Goodnight, Irene

Goodnight, Irene

There was something faintly amusing about the rash of media reporters roaming the empty wet and windy streets of New York and Long Island last weekend. While directors back at base repeatedly ran the same shot of the wooden shed being tossed by waves off Long Island, for the frontline reporters, it must have felt like somebody had, quite literally, stolen their broadcasting thunder.

But the fact that a severe weather event had threatened the very capital of capitalism was not an opportunity to be spurned. Whether the media over-hyped the approaching menace or not is for others to decide. But as the upcoming weather ‘event’ was downgraded to a tropical storm, for quite a few in the mass media, if it was not to be apocalypse now, it could at least be the harbinger of climate apocalypse…er…sometime soon (again).

The perfect climate hype storm really took off last Thursday (August 25) with Bill McKibben’s (ultimately) bogus alarmist story in The Daily BeastGlobal Warming’s heavy Cost“. “Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming”, stated McKibben. Juxtaposing the seemingly mutually exclusive words ‘tropical’ and ‘snow’ for effect, McKibben noted that “a lot of people are wondering: what’s a ‘tropical’ storm doing heading for the snow belt”. “Category 3 storms have rarely hit Long Island since the 1800s”, intoned McKibben. What made Irene different, according to the intrepid McKibben, was the fact that “while high-altitude wind may help knock the storm down a little this year … the ocean temperatures won’t”. Unfortunately (for McKibben, not New Yorkers) only a Category 1 tropical storm actually made landfall along the Hudson, so something ‘knocked it down’ a whole lot.

By Saturday (August 27) the radically leftwing Arianna Rag (Huffington Post) was on the case. Reporter Lynne Peeples duly interviewed NRDC senior scientist Kim Knowlton, who told her, “No one is going to point to Irene and say this is climate change. But we can say that we are seeing the fingerprint of climate change this year.” Is it me? Or is there something wrong with the intellectual link between those sentences? The doubty Peeples attempts to clear the apparent confusion by making the connection between Irene and the “millions of Americans, many of whom have never seen a real tropical storm in their lifetime” who (at time of her writing) “are facing a major hurricane.”

Unfortunately for Peeples, in the actual event, the “millions of Americans” who actually “saw” Irene as a hurricane last week, mostly south of New York State, had “seen” one before; meanwhile, “millions” in the region of New York City who Peeples maintained had not seen a hurricane “in their lifetime”, did not see one on this occasion either, given its eventual status.

By Sunday (August 28) leftwing The New Yorker was stoking its own The Day After Tomorrow fiery warnings via ‘Hurricane Irene and Global Warming: A Glimpse of the Future?‘ Kolbert suggested that whenever “there’s an Irene-like event – a huge storm, a terrible flood, a killer heatwave – the question is raised: was this caused by global warming?” She adds, “The very frequency with which this question is raised these days should make people take notice.” But, empirically speaking, how precisely does Irene, a hurricane ‘event’, link with a “killer heatwave”? Kolbert doesn’t tell us. Neither has she apparently noticed that it is only the historically uninformed raising the question, not the actual media audience.

Not to be outdone, “Seeing Irene as a harbinger of a change in climate” could only have been written by a New York Times sub editor thoroughly tuned into the paper’s impeccable climate alarmist credentials, given the nuanced substance of the article itself.

If Messrs McKibben, Kolbert and Peeples, had bothered to do their research and put facts before speculation, or even simply checked Wikipedia – as Global Warming.org’s Marlo Lewis did – they might have learned something. As Lewis points out the fact that “hurricanes have hit New York since before the industrial revolution” and notes that there were “6 before 1800; 23 from 1800 to 1899; 11 from 1900 to 1949; 15 from 1950 to 1974; 21 from 1975 to 1999; and 18 from 2000 to the present (including Irene).”

For good measure, Lewis states: “Lest anyone see a ‘fingerprint of climate change’ in the larger number of hurricanes affecting New York since 1975, 16 were ‘remnants of tropical storms’. In contrast, only one ‘remnant’ is identified for 1950-1974 and none is identified for 1900-1949.”

There is something deeply deplorable about the standard of much mainstream environmental journalism and its growing inability to keep weather facts and climate speculation apart. Above all, much of the mass media now performs a grotesquely diverting disservice for their audiences.

Bret Stephens noted in ‘Misjudging Irene‘ in Tuesday’s WSJ, while weather and climate are always predictably affected by countless “variables”, what is more predictable is the media “bias toward alarm”. He noted there was no getting away from the fact that reporting on Irene was overly New York-centric which, “inhibited our understanding of where the real danger lurked: not in major cities, but in remote (and poorer) communities”. Stephens was referring to one of the hardest-hit of all north-western regions: Vermont.

Making a Factiva search of the 50 top newspapers in the five days leading up to the storm’s arrival along the north-east coast, Stephens found that, “only two stories mentioned Vermont’s potential exposure” at all. While “Philadelphia, the hardest-hit major metropolitan area, [got] 94 stories … New York City got 347″. And Stephens makes a final, largely missed, vital point. “The great clich’e of our age is that the march of civilization…invites nature’s terrible blowback. The reality is”, says Stephens, “that nature’s toll invariably recedes whenever wealth and technology advance. Would that all the world were as safe from nature’s fury as New York.” Good point, and one strongly allied to how Irene has brought to light the importance of how (hydrocarbon) energy fuelled technological society is able to keep us safe from the fury nature is able to unleash.

Weather facts, however, are facts. Eric Blake, hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center near Miami, states the reality plainly enough, “There’s nothing new about a hurricane hitting the Northeast”. Not plainly enough, it seems, for parts of an ideologically committed media. Perhaps the definitive quote this past week however, comes from Joe Bastardi, Chief Meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics: “It’s not Global Warming. It is nature doing what nature does.”

I wonder what the people of Vermont might have preferred: Endless speculative climate theories from self-regarding, ill-informed ideological hacks, or, just plain old factual, well-researched articles warning about the imminent threat to life and property from journalists with the best interests of their audience at heart? You call it.

© 2013 Energy Tribune

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