Dis­sent dwin­dles on cli­mate change

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Kim Hjelm­gaard Hjelm­gaard is a Berlin-based cor­re­spon­dent for USA TO­DAY.

I have yet to no­tice the bal­anc­ing qual­i­fiers so preva­lent in the cli­mate cov­er­age of the past. Bal­ance is not bal­ance if it’s sim­ply wrong.

Pres­i­dent Obama, Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. But they don’t dif­fer on this: Hu­mankind is warm­ing the planet, and we need to do some­thing about it.

As for cli­mate sci­en­tists, it’s not too much to say that vir­tu­ally all of them are on board with the idea that man-made fos­sil fu­els caused by burn­ing coal, oil and gas are heat­ing planet Earth.

It wasn’t ever thus, this over­whelm­ing feel­ing that those who would deny man’s in­flu­ence on ris­ing tem­per­a­tures are sim­ply wrong and not part of the con­ver­sa­tion, whether in the ne­go­ti­at­ing rooms at Le Bourget, where United Na­tions cli­mate talks are tak­ing place through Dec. 11, or the wider de­bate around the world.

In Copen­hagen in 2009, the last time world lead­ers con­gre­gated on this scale — 150 of them were in Le Bourget on Mon­day, a record out­side the U.N. As­sem­bly in New York — to try to forge a global plan to limit green­house gas emis­sions, the “de­niers” were hardly a ma­jor­ity. They were on the mar­gins. But they still loomed large over the pro­ceed­ings in a way that fil­tered down to how the event was por­trayed by the in­ter­na­tional news me­dia, my­self in­cluded.

I re­call making the jour­nal­is­tic ef­fort to in­ject “bal­ance” into the sto­ries I wrote by point­edly stat­ing that there were in­di­vid­u­als and groups that dis­puted the hu­man con­tri­bu­tion to cli- mate change. They were vastly out­num­bered and out­gunned, but the dis­sent seemed to de­serve some recog­ni­tion in the in­ter­est of jour­nal­is­tic bal­ance.

About a month be­fore the sum­mit in Copen­hagen, the Cli­mate Re­search Unit email con­tro­versy, or in­evitably “Cli­mate­gate,” con­cen­trated the minds of th­ese dis­senters.

A cadre of de­niers had hacked into a data­base be­long­ing to Bri­tain’s Univer­sity of East Anglia and claimed to have un­cov­ered ev­i­dence show­ing that some sci­en­tists made up data to prove global warm­ing ex­isted. That ev­i­dence never fully ma­te­ri­al­ized, but the al­leged rev­e­la­tion cast a mini-shadow over those talks, at least in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion.

It’s early days for the twoweek con­fer­ence in Paris, but it seems ob­vi­ous that six years and a lot of hand-wring­ing later, cli­mate change skep­ti­cism has been fur­ther rel­e­gated to the shad­ows. The ev­i­dence, sci­en­tists agree, is that clear.

Un­less, of course, you are one of the lead­ing con­tenders for the Repub­li­can Party’s nom­i­na­tion to be the next pres­i­dent of the United States. “I con­sider it to be not a big prob­lem at all,” front-run­ner Don­ald Trump has said. Ben Car­son, an­other top can­di­date, has said, “There is no over­whelm­ing science that the things that are go­ing on are man-caused and not nat­u­rally caused.”

Still, this time around, I have yet to no­tice the bal­anc­ing qual­i­fiers so preva­lent in the cli­mate cov­er­age of the past. Bal­ance is not bal­ance if it’s sim­ply wrong. It’s faux bal­ance.

The global sci­en­tific com­mu­nity says hu­man-fu­eled cli­mate change ex­ists. The world’s gov­ern­ments say it ex­ists. The case seems clear, and de­ci­sive.

Al­though not to ev­ery­one. One group is show­cas­ing its global warm­ing doubt­ing wares in Le Bourget’s ex­hi­bi­tion halls. The Com­mit­tee for a Con­struc­tive Tomorrow, or CFACT, will de­but this week in Paris a doc­u­men­tary called Cli­mate Hustle, billed ( by CFACT) as the most im­por­tant take on cli­mate change since Al Gore’s An In­con­ve­nient Truth in 2006. David Roth­bard, the film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, also the pres­i­dent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, says in a news release that the doc­u­men­tary “de­bunks the (global warm­ing) scare and clears the way for a re­turn to sound science and ra­tio­nal de­bate.”

In the face of near una­nim­ity from sci­en­tists and world lead­ers, his is a lonely cru­sade.

JIM WATSON, AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Pres­i­dent Obama talks with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi at the U.N. con­fer­ence on cli­mate change.

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