WOOD TV 8 and Global Warming Skepticism

Over the past year, WOOD TV 8’s Chief Meteorologist Craig James has posted a number of blog entries on WOODTV.COM questioning the science on global warming. James frequently relies on industry-funded entities and advances the same confusion over science that industry groups have sought on global warming.

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On Sunday, Craig James–the Chief Meteorologist for the West Michigan television station WOOD TV 8–posted a blog entry on WOOD TV 8’s website titled “A Summary of My Position on AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming).” In the entry, James argues that there “are several possible causes for warming and cooling of the atmosphere on a global scale” and ultimately asserts that:

“It seems to me the argument that the current rise in CO2 is solely responsible for the changes we have seen over the past several decades ignores much of the historical record and places an unwarranted confidence in computer model forecasts, which those of us who forecast weather know all to well, are NOT reality. I do think I am open to being convinced otherwise, but as of yet, I haven’t seen the smoking gun that would do so.”

In his entry, James does acknowledge that “I am not doubting that humans have been responsible for an increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and that this CO2 increase may have contributed to some of the warming we have experienced.”

However, James’ most recent blog post on the topic of global warming must be seen in the overall context of what he has written. Since starting his blog back in January of this year, James has cast himself as WOOD TV 8’s resident “contrarian” on global warming (or “climate change”), arguing repeatedly on his blog that there is not a consensus in the scientific community about the science around global warming. Specifically, James has questioned the idea the accuracy of various computer models and temperature data, predications based on those models, and the extent to which warming is caused by humans. James has stated that:

“…there is a consensus I agree with and that is “the earth is currently getting warmer”. I fought the idea for awhile, but I don’t think there is now any question that we have even exceeded the warmth of the 1930s across the globe. The question still very much open to debate is how much of the warming has been caused by humans.”

And also said that:

“Let me reiterate, my skepticism does not exist over whether humans have caused warming, but whether the “markedly deficient” computer models can yet adequately represent the global conditions 100 years from now.”

And finally:

“I firmly believe what I have written before that much of the warming is natural and cyclical and the computer model forecasts are not to be believed.”

This argument has also been taken off the internet, with James recently asserting in the Grand Rapids Press that “the science is anything but settled whether carbon dioxide is to blame” for increased warming since the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, there is room for debate over the science pertaining global warming–and there are differences within the scientific community over the numbers. Much of the scientific community accepts the concept of global warming and that it is human-induced, although there has been debate over the extent of the problem (much of which has centered on whether “consensus” views are minimizing or overstating the problem). However, both of those strains accept the reality of human-induced global warming. However, on the other side of there debate there is a “global warming skepticism” that is often connected to industry groups and which has sought to create “confusion” over the science. Being up front that we are not climate scientists, meteorologists, or anything like that, it is not really possible for us to delve into the scientific basis of each of James’ claims. However, several interesting points did emerge when we considered his writing on the subject over the past eleven months, all of which ultimately lead to the larger question of whether or not having a global warming skeptic as Chief Meteorologist might color the station’s reporting on the issue?

First, it is interesting to note that it is common to see Craig James’ name posted around the Internet as a “skeptical” meteorologist on the issue of global warming. This no doubt stems from stems from James’ blog and his membership in and listing on the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project’s (ICECAP) website. The site was registered in 2006 by Joseph D’Aleo (whom James cites), a retired meteorologist who is also involved with the Science and Public Policy Institute. ICECAP promotes the views of global warming skeptics, many of whom argue along similar lines as Craig James in saying that the while human-induced factors may play a role in global warming, much of it has to do with the Earth’s natural cycles. ICECAP’s website featured James’ “A Summary of My Position on AGW” on its front page. On each page of its blog, it links to a variety of websites promoting “skepticism” on global warming, including the Marshall Institute, Junkscience.com, and the Heartland Institute–some of which question the idea of global warming in its entirety. James has disclosed his involvement with ICECAP in a comment on his blog (not in the actual post):

“Another item needs a comment. Yes, I am listed as a member of International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project (ICECAP). I support the following statement as listed above the membership list:

Within the spirit of the first amendment, the following broadcast and private meteorologists support an objective consideration and an earnest and open discussion of all aspects of climate change.

