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Lo and behold, thanks to Reuters breaking the embargo on early publication, we learn that sea level rise and glacier losses are going to feature in the second part of the IPCC AR4, when it’s content is approved for publication and the press briefing goes out at the end of this week.

The article, by Alister Doyle, is a peculiar mish-mash of the familiar and the speculative and does not represent the height of journalistic achievement, in my modest view. Starting with arguably the most ‘alarming’ (in the sense that it is nearest in real time) finding, that Himalayan glaciers could lose 80% of their mass by 2030 (I’d want to look at what that particular paper actually says…), the article goes on to list a variety of ‘problems’, none of which are likely to be a surprise to savvy climate science watchers.

What Doyle also does is to conflate by implication the dates for disasters. By starting with the 2030 date, then following on with other ‘disaster’ scenarios, the thought is seeded that the timeline is comparable for these. This may well catch the unwary reader, but no climate science enthusiast is going to be fooled. He also manages to incorporate a (rather ambiguous) quotation which uses the ill-advised term ‘catastrophic’ – grist to the journalist’s mill, I’m afraid.

But it is after this that the article becomes increasingly peculiar. Having just alerted us to effects of climate change which are already quite well-known, the article goes on to compare several locations which may see benefits from ‘2-3C of warming’ – on a short time scale. Blithely ignoring the commentators who point out that benefits from warming in the short term would soon enough be replaced by problems for these locations, too, that article seems to be pointing the reader to a ‘balance’; benefits will compensate for losses in the ‘GW lottery’.

When you follow the links to related articles at the bottom of Reuters’ page, you’ll find a follow-up article by Doyle on the ‘GW Winners’. This second piece is, if anything, even less informative or accurate than the first, highlighting as it does the possible positive benefits of a modest increase in temperatures, without cashing out the longer term implications or knock-on effects.

Apart from the quality of the evidence provided which, on the face of it, contains nothing that hasn’t been generally available for some time, the purpose of these articles needs to be challenged. Are Reuters trying to change the angle at which they sit on the fence? It seems that, from the generic media position of suggesting a meaningful debate in climate science between sceptics and ‘consensus scientists’ which hasn’t in truth existed for many years, we now get the alternative ‘balance’ of ‘catastrophes’ versus ‘benefits’.

As well as breaching the embargo (thus giving us no opportunity to compare the article’s content to the actual report), this pair of articles from an important international news agency also stands to perpetuate the existing procrastination about action on climate change. ‘Look’, the sceptic says (especially if he is Canadian or Russian), ‘a little warming is going to be fine, let’s not get all het up about it.’ For several reasons, then, Alister Doyle should be hanging his head in shame.

For fans of ping-pong, in the meantime, there is a lively inter-blog match going on between Prometheus and the Rabett on the validity of Hansen’s recent sea level discussions, particularly in relation to the joint statement arising from a recent conference at Austin, Texas. The impression I get is that Prometheus is going out of its way to undermine Hansen, whilst Uncle Eli is going out of his way to show that the Boulder bunch are mixing up a storm in a tea-cup. Visits to both blogs (links above) recommended.

Edit: Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit hard on Reuters: They are all at it. A quick browse of the ‘Today’s breaking news’ linkĀ  on Tiempo climate newswatch (link above), shows similar leaks from most of the major agencies and several specialist climate and environment websites.


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April 2007