The Week That Was October 26-November 1, 1997
October 26-November 1, 1997

In the wake of last week's deadlock in Bonn over how much and how quickly to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the European Union has decided to send eco-reps to Washington this coming Tuesday to try to convince President Bill Clinton to make his already un-scientifically-founded position on global warming and emissions limits even more so.

In the meantime, the gamesmanship is fascinating to watch. Professional eco-activists are haggling over whether to consider nuclear power as an option, since it can readily provide electricity to a large part of the population, obviously emits no greenhouse gases, and dismissing it out of hand makes them appear irrational and unreasonable. Energy and technology corporations--including some oil companies--are fighting over whether to back energy controls, since the tradeoffs being offered by the Clinton Administration may prove profitable in the long run. Some print journalists are at odds with their readers over the "reality" of global warming, and getting clobbered as a result. Governments are jostling each other over who will have the political and economic edge when the dust settles.

Ironically, the only ones not in this debate are scientists. Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth declared the science "settled" and the lawyers and bureaucrats got busy formulating policy. But to remind government that environmental policy is supposed to be based on something more tangible that bureaucratic decree, last week SEPP President S. Fred Singer called on the Clinton Administration to bring its climate experts to the table to debate the science of global warming at a public forum here in Washington, D.C. (See the press release, Physicist S. Fred Singer Challenges Government Scientists to a Public Debate on Global Warming, posted on the SEPP web site). Letters have been sent to members of Congress asking them to promote such a debate. We are waiting for a response.

The "process," of course, rolls on. With the Kyoto Conference getting closer, E-wire reports that the International Institute for Sustainable Development will be providing journalists with a 24-hour, on-line Earth Negotiation Bulletin, described as "an independent reporting service." E-wire also notes that this service is being financially supported by governments of the Netherlands, the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Austria, and the European Community. Nevertheless it contends that this will be a "neutral source of information."

In the meantime, the journal Science has just published a paper in which scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of New Hampshire claim that the frequently occurring weather phenomenon known as El Niño creates a burst of plant growth, resulting in increased CO2 absorption and possibly mediating at least part of any enhanced greenhouse effect. Go figure.

Fred Singer is off to Europe again, participating in a conference in Athens, speaking to an Austrian parliamentary group in Vienna, and giving talks in Bonn and at the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg. He will be in Kyoto for part of the final deliberations.

(By the way, Singer's book "Global Warming: Unfinished Business" was retitled when it got to the publisher and is now called "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate." It's just out. See the press release posted on the SEPP web site for information on how to get a copy.)

In Monaco, frequent-flyer miles won the day as the International Whaling Commission agreed to seriously consider Ireland's proposal to allow commercial whaling in coastal areas in exchange for creating a general "sanctuary" for whales on the high seas. The move preserved the IWC, some of whose members had threatened to walk out over its attempt to maintain its 11-year-old commercial whaling moratorium at all costs.

In eastern Europe, Greenpeace activists, who saw the handwriting on the wall and abandoned the whaling issue earlier this year, have been having an even tougher go of it protesting nuclear power plants. After repeatedly getting beaten up in recent months for staging noisy, on-site demonstrations, they tried to be a bit less confrontational in Bratislava, Slovakia. The results were no better. According to Environment News Service, Greenpeace activists were standing on a public road projecting slides onto the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant cooling tower when they were attacked by what ENS describes as "special antiterrorist commandoes." The "commandoes" broke up the slide projection equipment, slightly injuring two activists in the process.

In California, the Democrat-controlled state legislature voted to overhaul the state's Endangered Species Act--a move prompted by a number of absurd and costly applications of the ESA, most recently the creation of a California preserve for the Delhi Sand Fly at a cost of $4.5 million. (Is that a native species?)

In Washington, the Republican National Committee, still looking at single-issue poll numbers, is encouraging Republican politicians to adopt greener-than-thou rhetoric in hopes of improving the GOP's image on the environment. Republican Leadership often seems to want to climb on a bandwagon just as others are getting off.

State climatologists, for example. In October, a survey commissioned by the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation asked state climatologists if they agreed with President Bill Clinton's claim that global warming is no longer a theory but a fact and that there is ample evidence that human activities are already disrupting the global climate. Only 36 percent said yes, 58 percent said no.

The media, for example. A survey of the three major U.S. television networks, conducted by the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, reveals that in 1990 environmental issues made up 2.74 percent of the broadcast news stories, making it the 9th most popular topic. By last year, however, coverage of environmental issues had decreased by two-thirds to .86 of the total, and had dropped out of the top 10 altogether.

Since 1993, crime has been the most covered issue, health issues have moved up from 6th to 2nd (though we suspect the public is near the saturation point there too), and new to the chart is the federal budget and entertainment.

Environment Writer, a publication of the Washington-based Environmental Health Center and generally a promoter of activist journalism, reported the above result in its September issue with some dismay. Said EW editor Bud Ward: "The numbers are in bright contrast to predictions at the beginning of the decade that environmental issues--in the wake of the end of the Cold War and given the presumed influence of Vice President Gore--could become the story of the 90s."

Said Ward, environmental reporters are now engaging in "some old-fashioned soul searching. Their numbers and their column inches and air minutes are down....In their own newsrooms, they still shoulder the burden, as one wizened veteran put it, of 'greens with press passes'....Their industry is in turmoil" and, for the Society of Environmental Journalists, he said, "The 'clean money' pool...may be drying up or at least shrinking."

Ward said the concern over "clean money" has been prompted, to a large extent, by public criticism from Detroit News reporter Diane Katz. In a Wall Street Journal column (The Press's Ignominious Role," Aug. 20, 1997), Katz charged members of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation with complicity in promoting the "environmental endocrine/hormone disrupters" scare. Katz noted that the SEJ and RTNDF had each accepted $50,000 from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, whose vice president had been a co-author and major funder of Our Stolen Future, the book that gave rise to the hormone disrupter scare. The SEJ replied in a letter that such charges were a "cheap shot," said Ward, but some environmental journalists nevertheless took it to heart. Apparently those who freely apply the "follow the money" prescription to others get anxious when the tables are turned.

Wrapping up: hats off to readers of the Wall Street Journal, where the good sense on the editorial page is sometimes at odds with the reporting on page 1. Journal staff writer Alan Murray made the mistake on October 13 of writing that "global warming isn't just a fear; it's a fact." On October 29, the Journal editorial page printed 9 letters in response--all of them clobbering Murray on his poor understanding of the science.

And finally, we make special mention of the action taken last week by TV weathercasters in Ohio. Outraged at the Clinton Administration's blatant attempt to enlist TV meteorologists in a campaign to promote global warming, these weathercasters contacted The Science & Environmental Policy Project two weeks ago for a copy of the Leipzig Declaration. On October 30th, a dozen of these meteorologists from television stations all over the state of Ohio, publicly signed the Declaration at a press conference in Cleveland. The signing was aired by all three local network affiliates and the story went out over the Associated Press Newswire.

Too often we've seen scientists silenced by supervisors or, in some cases, drummed out of their jobs for bucking the party line on issues like acid rain, ozone depletion, and global warming. The action taken by these TV weathercasters, it goes without saying, took guts.

We hope to have more details of the signing and a list of the signatories later in the week.

Go to the Week That Was Index