Climate-change deniers get too much help from Post story

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Feb. 15 front-page article "Missteps weigh on agenda for climate" was infuriating, a perfect example of why so many Americans still don't believe in the coming crisis of global climate change. Read closely, your article was technically accurate, but the language and placement of information gave the impression that the overwhelming scientific consensus on global climate change might be in danger.

On the all-important front-page segment of the article -- after which many people stop reading -- we learned that "recent revelations . . . are undermining confidence" in the 2007 report of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

These errors "are a serious problem" cited by two senators who are blocking legislation to impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Even the disclaimer that there is still "a scientific consensus about climate change" implied that the consensus might be tottering.

What are these recent shocking revelations? Buried on Page A4 are:

-- An obvious typographical error in the report -- that Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035, rather than 2350.

-- Attributing to a climate advocacy group the claim that up to 40 percent of Amazonian forests could react drastically to a slight reduction in precipitation. In fact, the claim was made by a respected climatologist, whom the advocacy group appropriately cited. -- The IPCC's erroneous claim that 55 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level. The figure included land that's above sea level but at risk of flooding. But the reference was only in a background note and hardly challenged the science of global climate change.

The IPCC report runs to four volumes and thousands of footnotes. A typo, an inappropriate source and a mistake that's irrelevant to any important argument are the evidence that The Post provides as support for the critics.

The real focus should have been on how climate-change deniers rely on bits of irrelevant information to distort the "debate" on a threat that is as near to certainty as science gets.

This kind of journalism is one of the reasons that less than a quarter of Americans "strongly believe" the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is harmful and is caused by humans.

David Hilfiker, Washington

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