Commentary

Who to believe?

Alaska winter 2020 is either icier than in a long time, or so short on ice the census takers can’t drive the ice roads.

Public radio will tell you both.

The latest version from NPR is this:

“On the front lines of climate change, warming temperatures and thawing permafrost are making it harder to get an accurate count for the 2020 census in some of the most remote communities of Alaska.”

The latest version from KYUK, a public radio station actually on the front lines in the Southwest Alaska community of Bethel is this:

“For the first time ever, the ice road on the frozen Kuskokwim River has been plowed to Sleetmute, a village north of Bethel.”

The NPR version appeared online Feb. 10. Democrat Congressional candidate Alyse Galvin, or more likely her staff, picked the story up nine days later and used it for a fundraising pitch.

“While the rest of the nation waits until spring to be counted, the Census kicks off in our state because in more remote parts of Alaska, it’s easier to travel when the ground is frozen,” the campaign said.

“But just like so many other aspects of Alaskan life, climate change is complicating matters.

“The ice roads that census takers and other travelers rely on have not been reliably freezing over, making traveling by snowmachine dangerous and forcing people to travel by plane more often.”

Somebody got something badly wrong. Just ask Tim Hewitt, the veteran Alaska wilderness hiker who was out on the bitterly cold Yukon River while these stories were being reported.

He was wishing to see a snowmachine go by to pack in a trail, but it was so cold not many people were moving.

Ice, ice and more ice

The same day Galvin made her plea for help in ousting climate change skeptic Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, KYUK posted its story headlined  “Ice Road Plowed To Sleetmute.”

“….The ice road now stretches about 355 miles from Tuntutuliak, located south of Bethel, to Sleetmute,” the story below reported.

“That’s longer than most traditional highways in the state, but it’s likely a bit rougher in places given that the road is a frozen river. The previous record was about 200 miles from Bethel to Crooked Creek in March 2018. The ice road allows for snowmachine and vehicle traffic in a region that otherwise relies on unpredictable airplane travel in the winter.”

So who to believe here?

The NPR story is many times longer than the KYUK story and far more entertaining.

“Maybe they will not have winter,” one subhead says.

“For Diana Therchik, the operations manager for the Toksook Bay Sub-regional Clinic, this was partly foreseeable,” the story continues.

“The rising temperatures remind her of what Yup’ik elders have long predicted, and she wonders if census workers may encounter a vastly different Alaska by the next U.S. census in 2030.

‘The way things are going, maybe they won’t have snow. Maybe they will not have winter,’ Therchik says. ‘That’s like so many years from now, and I just don’t know.'”

Who could have known Yup’ik elders were predicting years without winter before climate change became a thing? Or that winter could be gone in a decade.

help blurb

Do facts matter?

The monthly average temperatures for the winter months in Toksook Bay, a community along the Bering Sea on the far Southwest Alaska coast, is reported to be 17 degrees in December, 10 degrees in January and 15 degrees in February.

The Washington Post today ran a photo of a cold and frozen Toksook with a story headlined ” Weather whiplash: Alaska is off to a frigid start in 2020 after record warm 2019.”

It reported that “‘The Last Frontier’ has recently endured some of its coldest weather in eight years, with temperatures crashing as low as minus-60 in some spots,” but was careful to point out that “the intensity of the cold is tamer than it was several decades ago, which experts link to climate change.”

That’s true. Climate is determined by long term averages not wild, year-to-year variations in weather.

The latest projections on climate warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) call for a temperature rise in the Arctic “polar region,” the fastest warming part of the globe, of from 4 degrees in a “low emissions” scenario to almost 15 degrees in a “high emissions” scenario.

The low emission scenario would change Toksook averages to 21 degrees in December, 14 degrees in January, and 19 degrees in December. That’s still significantly colder than in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, which posts December-February means of 24.8, 23.1 and 26.6. 

The worst-case scenario could, however, significantly change temperatures in Toksook Bay with the average rising to 32 in December, 25 in January and 30 in February.  Thus if the worst-case scenario were to come to pass, the temperatures in Toksook Bay some 80 years from now could be near what the Alaska Climate Center reports as the norms for Seward today: 33.6, 31.8 and 33.4.

Seward still has snow and winter, and the IPCC isn’t talking about this worst-case scenario happing in a decade – if it happens – but in eight decades.

Hype breeds skepticism

The reporting in the NPR story can only be described as hype.  When reporters go looking for quotes from average citizens – instead of consulting records or talking to professionals – that’s usually what they are after.

Always can be found someone who remembers a winter colder or warmer, wetter or drier, with less snow or with more snow. Memories are highly fallible even when people aren’t telling a reporter what they think the reporter wants to hear, or being led to the reaction the reporters desires.

NPR wanted a global warming story linked to the census, and it got one. It could simply have been an accident. The past couple winters in Alaska have been unusually warm, complicating travel on ice roads or by snowmachine in rural areas as NPR observes.

