Magazine article Insight on the News

Reporters Cry Wolf about Environment

Magazine article Insight on the News

Reporters Cry Wolf about Environment

Article excerpt

One of the peculiarities of environmental apocalypse is how little willingness there is to check the facts surrounding stories about science and technology.

As a result, the good news is that we all get a few chuckles, like when major TV networks unflinchingly reported on the pregnant man of the Philippines. Another mirthful moment occurred when it turned out that those sheep in South America, supposedly blinded by the ultraviolet radiation from the ozone hole, in fact were suffering from pinkeye, an ailment cured by said radiation. The bad news is that environmental reporting has become so poor that no one takes it seriously anymore.

When each passing fancy is played as curtains, and yet the world goes on, people eventually catch on that something must be wrong with the Armageddon story. Churches used to do a pretty good job of telling us the end was near, but when they couldn't produce it we switched to environmentalists for gloom and doom.

But folks are beginning to figure this out. If we were in California, we might say that the people are getting "apocalypse fatigue": They now recognize that the best bet is to go short on apocalypse futures. After all, we're here, not dead from global warming, global cooling, acid rain, deforestation, too much salt in our diet, too little, or oat bran colic. Further, if the apocalypse is real, who's going to be around to collect bets?

The latest alarming story, with profoundly little fact-checking, came from Reuters on Oct. 13. Here's the core:

"On Oct. 4, when the ozone layer was critically thin and the sky clear, UV radiation reaching Punta Arenas [Chile] increased 200 percent over August levels, said Professor Claudio Cassicia of the University of Magallanes." Earlier reports quoted government authorities in neighboring Argentina as advising citizens against sunbathing in the Patagonia region between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Perhaps Reuters should have checked Paul Lydolph's The Climate of the Earth, a standard college text, to see how much radiation normally falls on the latitude of Punta Arenas, or 55 south. In August, as the Southern Hemisphere is just emerging from the depth of its winter, the normal amount of radiation hittting the surface is approximately 4 mega-joules per day. This is very little energy. At today's energy conversion efficiencies, a solar panel of several square feet would be required to turn the August rays hitting Punta Arenas into enough energy to light a room in the incandescent manner to which we have become accustomed. …

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