Many outlets are reporting, Scientists Reveal There Are 3 Trillion Trees in the World in Latest Count. This is important because it is over seven times higher than the last global count (or estimate). It’s interesting and it is an indication of just how hard it is to study and understand the entire Earth. My PhD dissertation was focused on a really complicated model of the atmosphere that was 2.5 dimensions. It had height and latitude, but longitudinally, it just had land or ocean — that was the half-dimension. But what I’m interested in here is how the news was reported.
I was listening to NPR — the show The World. They are partly a production of the BBC, and so they get their news updates from the BBC. The little 30 second story said (more or less — I can’t find the transcript online), “This doesn’t affect global warming, but it does give policy makers more information.” I was impressed because it simply presented global warming as a fact. And I wondered how it would be presented in the mainstream American media. Some outlets, like The Los Angeles Times have taken a stand on the issue. But for most, it is still just a “matter of opinion.” Pretty much the entire scientific community thinks one thing and some oil companies with billions of dollars of profits on the line say another. Who can determine which side is right?!
I expect that mainstream American media outlets would have reported this story differently, “This new estimate will cause those on both sides of the global warming debate to claim that they are right.” Note the total equivalence there. If the two sides were equally valid, that would absolutely show no bias either way. It would also be a vacuous statement, because it isn’t really true. But the main point is that it would be presented in a way that highlighted the two sides as somehow equal.
The conservative press will look at it differently, I suspect. It will claim that it shows that scientists don’t really know what is going on in the world. “They can’t even count trees, how can they know that the Earth is getting hotter?!” Of course, determining the number of trees is actually a hell of a lot harder than measuring the temperature all over the world. Temperature is a contiguous distribution. Trees and treed areas are discrete. So you can look at two temperatures separated a mile apart and have a very good idea of what the temperature is at every spot between them. That’s not at all true of trees.
But this isn’t about science. And it isn’t really about what the global warming deniers say. The issue is that our media — with notable exceptions — treats the global warming deniers as if they were just one side of the debate. The BBC story showed that it doesn’t need to be that way. The truth is that fewer people accept global warming now than when I was activity studying it 20 years ago. And the reason for that is that the oil companies and other moneyed interests got together and produced a bunch of science-like nonsense that we see constantly coming out of The Heartland Institute. But they could have done that forever and no one would have cared, if the media had treated their “propaganda as science” with the derision that it deserved. But they didn’t.
On one hand, it is cheering to know that coverage of global warming in other countries is more reasonable. But on the other hand, it is depressing to know that if the power elite can twist the truth into knots here, it can do it anywhere. And most concerning of all: it can do it wherever it is most important to do it.