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April 17, 2004

Adventures In Journalism: Historical Illiteracy

Polar Bears are going extinct! Alaska is sinking into the sea! The Inuit way of life is a thing of the past!

One could hardly draw any other conclusions after reading the latest in a long line of global warming scare stories from Reuters.

Native leaders say that salmon are increasingly susceptible to warm-water parasites and suffer from lesions and strange behavior. Salmon and moose meat have developed odd tastes and the marrow in moose bones is weirdly runny, they say.

Arctic pack ice is disappearing, making food scarce for sea animals and causing difficulties for the Natives who hunt them. It is feared that polar bears, to name one species, may disappear from the Northern hemisphere by mid-century.

The Inuit have been living in the arctic regions of North America for the last twelve thousand years. Polar bears have been doing the same for the last two hundred thousand years. Both have lived through numerous warm periods, the latest of which, the Medieval Warm, occurred less than a thousand years ago. Remember how Greenland got its name?

One might be tempted to put the above down to simple historical illiteracy on the part of Yereth Rosen, the author of the article, were it not also for this paragraph.

Still, to the frustration of Alaska Natives, many politicians in the lower 48 U.S. states deny that global warming is occurring or that a warmer climate could cause problems.

In stories like this, none of the "many politicians" are ever named--because almost no one denies global warming is occurring or that a warmer climate could cause problems. The actual debate on global warming is over its origin, not over its existence.

But to point that out would undermine the point of Rosen's article, which is not meant to inform but rather to frighten, and sway the audience towards a particular point of view. It's the same reason why the self-evident, for they are still here, successes of the Inuit and Polar bear at surviving earlier periods of even greater climate change are not mentioned. Yereth Rosen may or may not be completely ignorant when it comes to climate change, but for his (her?) article to succeed, the audience has to be.

Posted by Bigwig at April 17, 2004 11:45 AM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

> The actual debate on global warming is over its origin, not over its existence.

insert "and extent".

Posted by: David at April 18, 2004 04:53 PM

Blaming the current warming trend over the past 150 years on humans is like going to a theatre, seeing a split-second frame of a preview, and then claiming to know how the movie ends.

Posted by: Captain Holly at April 19, 2004 12:53 AM
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