Commentary

Russia at it again?

capture-hawaiiCommentary

Is it possible Russia is trying to co-opt Americans with fake news once again as the Washington Post charged shortly after president-elect Republican Donald Trump upset Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton in November?

Since then, a variety of news websites have suggested fake news from Russia or elsewhere might have played a role in the election. And now comes Breitbart.com, a website fingered by the Post as an outlet for Russian propaganda, questioning global warming just like the Russians.

“Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence From Climate Alarmists” screamed Breitbart in a provocative, Wednesday headline straight out of the Russian playbook.

Russia has been the world leader among global warming skeptics. The Russian Academy of Science doesn’t really buy into the widely held Western believe that climate is all about carbon dioxide, which has been steadily on the increase since 1950 and has now reached record levels.

capture

Graph courtesy NOAA

The Russians recognize the increase, but don’t seem to accept it as the determinate factor in global temperature.

“Observations of the sun show that as for the increase in temperature, carbon dioxide is ‘not guilty” and as for what lies ahead in the upcoming decades, it is not catastrophic warming, but a global, and very prolonged, temperature drop,” Russian space scientist, Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the Space Research Laboratory at the Pulkovo Observatory in Saint Petersburg, has been saying for years.

What the consensus of Russian scientists on global warming at this very moment is hard to determine. Russian views are little reported in the Western mainstream media.

“The Russian scientific community is divided on climate change. While some, including senior state meteorologists, have in the past spoken publically of the threat from climate change to Russia, others are more reticent on the issue and refuse to openly acknowledge global warming as a phenomenon,” the Inter Press Service News Agency, a global reporting combine, said two years ago.

“Many others say that global warming has actually peaked and that world temperatures will actually begin falling in a few years and then stabilising.”

Everything is politics

Since then, Russian views appear to have shifted somewhat. Russian President Vladimir Putin last year told the United Nations that “climate changes was one of the gravest challenges humanity is facing.”

The New York Times questioned the seriousness of those statements, however, and pondered whether “Mr. Putin’s statement merely further attempts to win a place back in to the international fold, after he was marginalized because of Russian aggression in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria?”

Meanwhile, some have argued global warming would actually be a benefit to Russia by opening the Arctic ocean to shipping and other economic development and improving opportunities for farming in frigid Siberia.

This could give Russian a motive to encourage global warming skeptics viewed as heretics by various environmental and scientific communities in the West.

Enter Brietbart, which the Post has already fingered as among many websites either implicit in or dupes of  a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.”

If the Russians can do that, why would they hesitate to try to undermine U.S. efforts to do something about what President Barak Obama considers the gravest “threat to our children, our planet, and future generations?”

One can almost see the wheels turning in the head of Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Hmm, if it’s bad for America, it’s probably good for Russia. Let’s take down the U.S. global warming agenda.”

Oh no!

So the Russians plant a story in Breitbart. Only it doesn’t stop there.

Either unaware of this Russian plot, or another dupe, an unnamed employee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (or maybe it was a Russian hacker) puts a link to the Breitbart article on Twitter, and the internet explodes with accusations of “false news.”

Breitbart couldn’t have asked for more since all those accusations bring clicks back to its website, and as those kids in Macedonia understand news – fake, false or real – is solely about money these days.

Not long after the committee tweet appeared, a Democrat member of the committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas tweeted, “False news & false facts put us all in danger…

The New York Times promptly jumped in to report “scientists on Friday debunked a widely circulated news media report suggesting that recent record-high global temperature were unrelated to climate change,” which is not exactly what the Breitbart story said.

What Breitbart said was this: “With 2016 being predicted as a record warm year, it is interesting to speculate on what the El Nino’s contribution will be, which is, in a word, everything. It can be argued that without the El Nino (and the so-called “Pacific Blob”) 2014-2016 would not have been record warm years.”

The stories main focus, however, was on the significant drop in land temperatures since the middle of the year. That drop has gone largely unnoticed because most media failed to report it. The story questioned whether it was possible the mainstream media had an agenda.

“You’d almost imagine that when temperatures shoot up it’s catastrophic climate change which requires dramatic headlines across the mainstream media and demands for urgent action,” wrote Breitbart’s James Delingpole. “But that when they fall even more precipitously it’s just a case of ‘nothing to see here’.”

The New York Times story supposedly debunking the Breitbart story conceded land temperatures were falling, agreed overall global temperatures could be lower next year than the last two years because of a La Nina brewing in the Pacific Ocean, but suggested next year’s global temperature will likely still be higher than average.

