate change” is still mostly synonymous with “global warming,” so winter-related deaths get less respect. Imagine.
In a couple of 2019 stories, NPR reported that climate change was a culprit in both mental and physical health. Never mind that they were addressing the usual cluster of problems (mainly diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and asthma).
NPR’s Nora Eckert interviewed Ken Duckworth of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who said they had to address climate change as a possible mental illness culprit. Duckworth said, “I think that now, you just have to think more creatively about how the weather is impacting your patient. It’s impossible not to think about our climate.” [emphasis added]
Really? Funny how people living in tropical climates have thrived for millennia. Maybe the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Big Pharma can pack their bags and go south. Everyone else is moving to the sun belt. It’s a growth industry!
But let’s not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) out of this. In July 2019, NPR’s Martha Bebinger quoted WHO as claiming climate change was “the greatest health challenge of the 21st century,” and how a number of American medical societies were advocating “action” to address global warming.
Again, what are the equatorial people to do? Are there even any survivors living down in the tropics anymore?
Of course, the real problems in Bebinger’s story were the familiar culprits already mentioned: obese adults who had never strengthened their cardiovascular systems through exercise (hence, one of the likely causes behind rising asthma rates).
In all the above media articles, climate change (whether geological, anthropogenic, or both) is incidental at best. But it distracts us from real problems that have solutions, such as preventing excessive fertilizer runoff, stopping municipalities (addicted to property taxes) from allowing untenable developments in dangerous places, and of course addressing large pockets of terrible health conditions in the United States. None of the solutions are particularly easy, but associating the climate bogeyman with them does not help.
By the way, it is no accident that most of the above news stories appeared between May and October, during the warmest months in the northern hemisphere. We have long known that the media favors global warming stories during the summer. In the media world, apparently climate change is not as important during the winter.
Maybe the media regards climate change as a seasonal science, like baseball.
Copyright © 2022 Will Sarvis. All rights reserved.
Greg Allen, “This Florida Keys Neighborhood Has Been Flooded For Nearly 3 Months,” NPR’s Morning Edition (Nov. 28, 2019).
Jonathan Amos, “Satellites to Monitor Whale Strandings From Space,” BBC News (Oct. 17, 2019), audio interview, minutes 7–8.
Mandalit del Barco, “Getty Trust Initiative Will Work To Save Ancient Sites Worldwide,” NPR’s Morning Edition, (Sept. 18, 2019).
BBC News, “Turkey President Erdogan Vows to Solve ‘Sea Snot’ Outbreak,” (June 6, 2021).
Martha Bebinger, “Has Your Doctor Talked To You About Climate Change?” NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday (July 13, 2019).
Rosalie Chan, “How Climate Change is Fueling a Rise in Shark Attacks,” Time (June 23, 2016).
Kristen Dahlgren, “Why Allergy Season Is So Bad This Year and How To Handle It,” NBC News (May 24, 2021).
Clayton Dalton, “When Temperatures Rise, So Do Health Problems,” NPR Health News (Aug. 24, 2019).
Nora Eckert, “How High Heat Can Impact Mental Health,” NPR’s Morning Edition (Sept. 4, 2019).
Christopher Flavelle and Patricia Mazzei, “Florida Keys Deliver a Hard Message: As Seas Rise, Some Places Can’t Be Saved,” New York Times (Dec. 5, 2019).
Garin Flowers, “Red Tides Return to Florida, Leaving Beaches Covered in Dead Fish,” Yahoo News (Aug. 6, 2021).
Harvard School of Public Health, “Study Strengthens Link Between Neonicotinoids and Collapse of Honey Bee Colonies” (May 9, 2014).
Steve Inskeep and Rachel Martin, “The Buzz About World Bee Day,” NPR’s Morning Edition (May 20, 2021).
Danielle Paquette, “The Warming Climate Is Making Baby Sea Turtles Almost All Girls,” Washington Post (Oct. 22, 2019).
Homan Wai, “Climate Change is Making Us Sicker,” Roanoke Times (Aug. 8, 2019).
By the way, if you’re interested in the comment about imported European honey bees and how we’ve radically altered the ecology of both Europe and the western hemisphere, see two great books by Alfred W. Crosby: The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, new ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003) and Ecological Imperialism: the Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900, new ed. (NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004).