Truth About Global Warming
The Heat is On: The High Stakes Battle Over Earth's Threatened
Addison Wesley, 1997, 278 pp, $31.50, ISBN 0-201-13295-8
Reviewed by Barry Zwicker
At least three meanings can be taken from the title of this book.
First that global climate change is underway, documented, and threatens
catastrophe. It's not in the future, not a theory, and not "just
another environmental problem."
Second, the pressure - whether they and we know it - is on societies,
governments, industries, organizations and each of us to dramatically
reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. No organization
or individual is powerless in this.
Third, the media's feet are to the fire in this, as spelled out
especially in "The Battle for the Control of Reality,"
the second chapter of this eight-chapter book.
Author Ross Gelbspan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 31-year veteran
of daily journalism. He has covered environmental affairs on and
off for the past 25 years. His December 1995 cover story on climate
change for Harper's was nominated for a National Magazine
The disturbing ecological situation:
A - Geological records prove that massive climate events
have always been triggered by an increase of just a few (three to
four) degrees Celsius in the average global temperature.
B - The increase underway is man-made. Our "fingerprint"
shows up first during the massive industrialization for World War
C - The rate of increase is exponential. Example: Antarctic
ice sheet - which reflects sunlight - thins, recedes, breaks. Dark
matter - which absorbs and reflects heat - is exposed. Melting of
remaining ice quickens. Ditto for glaciers, oceans, ecosystem. The
end of the process is a "snap."
"In the last 70,000 years
," Gelbspan writes, "the
earth's climate has snapped - abruptly and dramatically - into radically
different temperature regimes. 'Our results suggest that the present
climate system is very delicately poised,' said Scott Lehman, a
researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, announcing
findings in 1993. 'The system could snap suddenly
with an abruptness
that is scary. It's a strong non-linear response
D - The outcomes are in general totally predictable. They
include more flooding (the Saguenay and Manitoba floods are a foretaste),
more forest fires (witness the Northern Ontario fires), more droughts
(which would hit breadbaskets), more and deadlier hurricanes, tornadoes
and typhoons (which could bankrupt the insurance industry), blizzards,
killer frosts and the spread of infectious diseases. The submergence
of New York, large coastal areas, countries below sea level such
as the Netherlands, whole island nations, and the creation of environmental
Many people - developing their notions of reality unduly from mainstream
media - think scientists are divided about whether global climate
change is upon us, whether it's man-made or natural, and the effects.
And indeed, scientists are divided. They are, that is, if you consider
"divided" as meaning, on the one side, virtually all the
world's 2,500 climate scientists, all the relevant scientific organizations
and all the relevant scientific journals, and on the other side
a dozen "greenhouse skeptics" hand-picked and heavily
funded by the fossil fuel industry.
With daily revenues of $2-billion, this industry has virtually
unlimited funds to invest in protecting its planet-killing turf.
Their dirty dozen "greenhouse skeptics" are their mouthpieces
on Capitol Hill, in various forums and in the media. Their lines
are: [a] Global warming doesn't exist. [b] But if it exists, it
isn't man-made (that is, due to burning fossil fuels). [c] And if
it does exist and is man-made, it's good for us.
In the battle for reality some traditional weapons of mainstream
journalism cause self-inflicted wounds. The pursuit of "both
sides of the story," combined with a predilection for "he
said, she said" adversarial reportage, make media sitting ducks
to advance the fossil fuel agenda.
"The tiny group of dissenting scientists," Gelbspan writes,
"(has) been given prominent public visibility and congressional
influence out of all proportion to their standing in the scientific
They have used this platform to pound widely amplified
drumbeats of doubt about climate change. These doubts are repeated
in virtually every climate-related story in every newspaper and
every TV and radio news outlet
Their documented strategy is to "reposition" the debate
as to whether there's a problem. The industry has generally succeeded
in making this the false focus. This focus could not be maintained
were it not for the media's lack of proper homework. "These
dozen or so dissidents - contradicting the consensus view held by
2,500 of the world's top climate scientists - have
discussion about how to address the problem," Gelbspan writes.
"The facts of global warming are being denied with a disinformation
campaign as ferocious as any in history. A major battle is underway:
In order to survive economically, the biggest enterprise in human
history - the worldwide oil and coal industry - is at war with the
ability of the planet to sustain civilization. The trillion-dollar-a-year
coal and oil industry is pitted against the oceans, forests, ice
caps and mountains of the earth as we know them today." That
industry would rather profit from the last drop of oil being burned
than join in the massive transformation required if we are to save
It wouldn't take much for journalists to start reporting this story
the way it deserves to be reported, says Gelbspan in a personal
interview. "Take a scientist to lunch, look at the evidence
of extreme climate events. If a paper ran a couple of stories a
week, it would help enable the shift in public opinion needed to
turn the situation around."
The day I write this CBC's Ideas runs 20 minutes on warming trends
in Canada's North. It reports our political leaders have accomplished
very little, almost nothing, to reach voluntary targets to reduce
emissions. The same day I receive a copy of The Canadian Environmental
BusinessLetter. It contains a report that the over-quoted Fraser
Institute has become the only Canadian foundation to link with a
coalition of 17 U.S. private enterprise "wise-use" institutes
called Earth Day Alternatives (EDA). Their purpose is to promote
"virtually unbridled resource exploitation," the BusinessLetter
Gelbspan describes the "wise-use" movement as "virulently
anti-environment." The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy
and Research, based in Washington, D.C., quotes the EDA as stating
"global warming may be only the latest in a series of environmental
The fate of the earth has not yet become a fit subject for page
one except in rare cases. During the first and second world wars,
war news was page one news every day. In this war - the war on our
planet by us - the fate of the earth is dealt with in a fragmented,
inside-page and occasional way. That is not the way to win a war.
But "our" lifestyle - that is, the lifestyle of North
American journalists - includes fossil fuel-powered internal combustion
engine vehicles. Our jobs include rolling out "Wheels"
sections every week. We're a poor choice as motivated soldiers,
too much conflict of perceived interest. It's amazing how many of
us are joining the battle, each in her or his way.
For more information on The Canadian Environmental BusinessLetter
contact editor Alison McNeill (416) 597-1616, ext. 266 or E-mail
her at firstname.lastname@example.org and for other contacts see "Global
Climate Change" in the Sources subject index.
Barrie Zwicker is publisher of Sources and Vision TV's
resident media critic. A two-segment interview with Ross Gelbspan
will be aired on Vision's weeknight human affairs program "Skylight"
(7 p.m. Eastern and Pacific) in the 1997-98 TV season.
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