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Green Journalism

Selling carbon offset schemes, promoting enviro-Bibles, and stressing extreme outcomes -- all business as usual for the Society of Environmental Journalists.

By 10.16.08

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The Society of Environmental Journalists conducts its annual conference this week in Roanoke, Va., and the best thing that can be said about it is that this bunch won't be on the beat somewhere trying to report something -- especially about global warming.

But then again these journalists couldn't call it that since the planet's mean surface temperature has not increased over the last eleven years. Instead they've adopted the catchall identifier used by their fellow alarmism activists: "climate change." It's all over SEJ's web page for members, which they call "A guide to the information and disinformation." This is allegedly where they tell their members how to do a fair and balanced job.

Timothy Wheeler, president of SEJ and a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, not long ago accused me of slandering his organization's members (scroll down to comments) because I called them objectivity-challenged. His defense:

There is no ideological litmus test to join SEJ; our members are varied and independent. Your allegation that SEJ members do unbalanced reporting links to the climate reporting guide posted on our Web site at www.sej.org. That guide does advise reporters to use care in evaluating skeptics' claims, and does discuss funding of some.

However, if you care to look further, you will see that we also advise reporters to beware of hype and exaggeration from environmental groups, and to use similar care. And we include a link to activistcash.com, which any reporter so inclined can use to track the funding of environmental groups and others.

I decided to accept Wheeler's challenge and stroll through SEJ's online guide to climate change reporting and see if it aligns with his assertions. Won't you join me?

SEJ's "simple introductions" section seems a good place to start. One of the half-dozen resources it cites is the "Rough Guide to Climate Change," written by Robert Henson. SEJ says Henson has "worked hard [I assume it saw the sweat on his brow] to produce a complete, unbiased and understandable approach to the subject."

But if you click on its link to this resource, the advice is more "rough" than unbiased -- toward humans, at least. "Climate change is a serious threat to the ecosystems that humans rely upon," the Rough Guide website says, "and air travel is the fastest-growing contributor to the problem." Readers are therefore urged to buy carbon offsets through Rough Guide's business partner, "Climate Care," which it admits is a "carbon offsets scheme." Nothing inspires confidence in balanced journalism like admonitions to buy sponsors' products, does it?


THE NEXT EXHIBIT worthy of our attention is SEJ's assertion that the 2001 report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is "the Bible on climate science." If true, knowing the mainstream media's understanding of religion, then that would make it more of a Bible than the Bible itself. In that light, we can compare statements of certainty from God's Word such as Jesus' claim that "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" to hedging such as this from the IPCC report:

Ideally, internal climate variability would be estimated from instrumental observations, but a number of problems make this difficult. The instrumental record is short relative to the 30 to 50 year time-scales that are of interest for detection and attribution of climate change, particularly for variables in the free atmosphere.…the accuracy of this record is limited by incomplete knowledge of the forcings and by the accuracy of the climate model used to estimate the response.

Well, if the "Bible on climate science" said it, then I believe it, and that settles it!

Let's sample one more resource from SEJ's online authority for global warming reporters. How about the cage match between crisis believers and the naysayers? Well, SEJ identifies the alarm-sounders innocuously as "Environmentalist Groups," while they call their opponents "Skeptics and Contrarians." Sort of like the popular kids versus the geeks and freaks. SEJ also notes financial and political affiliations of the few climate dissenters they list, but fails to do so in descriptions of environmentalist groups, who are well funded by large foundations with left-wing socialist agendas.

Oh, SEJ does offer a offer a disclaimer about fully trusting these eco-groups, here in part:

Some groups do a better job than others in acknowledging there are still uncertainties about some of the science, but many -- in the interests of prompting action -- tend to stress only the most extreme outcomes [emphasis mine] among the range of possible impacts.

This sounds familiar to me...oh yes, I remember where I've seen this practice before -- in SEJ President Wheeler's last article I read in the Baltimore Sun, where he led with this:

Look for balmier winters and blistering summers in the decades to come. Enjoy the colorful fall foliage in Western Maryland -- while you can. And unless circumstances change, prepare to see a different mix of plants, trees and birds by the end of the century, worsening dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, and for the state that some call "America in miniature" to get dramatically smaller as rising waters push the shoreline inland. So says a group of scientists who have compiled the first comprehensive assessment of how Maryland could be altered by global climate change….

Selling carbon offset schemes, promoting enviro-Bibles, and stressing extreme outcomes: How could I ever question the professionalism of the Society of Environmental Journalists and their leader? Take your time in Roanoke, comrades -- no need to hurry back.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.