If there is anyone here who can’t support that statement, you are wasting your time on this blog.”

Not surprisingly, James never discusses or discloses ICECAP’s ties to other entities with a history of global warming skepticism. Nor is his membership disclosed in a place that is easy for new readers of his blog to find, instead one would have to sort through all of his entries and comments.

It is worth noting that James has occasionally cited some troubling sources to prove his points. James has cited Frontiers of Freedom, the Science and Public Policy Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Two of the three–Frontiers of Freedom and the Heartland Institute have received funding from Exxon-Mobil. While this might cause one to question their independence, James has stated (again in a comment, not in the original entry):

“I do thank you for enabling me to win my bet that within a day someone would state that the Heartland Institute was a “right wing think thank”. So what! They didn’t do the survey. Two German scientists did and those two people weren’t the ones who answered the questions. Of the over 500 respondents to the survey, I’m sure their views range from far left to far right. So what! Evaluate what is said and not who says it. And, I would not be all all [sic] surprised that if another survey was done today, it would reveal even more skepticism. Consider that a Michael Chertoff type of “gut feeling”.

Despite this, he never confronts the larger issue with the Heartland Institute–that it has received funding from ExxonMobil–and that ExxonMobil has funded a network of organizations with the goal of creating “confusion” over global warming. It is worth noting that James’ writing has appeared on the Heartland Institute’s website.

In addition, some of the scientists that James has cited are connected to a variety of entities skeptical of global warming. These include Chris Landsea who has authored a report on hurricanes and global warming with Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger, both of whom have published several articles critical of global warming, and Roger Pielke. A letter written by sixty scientists in Canada has also been cited by James, without discussion of the connections that many of the scientists have to industry and entities skeptical of global warming. Many of the same scientists signed onto a 2006 letter arguing that there are problems with the science related to global warming and that consequently the Canadian government should rethink its plans to address the problem.

James has attacked consensus in the scientific community, despite reports from the IPCC that have stated that there is consensus on many issues pertaining to global warming. He has reacted with skepticism to the IPCC and used several posts to argue concerns over the IPCC’s data (1, 2). However beyond these criticisms of data, Craig has associated those expressing an opposing view with James’ apparently dreaded “liberals:”

“Ah, another fine example of people who call themselves liberal being the most close-minded people I know. Scientific evidence is neither republican nor democrat and for someone to assume I am of one party or the other is indeed putting his “ass” in front of “u” and “me”.”

James has criticized the National Wildlife Federation and further says that to the only way “to cut pollution by 80% by mid century” would be to “go back to living in caves.” No proof is offered for his claim, and in fact, there is never any real discussion on his blog about how to reduce the human-induced–which he admits exist–contributors to global warming.

Finally, James has also used his blog to criticize the media’s–both here in West Michigan and nationally–reporting on global warming, charging that it is occasionally nothing more than “biased propaganda” and “opinion.”

Like James’ concern over differences in science, there is certainly some truth to his attacks on the media, although he again turns towards a path friendly to industry. Whom does he hold up as an example of a courageous journalist? None other than ABC’s John Stossel:

“John Stossel is a breath of fresh air in the world of media hype. I can’t believe they have the courage to keep him on the air. Bravo for ABC.”

What James leaves out is that John Stossel has for years been incredibly friendly to industry and has a close relationship with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (who has received funding from ExxonMobil). Stossel is skeptical about global warming and has presented industry-funded scientists without disclosure on his show, and even claimed that global warming might be “a good thing.”

While there is certainly space for skepticism about the particulars of individual studies in the debate over global warming, James’ concerns often tend more towards the side of the debate that is connected to industry and is largely attempting to use concerns over science–sometimes legitimate and sometimes not–to create confusion over the issue. The ultimate goal would be that this confusion would limit government action and undercut science arguing that global warming is both human-induced and is a matter that demands serious and immediate attention.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org