The Royal Society report: what the papers say
September 2, 2009, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Geoengineering

Decided I would immerse myself in the British press this morning in order to see what impact yesterday’s Royal Society geoengineering report had, and how it ranked against what else is going on out there. Besides, it’s good to actually look at all the papers once in a while, so as to know what’s going on in the national psyche.

The FT has climate on the front page, but it’s a report on activists targetting the Royal Bank of Scotland for its financing of oil and gas projects. Fiona Harvey’s report on page 4 plays up the negative aspects of the report under a somewhat over-dramatic headline: “Hopes dashed for geo-engineering solutions“. On the next page she and Kathrin Hille have a startling piece on Chinese estimates of the cost of emissions reduction, which a new report from the People’s University of Beijing puts at $438 billion a year by 2030. The same report says that for emissions to peak by 2030 much of these costs will have to be met from overseas, and that halving emissions by 2050 isn’t on the cards. This seems to me a pretty strong news story, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

The Sun has 2 paras of geoengineering on page 2: “Shield to save us”. One mistake in this — the society did not recommend a £100m world fund for the work. Can’t find the piece online. “Wills’ bid to save the Earth” gets 5 paras and a pic on page 21 — Prince William is opening the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre later this month, apparently. In other news there’s a terrific picture of a 747 dousing the Station fires in LA, a scandal over attacks on vegetables in Torquay headlined “The Vegilantes”, the excellent Stu Clark warning of the dangers of a coronal mass ejection pegged to the 150th anniversary of the Carrington Event (good work fella), a great many lightbulb jokes scattered through the paper (pegged to new regulations banning incandescent 100W bulbs, I guess) and an editorial praising social workers. Who knew? The Mirror, meanwhile, has two thirds of a page: “Global Warming? We’ll be all white!” This is mostly pictures of world landmarks (the pyramids, Angel of the North, Kremlin, Empire State Building, Clock Tower at Westminster and the Golden Gate Bridge) photoshopped into whiteness: geddit? Snark apart, the story by Mike Swain is pretty much spot on, though it doesn’t mention that painting buildings white comes more or less at the foot of the report’s list. I can understand that: there aren’t many illustration options, so undercutting the one you have thought up would be dumb.

I can’t find any report in the Daily Express; in terms of climate there is a large op-ed on the expected shortfall in UK energy supply, following up something splashed on the front page of the Telegraph yesterday (and which was a cover package at The Economist a month ago). There’s also pretty much direct steal from yesterday’s Telegraph on the fact that you can still buy 100W incandescent bulbs if they’re for industrial use (the Telegraph had this at the top of the front yesterday, “Beat the Bulb Ban”). And there are all  the stories getting ink elsewhere. Today’s more or less obligatory news seems to be Demi Moore’s degree of plastic surgery, Katie Price talking about having been raped, the Antioch nastiness, retrospectives on wartime evacuation of children from London 70 years on, the Megrahi compassionate release, the murder of Stacey Lawrence, something about Gordon Ramsey, a woman with cancer who was sacked by email, and so on. The Mail also has a near-full page op-ed on the lights going out in 2017, or whatever, this time by never-knowingly-out-frothed-at-the-mouth Christopher Booker. There’s a little on the Royal Society report on p25, which includes the line “All the proposals could have dangerous unintended consequences”. That is indeed an impression you could have got at the event yesterday, but the report doesn’t seem to me to bear it out: direct air carbon capture doesn’t, I think have any identified dangerous consequences. The version on page, without byline, is a cut back version of David Debyshire’s better piece online. This comes garnished with a great many comments, almost all from global-warming-is-a-scam people. How happy this must make Christopher Brooker. The Mail also has the Torquay vegetables story, by the way, again under a Vegilantes headline (so did the Mirror).

The Telegraph has half a page of climate (and as the only remaining broadsheet, other than the FT, that’s a fair amount) divided between five stories. The geoengineering one is short, and stresses the possibilities more than the risks, though it has both. On the same page we have some more activists (this time with no clothes on), more bloody light-bulb news, a report on the new 10:10 campaign seeking to get people to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 — a pretty straight and fair piece considering that The Guardian is playing a big role in the campaign — and a commentary by Geoff Lean endorsing it (online his colleague James Delingpole takes a predictably different line). There’s also an op-ed by Irwin Stelzer on the 2017 powercuts, which generously admits that “this is not the place to argue whether the data support the warming thesis” (presumably the right place would be chez Delingpole, or in the comment threads, or some similar slough of ignorance). Over at The Guardian, which had the 10:10 campaign on its front page and all through its daily G2 supplement yesterday, the campaign is front page news again today (“Guilty greens admit they could do more“) and has an op ed and two spreads inside (!), on one of which there’s room for a piece by Alok Jha on the Royal Society report: “Scientists urge investment in geoengineering as safety net”. This too has the all-techniques-have-uncertainties-about-their-own-impacts line which I don’t think is true to the report’s conclusions on air-capture. Online, Brendan O’Neill invokes the geo-engineering report as a piece of good news in a scathing dissent from all the paper’s 10:10-ery,

The Times — which has the Torquay vegetables on the front fracking page, though with a vegicide headline not a vegilante one — has a fine piece by Ben Webster under the headline “Catch-22: save the planet, cause a global catastrophe” (unfair hed: catastrophes associated with cloud whitening, for example, are local/regional more than global). The Independent gives Steve Connor all of page 2 to do much the same thing. Like some other reports Steve  quotes Doug Parr of Greenpeace, who spoke at the launch event, being sceptical: “Geoengineering is creeping up on to the agenda because governments seem incapable of standing up to the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby, who will use it to undermine the emissions reduction we can do safely”. The Independent also, uniquely, has an editorial on the subject: responsible to think about such things, vital not to be side tracked.

That’s quite enough press rounding-up — though the experience of looking at all the main papers is a salutary one every now and then, if one can avoid Marcus-Brigstocke-alike paroxysms. I was planning to do overseas and online news sources and the blogosphere too, but time has got away from me and there is nothing that stands out as egregious that I have seen as yet.  It’s worth noting that David Keith and Ken Caldeira get quoted a fair bit (eg here in the Globe and Mail), which may be because their home institutions sent out their own press releases. It’s interesting that as far as I can see none of the papers mentioned the ETC group’s overdone pre-report condemnation, perhaps in part because it was fairly evident to anyone at the launch that Shepherd and his team aren’t “tricksters”, in part because a rebuttal launched beforehand in ignorance of what the report says carries relatively little weight.

Overall: nothing too wrong or misleading, a pretty consistent framing, but no evidence of great impact. That FT China story may live longer in my mind.

However, last but best, a frustrated rant on the topic  from the inimitable Wandering Gaia, next to whom I had the pleasure of sitting at the launch.

Update: Over at Nature News Geoff has a nice post on the wide variance in headlines in the reporting


1 Comment so far
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Hmmmm..geoengineering somewhat akin to curing the patient’s high fever by immersion in an ice bath? Will lower the temperature, no doubt, but not cure the fever’s reason. Result at best: prolonged agony before death. My own take is at http://cleanenergypundit.blogspot.com

Comment by L Michael Hohmann

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