Monday, February 20, 2006

Do You Buy It?

If you watched 60 Minutes.. as I did.. last night, you were treated to a story, reported by Scott Pelley, entitled A Global Warning. Pelley's piece asserts that the Arctic ice cap is melting. More importantly, it indicates there's nothing that humans can do to stop it. Among other things, the story attributed the problem to greenhouse gases. It said that the polar bear population is likely to go extinct because they can only hunt seals on glacial ice surfaces. Also, by the end of the century sea level will likely rise by three feet worldwide. And, if that's not enough, hurricanes and cyclones will continue to be intensified by the rise in ocean temperature. Of course, it cites the latest in scientific evidence, and opinion based on it, in drawing these conclusions. The text of the report is found at ...if you missed it.

Well, how's that for gloom and doom? Apparently, my eventual grandchildren had better think about putting their houses on stilts if they choose to live anywhere close to sea level. I'm all for finding alternatives to fossil fuels. Yes, to environmentally friendly...when it makes sense...ways of doing business. I'd vote for saving polar bears from extinction. And, who would relish the idea of more hurricanes like Katrina?

After watching the report, I was left with one question. Did Pelley, the scientists, and 60 Minutes get it right?

The expert most prominent in Pelley's piece is a man named Bob Correll, (actually, Dr. Robert W. Correll) who Pelley reports is "among the world's most prominent authorities on climate change." Correll is chairman of a group of 300 scientists from eight nations that comprise the Arctic Council and International Arctic Science Committee, and who commissioned the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Correll is a Senior Fellow with the American Meteorological Society. In Pelley's report, Dr. Correll was not equivocal in any way when he stated that no matter what happens with regard to global use of fossil fuels, the Arctic ice mass will continue to melt and all of the above mentioned consequences are likely to happen. No matter what?

That type of assertion from a person touted as an expert is staggering, but always brings me back to the phrase..."follow the money".

If there is an Arctic Council, and an International Arctic Science Committee, and who knows how many other councils and committees devoted to an international problem of this magnitude, who is getting paid to do what...and say what? Who would lose income if these councils and committees went out of business? How many study grants and government-funded university weather research programs would go dark if there was no perceived global climate doomsday ahead? If they were to determine that Arctic warming was just a product of global weather cycles, how many professors and scientists would suddnely lose a job? How many bureaucratic paper-pushers would be out of work without the weather hand-wringing?

But then, would it make sense for one of these highly-regarded scientists to say that the problem was beyond the scope of human control if it wasn't? Wouldn't that effectively work to minimize the problem and the amount of money thrown at it? Why would Correll seemingly sabotage the effort to change coporate and political minds regarding fossil fuel usage, and possibly eliminate more study and weather research with such an assertion?

That's why, to me, Dr. Correll's statement that the Arctic ice mass will eventually melt no matter what is the most interesting part of Pelley's report. Other "gloom-and-doomers" have warned in the past that we had "better do this"....or "this, that, and the other will eventually happen". What is Bob Correll's motivation? Is he looking beyond the melting of the Arctic ice and hoping that changes now might eventually...(hundreds of years from now?)...restore order to the planet? Is he using the national stage to be the one who said "I told you so" when future journalists look back to see who had it right in 2006? Or, does he feel only guilt will motivate real behavioral change in the masses? Or, is he just being as honest as we'd like someone to be when put in that position? Whatever the motivation, he is certainly taking a different approach than others have in the past.

CBS, 60 Minutes, and it's reporting team have rightfully gained a reputation as a left-leaning, self-important organization bent on being an instrument of social, and political, change. As much as anything, that should give us cause to question Pelley's report, and how the final copy and edit was decided upon. But, having been in the news business myself for a number of years, the facts presented, and the opinions offered by the scientists, in A Global Warning were, in my opinion, sobering and sincerely impactful. There seemed to be a legitimate effort to present the information from a people perspective...not a political one. Credit was even given to the Bush administration's heavy financial commitment to environmental studies and efforts to fund alternative fuel programs, even though it was said that the White House declined an interview for the piece.

I suppose I've presented more questions than answers. I'm not sure there are answers. But, the one question we all have to answer is....Do we, as humans, have as much impact on this planet, and it's weather, as we think we do? Or, more importantly, as Bob Correll thinks we do.

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