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Time to World: Run!
Scripps Howard News Service


April 04, 2006

Whatever you do, don't tell the editors at Time magazine there's this giant volcano sitting under Yellowstone National Park and that, one of these days, it could erupt, causing massive destruction to the North American continent.

True, some scientists say nothing indicates trouble in the next several hundred years or so, but some highly persuasive scientific analysis also says global warming is likely no large or immediate danger. That fact did not keep Time from warning readers on its cover to "BE WORRIED. BE VERY WORRIED," and any reassurances about Yellowstone likely would not keep them from a headline saying: "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, AMERICANS. YELLOWSTONE IS GOING TO BLOW!"

It's not the best possible journalism when a (decreasingly) influential national magazine hyperventilates on a topic that really could do with some calm, cool reflection. There are some scientists shouting warnings about warming, yes. There are also sensible criticisms of what they say. Time's writers really should have eliminated the yakety yak about consensus of science, understanding that the most extreme predictions are highly speculative and far from being unanimous and that consensus is not the stuff of decent science, anyway.

What counts in science is evidence and careful deduction, some of which tell us that the most plausible rate of warming over the next century will allow for adjustment and that, even if the burning of fossil fuels turn out to be the chief cause, we will find avenues of rescue. The surest thing in this tussle is that the Kyoto treaty signed by 162 nations is not the answer to anything. Time magazine lapsed into utter stupidity when it wrote that it is "an imperfect accord, to be sure, but an accord all the same," implying it was on balance worthwhile.

A not-so-minor imperfection is that, even if the alarmists are right in every single one of their assumptions, Kyoto would retard warming -not stop it - by only a slight amount over the next century, while simultaneously cutting off economic growth that feeds bellies with food, minds with learning and bodies with health.

Not so surprisingly, many of those who yell loudest about this issue are as silent as stones when it comes to nuclear energy, which would be a crucial part of the answer if greenhouse gases are the major problem. Nuclear energy creates no greenhouse gasses and would be many times as effective as emission controls that could lead to recessions and worse. President Bush, castigated by the alarmists as if he were Satan incarnate, has incorporated nuclear energy along with a push for technological innovation as part of his administration's program, and is also dickering with China and India, conspicuous by their absence in the Kyoto joke.

Bush-bashing leftists - and also some ordinary citizens who have the lesser fault of believing too much of what they read - probably haven't the slightest idea that many of the Kyoto signatories in Europe have had far less success at achieving emission goals established in the treaty than the United States under Bush, described by Time as "intransigent."

Anyone can sign a treaty and pretend to sacrifice for the sake of humanity while actually doing nothing. What's startling is how the mere act of being a signatory wins praise from some alarmists who simultaneously engage in vicious, ad hominem attacks on skeptical researchers whose only sin is pursuing the soundest possible analysis.

Repeatedly, the skeptics have said alarmist calculations of the rate of warming are wrong, and noted why; that alarmist fears of melting ice caps are wrong, and noted why; that alarmist shrieks about more intense hurricanes caused by warming are wrong, and noted why - and the answers have been ... what? Too often, just name-calling.

Journalism, meanwhile, is not always the help you might hope it would be, often skimming the surface on scientific issues, emphasizing what's frightening instead of reassuring and trying harder to play the role of savior instead of truth-teller. It's fine and even a duty to issue warnings when justified, but making sure of the justification is crucial, and something Time didn't do in this recent outing.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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