Changing climates

Changing climates

Having it both ways: News Corp’s climate paradox

AAP/Anthony Powell

Something strange was happening in the arctic city of Norilsk last week. In an unprecendented heatwave, Siberians discovered the highs of 32C sunbaking in a city that is capable of -60C. The city is 300km north of the Arctic Circle near the coastline and is built on permafrost, but has been hit with what local media call a “heavenly mystery” – the sun.

The continuing record sea surface temperatures in the Arctic Circle have not helped the situation, as even stranger wildfires also began to burn in the Siberian Taiga forest.

Meanwhile, in Australia, hard news on climate change was looking for something much cooler. Only two days after the Press Council handed down its ruling on the IPCC AR5 reporting bungle that The Australian newspaper had been caught up in, The Australian was at it again with a story misreporting a science paper on deep ocean temperatures.

The story, again by environment editor Graham Lloyd, seized upon a paper by oceanographer Carl Wunsch investigating deep ocean cooling and gave the impression that global ocean temperatures were in a state of general cooling, which is patently not the case.

A few days later, on July 27, the oceanographer concerned even had to publish a note pointing to the misrepresentation. When there is just so much hard news demonstrating the dangerous warming signals that are ubiquitous now, it is truly sad to see this reporting, especially on the heels of The Australian having to apologise for its last mistake.

But, to its credit, The Australian did publish a joint statement on July 28 from the oceanographer and his co-author, which spelled out clearly:

We never assert that global warming and warming of the oceans are not occurring – we do find an ocean warming, particularly in the upper regions. Contrary to the implications of Lloyd’s article, parts of the deep ocean are warming, parts are cooling, and although the global abyssal average is negative, the value is tiny in a global warming context.

The Australian is also to be commended for publishing a lengthy Press Council adjudication last week, in which it determined that on the headline of Graham Lloyd’s article on September 16 last year, “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”, was a misrepresentation of the IPCC.

The statement also notes that a letter by respected Australian climatologist Professor David Karoly, which corrected the errors of Lloyd’s article:

… should have prompted it to investigate the matter and then publish the correction in the newspaper more promptly.

The Press Council:

… considers that the gravity of the erroneous claim, and its repetition without qualification in the editorial, required a correction which was more substantial, and much more prominent.

But while “the Council welcomes the acknowledgements of error and expressions of regret which the publication eventually made to it” the adjudication says that:

… they should have been made very much earlier, and made directly to the publication’s readers in a frank and specific manner.

In the latest instance of misreporting by Lloyd, The Australian has acted quickly in correcting it. But could The Australian go further and show remorse for its doubt-mongering by refusing to publish denialist letters in line with the policy of the LA Times?

Given that News Corp is looking likely to dominate more than 80% of Australia’s newspaper market, it is in its own self-interest to prove itself as a good journalistic citizen in the self-regulatory framework of the Australian Press Council.

It remains to be seen whether Lloyd will publish a correction to his own article. The research he has drawn attention to is interesting and raises a lot of questions that could feature in an investigative report. For example, to what extent does above-sea level ice melt in the Antarctic plunge into the abyss before currents do their long-term work in mixing upper and lower ocean levels?

These are questions that Rupert Murdoch might want to look into himself. He has observed the paradox of Arctic retreat and Antarctic growth – at least of sea ice. In a recent interview, he remarked:

At the moment the North Pole is melting but the South Pole is getting bigger. Things are happening.

It is more likely that the Antarctic phenomena, the expansion of a thin layer of sea ice being caused by the glacial melt, will be one of the few remaining areas for climate sceptics to pick on. The sea ice is easily refrozen, as fresh water has a higher freezing point than salt water, and is at the mercy of the intensified polar winds of the southern winter.

However, such growth is rarely linked to the much larger phenomenon of glacial and ice sheet collapse – but it does bring the cold mass of the Antarctic closer to population areas, and can feed much colder winters for Australia as a result.

But the other paradox to consider here is why News Corp newspapers bother with selling doubt around the science of climate change given their own organisation is doing a great deal to reduce its own carbon footprint. Several years ago, Murdoch’s view on climate change was very different, pronouncing in 2007 that “climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats” and that we “can’t afford the risk of inaction”.

Murdoch also declared it a mission for News Corp to become carbon neutral, much to the chagrin of Liberal senator Bill Heffernan here in Australia last month. But back in 2007, Murdoch had a vision:

We can set an example, and we can reach our audiences. Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours … That’s the carbon footprint we want to conquer.

But while News Corp has been matching these words within its own corporate culture, the opposite is true for the content of its media. Fox News in the US has a reputation for being a leader in climate change denial, as The Australian newspaper and the News Corp tabloids have here. It comes out most in the opinion pages, but with hard news, the empirical reality is leaving the Murdoch empire very far behind as the carbon footprint of its audience continues to grow.