The problem is that though Alaska this year had an exceptionally warm fall, the winter swung the other way. It’s a cold one. Reporting that a cold one is a warm one is the sort of thing that breeds public distrust of the media.

It is an especially big problem when it comes to reporting on global warming.

“Compared with a decade ago, more Americans today say protecting the environment and dealing with global climate change should be top priorities for the president and Congress,” the PEW Research Center reported in April.

But the support for acting on climate change remained well below a majority at 44 percent and had actually fallen since 2018.

With almost 60 percent of those polled also saying they thought climate change was affecting their community but only 44 percent worried about it, it’s hard not to wonder if some people – especially those in the northern tier states – actually like the warming. (They would, of course, be subject to stoning for actually admitting this.)

Given a majority (56 percent) of Americans opposed to the country taking climate actions, it is also hard to avoid wondering if the media’s climate-change agenda isn’t doing more harm than good. When people are freezing their butts off in Alaska while reading about how there are no ice roads for the census takers, it might be hard for them to avoid becoming skeptical of climate-changing reporting at the least and possibly global warming in general.

But the fact is the air surrounding the third-rock from the sun is warming. And the probability is high that humans, who’ve pulled a lot of stored carbon out of the ground and released it into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide – a so-called greenhouse gas – are wholly or partially responsible.

Where things get sticky is in trying to figure out how high the temperature goes and what the consequences. Maybe it would be better to just be honest with people about these things than to try to lead them to conclusions by stirring a moral panic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 replies »

  1. Good article. Given that there are almost a hundred conservative think tanks spewing out misinformation on Climate change, Bots on twitter giving the impression that the climate denial movement is much bigger than it is, media who’s only aim is to grab your attention and sell advertising and confirmation bias that allows you to only accept information that already fits in with your pre-existing belief system and values, it is no wonder that people are either strongly for or against anthropogenic climate change. Unfortunately pointing this out has no effect and some people will continue to believe Climate change is a conspiracy put out by the UN or some secret sinister conspiracy. I have come to accept that you can’t fix humans.

    • No, but you can sometimes convince them to take reasonable and responsible actions. Weaning ourselves from fossil fuels, a limited energy source, would be one such action. But the reasonable and responsible thing we can do for the future has been lost in the religious war between the believers and the non-believers.

      • Craig, I would counter that it’s become a religious conflict between the believers and non-believers due to two very powerful factors: the fact that the media has been allowed to operate as it has for so long without being called out on their blatant pattern of lies, and the fact that realistic concerns about the environment are being weaponized by the left for ultimate political gain by people who wish to install a total double standard for us all to live by. Think a multi-millionaire like Bernie Sanders who is a wealthy communist who lives like a rockstar, has been a ward of the state longer than I’ve been alive accomplishing nothing and has the balls to call people richer than himself “grotesque” simply to stoke the fires of class warfare.

        Many of us who love our planet and have a deep concern for the futures of our children have simply been pushed too far and lied to too much.

    • This story is about a decidedly liberal publication pushing a demonstrable lie, and that’s your takeaway, Sean? “Teh evil conservatives!” Personally, my own takeaway is that the liberals who control the vast majority of the news available for our consumption have literally ruined the profession with their dual attitude of “facts are malleable” and “the ends justify the means.”

  2. I hope Don Young and his staffers read this article. They will get a chuckle. Look at the massive log truck that came down 350 miles plus of ice road. A record ice road, thanks to a recent weather that’s been as cold as ever in Alaska. Shows how out of touch with Alaska NPR and Galvin are.

  3. NPR, or National Propaganda Radio, has not been a legitimate news source for sometime now. Just look at their corporate sponsors & their biased reporting. They will not stray very far from their handlers narrative.

      • Please go find an example of outright lying and fake news fabrication from Fox on par with that of the NPR story referenced in this article. You might not agree with their bias, but they’re a damn sight straighter than any other news agency you can name.

      • Jason,
        You did just say down below that the masses “believe anything they see on the telly, read on the web or hear screeched at them in University.”
        So, you personally make an exception for Fox News? They must “speak” to you in some way?
        Luckily, your doctor and dentist did listen while “screeched” at the University.
        Apparently you have chosen not to attend college?
        We are all biased, my point was that Fox News is heavily sponsored by corporate backers (many of whom are fossil fuel giants who are heavily invested in the fight against Climate Change)…this is the truth no matter what your own biases are.

      • Weak deflection there, Steve. All media outlets are subjected to the whims of their sponsors, and singling out Fox for it is ridiculous. Like I said, find me the story of such egregious lying twaddle from Fox on par with NPR’s, then we’ll continue. Adding insult to injury, not only is NPR a mouthpiece for it’s sponsors, too, it’s highly partisan bias is also heavily funded by tax payer dollars which I personally find sickening.

      • Steve S., those “fossil fuel giants” are not invested in “Climate Change” because they believe in it. It is all the placate the mentally deranged liberal who sue them daily basically for nothing. It is the Left/Democrats doing what they do best – tie up the court system with baseless lawsuits. So, please do not put a lot of weight in your example. They know the whole Global Warming thing is a scam.