The NYT also quoted two government scientists saying nobody ever claimed the record temperatures of 2015 and 2016 were due to climate change alone; as one put it, “you can have both climate change and a goose from El Nino.”

But the NYT reported other government scientists in 2015 saying “the bulk of the record-setting heat…is a consequence of long-term planetary warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The L-R Filter

So much news in the U.S. today seems to get run through a liberal (left) and conservative (right) filter, and climate change reporting is definitely subject to that problem. Good liberals are all-in on the idea that gobal warming is real and human caused, and it really will cause the sky to fall. Conservatives are generally more skeptical.

Between them is poisoned water. How poisoned?

“I believe climate change is real and that human emissions of greenhouse gases risk justifying action, including a carbon tax. But my research led me to a conclusion that many climate campaigners find unacceptable: There is scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally. In fact we are in an era of good fortune when it comes to extreme weather,” Roger Pielke Jr., a professor  at the University of Colorado, Boulder wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

The column was headlined “My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic.” The subhead was “My research was attacked by thought police in journalism, activist groups funded by billionaires and even the White House.”

Pielke’s crime? Inconvenient research.

“My research was under constant attack for years by activists, journalists and politicians,” Pielke writes. “In 2011 writers in the journal Foreign Policy signaled that some accused me of being a ‘climate-change denier’ I earned the title, the authors explained, by ‘questioning certain graphs presented in IPCC reports.’ That an academic who raised questions about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in an area of his expertise was tarred as a denier reveals the groupthink at work.”

The graph, he noted, was later revealed to have been constructed using invented and inaccurate information, but that didn’t help Pielke. The “denier” label wasn’t going away.

“In today’s hyper-partisan climate debate, every instance of extreme weather becomes a political talking point,” Pielke writes. “For a time I called out politicians and reporters who went beyond what science can support, but some journalists won’t hear of this.

“In 2015 I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paige St. John, making the rather obvious point that politicians use the weather-of-the-moment to make the case for action on climate change, even if the scientific basis is thin or contested.

“Ms. St. John was pilloried by her peers in the media. Shortly thereafter, she emailed me what she had learned: ‘You should come with a warning label: Quoting Roger Pielke will bring a hailstorm down on your work from the London Guardian, Mother Jones, and Media Matters.'” (The whole Pielke column is worth a read for what it says about today’s news – fake, false or real.)

The Inquisition

Delingpole’s great crime at Breitbart might have been to poke a little fun at all of this by pointing out the hypocrisy of mainstream reporters who jump all over the slightest uptick in global temperatures, but wholly ignore a major slide downward.

And God forbid anyone who wants to have a little fun with the media.

The NYT wasn’t the only giant in the mainstream media scrum to jump all over Delingpole as another of those “deniers.” Other news organizations piled on citing the consensus of opinion among Western scientists that global warming is a very real threat.

They noted that Delingpole is not a scientist, but somehow missed the possible connection to Russian propaganda.

“English writer James Delingpole, who denies scientifically-accepted theories on climate change, authored the piece,” the McClatchy News Service reported.

“The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology got a stern scolding from Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as from much of the Internet, after it tweeted a climate change denying Breitbart News story Thursday afternoon,” the Boston Globe added.

Delingpole’s story didn’t actually deny climate change. It limited its attack to the “alarmist narrative” surrounding climate change. And Delingpole described himself as a “skeptic,” “a person who questions who doubts something.” That’s something close to a denier, but not a denier.

Whatever he was or is, he’s now a target. The Globe tied Breitbart and the Delingpole story to the  “‘alt-right’ movement,” which the Globe described as “an offshoot of conservatism that mixes racism, white nationalism, and populism.”

Hmm, being a Russian dupe might not be so bad compared to being a white nationalist, racist, climate denier.  The Christian Science Monitor also attempted to connect the climate story to this alt-right.

“Sharing the Breitbart story, in particular, has reinforced liberals’ concerns about the role of the alt-right in the next administration,” the Monitor’s Ellen Powell reported.

“The House Science Committee oversees NASA, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others. It largely determines what research is funded, and so has tremendous influence over environmental policy. For those concerned about climate change, the fact that the committee shared a story denying human impacts on the climate is therefore problematic,” she wrote.

“Scientists have expressed concern that his attitude could spell bad news for climate research as a whole.”

