November 10, 2005

Fox Goes Native On Global Warming

Filed under: Arctic

Forget “Fair and Balanced” on global warming. Fox News has gone native, airing a “documentary” more one-sided than anything I have seen in the entire sad history of climate change journalism.

How on earth did this happen? Apparently Fox’s Roger Ailes has been captured by—hope you are sitting down—Robert F Kennedy Jr., Al Gore, and eco-activist Laurie David.

The story goes like this. Kennedy dragged Ailes to a global warming lecture by Al Gore. Ailes was impressed, and then contacted David, who helped line up Weston Productions, which can now claim to produce environmental propaganda for both Greenpeace and Fox News.

Laurie David is the head of She’s a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council. She’s the wife of comic Larry David. She has no formal academic training whatsoever in hard climate science. She’s never published a paper on climate science in the refereed scientific literature. Despite this, Ailes is on record saying that she is one of the nation’s “leading authorities” on global warming, and speaking of her “impressive passion and dedication” to the subject.

In science, passion is poison, it serves no one when it blinds one to inconvenient facts.

The Fox documentary features Alaska, where there is considerable footage from Glacier Bay National Park, in the southeastern part of the state. The glaciers there have been in recession ever since John Muir publicized them in the 19th Century.

Thanks to gold and salmon, there are some pretty good long-term temperature histories from the region: Annette Island, Sitka, Juneau, and Yakutat. Averaging up these stations back to 1880 (and, noting that the records have some gaps, and the Annette record only begins in 1940) reveals that there is no net temperature trend whatsoever.

Southeast Alaska Temperatures

The annual temperature history of Southeastern Alaska (the average of observations taken at Annette Island, Sitka, Juneau, and Yakutat, whenever available) shows no long-term trend.

Statewide, Alaskan temperatures also show no trend whatsoever since the mid-1970s. That’s three decades, and the era in which there should have been the greatest changes because of carbon dioxide emissions. There is a jump in temperature that takes place in 1976. It’s well known in the climate literature, and is called the “Great Pacific Climate Shift.” No computer model for human-induced global warming has ever simulated this feature.

The real problem with the Fox show is that it is profoundly juvenile climate science. Fox Reporter Richard Folbaum thinks this is news: “After months of research and interviews with experts, I’ve learned this simple fact: The earth is heating up. And it’s happening much faster than ever before. No one can argue with this.”

The first sentence is hardly news. Averaged across the globe, the planet has warmed about eight-tenths of a degree (C) in the last 100 years. And humans have something to do with it.

Something, but not everything.

There are two periods of warming in the last century, of roughly equal magnitude. The first one was from 1910 to 1940. That was before humans had changed the atmosphere much at all. It was especially strong in the Arctic. The second, beginning in the mid-1970s (note that it skipped Alaska) has a human component that is evident from the correspondence between global warming theory and the geographical distribution of temperature change.

The second sentence is totally indefensible. Around the boundaries of the ice ages (which is where we still are), temperatures are known to go on some pretty wild excursions.

In 2001, Feng Sheng Hu wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that there have been two other periods in Alaska in the last 2,000 years that have been as warm as the current era. And just last year D. Kaufmann wrote in Quaternary Science Reviews that Alaska was about 2°C warmer than today for the period 9,000 to 11,000 years ago, a time when humans were getting settled there. It’s not just “fair and balanced” to report that; it’s the truth.

Further if Fox were really interested in the whole story, it would have noted that the reality of global warming tells us much about the future, and that the future is hardly dire.

We have spent billions of taxpayer dollars constructing various computer models of climate change. They predict different rates of warming, but they share a common behavior, which is that once human-induced warming is established, it takes place at a constant rate. So, all one has to do in order to estimate future warming is to know how fast it is warming now.

Indeed, since the human warming appeared some 30-35 years ago, the rate of global temperature rise has been remarkably constant. It works out to about the same amount of warming in the next fifty years that was experienced in the last century, or in the range of three-quarters of a degree (C).

But that’s hardly gloom and doom, because we lived well and prospered for the last 100 years. That is not going to change overnight for a warming rate that is really of the same order of magnitude.

None of these things will appear on television. Instead, we’ll see a “documentary” produced by the same people who do the propaganda for Greenpeace, guided by an environmental activist from Hollywood.


Hu, F.S., et al., 2001. Pronounced climatic variations in Alaska during the last two millennia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98, 10552-10556.

Kaufman, D.S., et al., 2004. Holocene thermal maximum in the western Arctic (0-180ºW). Quaternary Science Reviews, 23, 529-560.

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