      • Bryan,
        I said: “many of whom are fossil fuel giants who are heavily invested in the fight against Climate Change”.
        Exxon Mobil is a prime example of this.
        Fox News and Exxon Mobil have had a symbiotic relationship for the last decade…ever since Fox News started there News App’s online.
        “Fox News’ iPad app was sponsored exclusively by ExxonMobil, a corporation known for paying think tanks to obfuscate the scientific consensus on climate change…
        Now FoxNews.com’s “Planet Earth” section is also brought to you by the oil giant:
        Fox News’ iPad app was sponsored exclusively by ExxonMobil, a corporation known for paying think tanks to obfuscate the scientific consensus on climate change.
        Now FoxNews.com’s “Planet Earth” section is also brought to you by the oil giant:
        In fact, FoxNews.com’s entire Science & Technology section and their opinion page appear to be sponsored by ExxonMobil…”

        https://thinkprogress.org/at-fox-news-planet-earth-is-sponsored-by-exxonmobil-a89be1199b59/

  4. My skepticism of media began one day, during pipeline construction, watching a network news report about the Alaska pipeline, I believe the correspondent was Jack Anderson. Not sure. Can’t find the video.
    The story was about all the corruption, stolen pipe and double or triple cost over runs that he found. Can’t remember the exact details.
    I had a job that required driving the Richardson highway frequently at that time and I observed the construction. I knew this report was completely wrong yet it was broadcast as serious news by one of the big 3 networks.
    I’ve rarely looked at a news story without skepticism since then.
    It’s amazing how often my initial skepticism turns out to be warranted within a few weeks or months as more information becomes available.
    This applies all to frequently to “Science” news. So many published scientific conclusions later turn out to be wrong.

  5. There are anthropogenic global warming alarmist stories being pumped out on a daily basis that claim without doubt that everything bad is man’s fault.

    Just in the last week I’ve read that if planes fly 2,000 feet higher then they will form less contrails which will help reduce warming by these contrail clouds by 60%, which makes sense because clouds trap heat. Science has shown that our magnetic field is shifting and weakening and when that happens low clouds form more readily causing more warming.

    Just in the last week I’ve read that that methane is now being considered as the cause of anthropogenic global warming because there is more now in the atmosphere than there was during the little ice age and so obviously this extra atmospheric methane was caused by the industrial revolution, instead of doing science the conclusion was announced before any other sources were even considered. It is good that methane is being considered since it has a much much larger greenhouse effect than atmospheric carbon.

    Just in the last month I’ve read that we now need to log more to build buildings since sequestering carbon in lumber is better than using carbon extensive steel and concrete. Depending on which source you pick steel in buildings contributes about 11% of all greenhouse gases while cement and concrete manufacturing contribute another 8% of all greenhouse gases, some even claim for every ton of concrete half a ton of carbon is emitted and two tons of carbon for every ton of steel. So what was the scourge of the earth for the passed few decades (logging) is now good for the earth.

    Just about three months ago I’ve read that freshwater lakes contribute up to 25% of all atmospheric carbon, and that volcanoes have been grossly underestimated as to their constant carbon production, so much so that they have quadrupled the estimated production in the last few years and acknowledge that the quadrupling is more than likely a vast underestimation still.

    The point is that most of what we are fed as news is boiled down to talking points developed to form a predetermined narrative. Science tells us that we don’t know what is causing the current minor climatic warming, the news tells us that man is bad and is causing it but it does so using pieces of information cherry picked to support the conclusion that was arrived at before the science has even been done. If you were to do a Google search for the causes of greenhouse gases you will quickly find that there are more causes for atmospheric carbon than there is atmospheric carbon, the math just doesn’t add up.

    When people can be used to support a cause and they are asked for their unquestioned and unwavering faith nothing bad ever came from that, right?

  6. The NPR story is a little snapshot of the entire problem with the “climate crisis.” Some valid concerns about the environment and a world that is indeed changing are being weaponized (read: blown up with outright lies) and used ruthlessly by those who stand to gain billions in revenue, the prestige of their guilt peddling peers and the harnessing of society to a double standard where the elite can further scoop the cream from the efforts of the working class who are being inexorably turned into slaves for their pleasure.

    Climate change is the perfect vehicle for gaining greater control over the unwashed masses who will pretty much believe anything they see on the telly, read on the web or hear screeched at them in University.

  7. “Free rides die hard” That was the motto back in the late 80’s in Alaska when the flow and price of oil fell and the state couldn’t fill everyone’s wants.
    Climate changes is as good a hook for Lisa and Don as any to bring in more federal funding to the state to pay our bills.
    No ice, too much ice whatever it takes, bring on more federal funding. Alaskans will survive.

  8. Here is a hint, don’t believe the guy who stands to make trillions of dollars off the biggest scam (Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Crisis, whatever it is called today) in the history of the planet.

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