Follow the money

The Monitor story failed to note that “climate research” has become a cottage industry in the U.S. Funding for thousands of scientific studies, some of which have only nebulous connections to climate change, are now financed by climate change.

The Breitbart story, whether Russian sponsored or not, was sure to upset those people.

The story made a big deal of how land temperatures have fallen one degree Celsius (approximately 1.5 degree F) since the middle of this year and attacked “all the left-leaning websites (where) these ‘Hottest Year Evah’ stories were relayed as fact. And, inevitably, were often cited by a host of experts on Twitter as proof that evil deniers are, like, anti-science and totally evil and really should be thrown in prison for sacrificing the future of the world’s children by promoting Big-Oil-funded denialism.

“This is why there is such an ideological divide regarding climate change between those on the left and those on the right,” Delingople wrote. “The lefties get their climate information from unreliable fake news sites like Buzzfeed.”

Buzzfeed.com is not a fake news site, but it has made some reporting errors as do all new sites. Journalism is a very imperfect business.

And it’s getting more imperfect every day with news sites taking turns accusing each of other of being fake and/or false.  Not to mention painting stories with lots of grey in black and white. All of this gets especially murky when scientific reporting comes into play.

Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there’s a 95 percent chance humans are causing global warming, but in 1990, as The Economist reported, “the IPCC….said that ‘the observed increase [in air temperatures] could be largely due to natural variability.’ Why have climate scientists become so much more certain that climate change is man-made, not natural?”

The answer is in those ever-rising levels of CO2. There isn’t a scientists in the world – Western or Russian – who questions the atmospheric increase in carbon dioxide, and the vast majority, if not all, believe the rise is tied to the burning of fossil fuels to heat homes, provide electricity and power cars.

Problems, however, arise in linking the CO2 increase to temperature. As The Economists notes, “the increase in global surface air temperatures has been smaller than climate computer models had predicted.”

There is a chance, albeit a small one, the Russian scientists are right.

It was snowing in Hawaii on Saturday.

“Hawaii expected to get 3 feet of snow. You read that right,” headlined USA Today. Clearly, USA Today is an organ of climate-warming heretics or a Russian dupe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 replies »

  1. “The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology got a stern scolding from Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as from much of the Internet, after it tweeted a climate change denying Breitbart News story Thursday afternoon,” the Boston Globe added.

    The scolding is justified for considering anything on Breitbart real news. So Delinpole’s major offense then, if he wants to be considered a “real journalist”, is writing for them.

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  2. Ever read “The Globe?” It’s the worst of the supermarket tabloids. Two of my favorite stories are “WW2 Bomber Found on Moon,” complete with actual photo, and “Bigfoot’s Son Found.” So there’s nothing new about fake news. The only surprise is that so many people discovered it just recently. “Remember the Maine!” there’s a good fake news story that sent the US off to war. I think I’ll get into the fake news business. Americans are increasingly unlikely to believe real news.

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    • Mr. Mason: i don’t know if that last line was well thought and intentional or a lucky accident, but you really hit on an important aspect of what’s going on. real news has become such a mess “Americans ARE increasingly unlike to believe” it. and that’s a problem. a big, fat, societal problem.

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  3. Going up to the 10,000 foot level regarding Russia trying to influence the US with fake news: Sure it happens. And good for Russia. The US no doubt works overtime trying to cyber-f*ck governments that it takes a dislike too. Remember Stuxnet that took down the centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear plant in 2010? The US government is most likely the biggest cyber-bully on Earth. Yet the US screams when someone pulls the same cyber games on them. Boo-hoo. What goes around comes around.

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  4. And let me also add there is absolutely no problem in linking increases in atmospheric CO2 to global warming. The earth has warmed 1.2-1.3°C since the industrial revolution began and atmospheric CO2 began to rise due to fossil fuel combustion—thats a pretty dramatic linkage.

    Events like the current snowfall in Hawaii are transient and reflect transient variations in weather, not climate.

    Cheers!

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  5. Sorry, Craig, but you don’t know what fake news is. Yes, the Russians appear to be to blame for hacking the DNC email system, but the emails themselves are actual DNC emails from the DNC server. Thats why the DNC chairman resigned in disgrace at the Democrat national convention—the DNC really did side with Hillary in the primaries to try to subvert the electoral system and cheat Bernie Sanders. Similarly, Donna Brazille resigned from MSNBC because her email on wikileaks showed that she really did give Hillary some of the debate questions before the debates. Whoever hacked the DNC emails —even if it is was the Russians—–found out some pretty darn interesting and newsworthy things, and none of it seems to have been faked.

    CHEERS!

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    • did i say somewhere that i thought the WikiLeaks on the DNC were fake, Jim Bob? if i did, please point it out because i sure don’t remember it. someone else might have said it. some certainly suggested it. but it weren’t me.

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  6. Maybe I’m optimistic, but would this issue be less polarizing if more people understood the difference between Weather (conditions over several days/months) and Climate (conditions over 30+ years) ? Invoking the snow on Mauna Kea to make a point about climate change is as about as useful as Sen. James Inhofe’s stunt of tossing a snowball in chambers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E0a_60PMR8

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    • well it might, Benjamin, but that argument has been used so many times to dismiss people as ignorant that i think that hope is over. and the bigger problem is that while they are different they are also related. climate is nothing but a continuum of weather over time. i would have to agree, however, that invoking the snow on Mauna Kea to make a point about climate change is about as useful as invoking a summer heat wave to make a point about climate change. so did you send a message to any journalists who did that? because that was the point.

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  7. Mark Twain is credited with two quotes that help explain the current situation: ” “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” and: “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Lies and distortions are usually much more interesting than the truth and while electronic media has replaced ink, that concept is exactly the same now as it was in Twain’s day. Mr. Trump, who will not much longer remain primarily a media curiosity, will soon enough understand that 2nd quote.. Also, the 1976 movie “NETWORK” (which won four Academy Awards)t absolutely prophesied what television “news” would become. If you haven’t seen it you might want to check it out. .

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    • i love that movie, Lynn. the problem in the tubes is that there are so many people claiming to have the truth that it can get hard to tell exactly which one is lying, or telling only a part of the truth and then by how much.

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  8. Good article. Here’s a conspiracy theory for you. I blame all this on Ted Turner. Good old “Captain Outrageous”. Back around 1980 he, and a few other backers, founded CNN. It was the first 24 hour news network and it was given little chance of survival. The problem was that no one believed there would be enough news to cover a 24 hour time slot. Plus, at the time, the network news was a money loosing proposition. Fast forward three and a half decades and the 24 hour news cycle is all the rage. We’ve solved the “not enough news” problem by recycling the same story over and over and over until a new one comes along. It can be reported in the regular news slot and then picked apart by the various talking head editorial shows that fill in the space until another realish news slot comes around again. The result is news has moved from being merely information gathering to entertainment and diversion. That, in turn, took care of the profit part of the equation. If we are entertained, we will tend to come back for more and buy the soap the show is peddling. Print media has followed in a desperate game of catch-up. Even before the advent of the internet tubes, papers and magazines were left flat footed by a surging 24 hour newsertainment machine. I remember, and you probably do too, when there was a real firewall between the editorial and commercial side of the paper. That firewall, if it exists at all, is no longer much of a factor. What we’re left with is a plethora of newsertainment stories all pretty much the same but presented in different wrapping for your viewing or reading pleasure. We’re also left with an increasing distrust of, what should be reliable, news sources. We divide up into our separate camps and regurgitate the latest from headquarters. The reality, and you and I know this, is that reporters of the news still try to get it right. That’s not to say that a story doesn’t get spiked because it steps on the wrong toes. It’s just that doesn’t happen as often as people think. People watch Fox and Friends or Inside Politics and conflate that with the news. We tend to gravitate toward the talking head that reaffirms our own world view and disregard the rest. So when Putin or Steve Bannon or Anderson Cooper feed us something we tend to lap it up. Meanwhile the local reporter tells us about the latest school board meeting or latest budget proposal and we dismiss it or just miss it altogether because we are not entertained. Wow; this went a little longer than I anticipated. So I’ll just wrap it up with this. That yacht racing, Jane Fonda marrying (then divorcing) liberal Ted Turner supplanted the news with entertainment. That, along with the internet, has brought us to where we are today. Now if you’ll excuse me the aluminum foil hat is starting to cut off the circulation to brain.

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    • no doubt, Chuck, CNN changed the game, and it has been changing ever since while accelerating at light speed. it was never perfect, but it’s very imperfect now. that said, it’s very hard to figure out who to blame. it’s like the drugs. is the fault of the suppliers or the consumers? if people weren’t buying the shit, no one would be producing it.

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