April 03, 2008

Climate Change in Media: HT Reaches New Low

Two recent articles in Hindustan Times challenging human induced climate change raise questions about credibility of its reporting and integrity of its correspondent. It also raises a question for serious environmentalists on how to respond to such reports. (view updates)

Two days ago (Apr 1, 2008) Hindustan Times carried an article titled Climate change not as big a problem: report. Lest anyone should think it as an April Fool's joke, it was a completely serious piece based on real events. Today (Apr 3, 2008), the same correspondent published a report titled: 'Sun too causes global warming.'

Both articles are highly misleading, contain factual inaccuracies and at the very least deliberately hide widely known facts that counter its argument to paint a biased picture. In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to highlight the key issues raised by each of the stories.

Climate change not as big a problem: report [1]
by Chetan Chauhan | Page 14, HT New Delhi, Apr 1, 2008 | 353 words

Opening excerpt:
An international civil society report has debunked the claims of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saying there is no evidence available to show loss of human life directly due to climate change.

The report of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change [CSCCC], to be released in India on Tuesday, says there is no evidence to suggest climate change has caused an increase in diseases.

Highly Misleading

By pitting CSCCC [2] directly against IPCC [3], the article creates the impression that both organisations are of similar stature. Nothing could be further from the truth. IPCC is a Noble prize winning United Nations body made up of hundreds of scientists and governmental representatives while CSCCC is merely a coalition of so-called global "think tanks" - corporate lobbyists funded by big oil corporations, the likes of ExxonMobil, to further their interests.

The HT article makes no mention of the background of CSCCC - who comprises the coalition and how are they funded. Unlike IPCC, which was formed two decades ago, CSCCC was only organised a little more than an year back [4] by International Policy Network (IPN) which is a well known recipient of Exxon funding. IPN has received $390,000 from Exxon [5]. Several other members of the coalition have also been a beneficiary.

Paul Reiter, the expert cited in the article, for example, sits on the "Scientific and Economic Advisory Council" [6] of an organization called the "Annapolis Centre." What is Annapolis Centre? It's a US based "think tank" [7] that has pocketed $793,575 from ExxonMobil and has been very active in playing down the human contribution to global warming.

Reiter doesn't have anything too substantiative in his research papers [8] published in scientific peer reviewed journals to back his claims of lack of relationship between disease and climate change. It's unclear how many other claims of CSCCC report are backed by research in peer reviewed journals.

Yet, here's a newspaper that reaches out to a country of one billion, publishing unsubstantiated "research" of corporate lobbyists that have a direct financial interest in sensationalising their so-called findings; and pits them against a neutral, highly conservative group of scientists and government representatives whose work is completely based on pure scientific research published in peer-reviewed journals.

'Sun too causes global warming' [9]
by Chetan Chauhan | Page 17, HT New Delhi, Apr 3, 2008 | 327 words

Opening excerpt:
FRESH RESEARCH by Danish Space Research Centre can possibly give a new twist to the controversy whether Green House Gas emissions is the major contributor for global warming. The Center's research based on climate date [sic] of 150 years shows that varying activity of the Sun is the most systematic contributor to natural climate variations.

Completely Inaccurate

The article falsely states that new research claiming sun as the cause of global warming has now emerged and that it may alter the widely held belief in man-made global warming. Global warming skeptics have been arguing sun as the cause for several decades. In fact Danish Space Research Centre's (DNSC) Galactic Cosmic Ray theory itself is over 11 years old. [10] So it's absolutely false to imply that this is a new discovery that somehow challenges man made global warming.

Not only is it old research, it has also been debunked several times (see here, here, here, here and here). In July last year the prestigious Royal Society of UK published a study concluding that the Sun's output cannot be causing modern-day climate change. [11] To quote BBC News on it: Mike Lockwood's analysis appears to have put a large, probably fatal nail in this intriguing and elegant [Galactic Cosmic Ray] hypothesis. He said: "It might even have had a significant effect on pre-industrial climate; but you cannot apply it to what we're seeing now, because we're in a completely different ball game."

Mysteriously, the HT article quotes Deepak Lal, former Indian Foreign Service officer in support of the Galactic Cosmic Ray theory. How is Lal related with the Danish Space Research Centre is not mentioned in the article. I looked up his background. Among other things, Lal is the author of a little known book on globalisation called "In Praise of Empires." [12] More interestingly however, he is a Senior Fellow at the CATO institute. [13] What is CATO institute? You guessed it -- a US "think tank" funded by ExxonMobil. It has received $110,000 from Exxon. [14]

Questions about journalistic ethics and accountability

The two articles raise serious questions. Why did the Hindustan Times publish misleading, inaccurate, unsubstantiated and biased reports on climate change. Did the correspondent receive an incentive for publishing these from outside or is there an organisation wide effort to discredit opinion against climate change?

Those of us who understand the severity of this planetary emergency have watched every mention of this issue in mainstream Indian media with interest over the last year. Most of us can also recall a time prior to the release of the IPCC report when climate change was conspicuously absent from Indian media. The Stern report for example, which was hailed as a landmark event in UK (released at the end of Oct 2006), never found a mention in India's two main newspaper for months. This conspiracy of silence was broken only when the crescendo of international reporting on the issue reached mile-high by the time the IPCC report came out (Feb 2007).

Poor reporting is worse than no reporting. In this particular instance, it's hard to accept that this came out simply as a result of ignorance. Chetan Chauhan has been covering environmental issues for HT for some time and it's hard to imagine someone at that position being incapable of making a distinction between CSCCC and IPCC or being unable to conduct simple background checks through web searches prior to writing.

A bigger question for those of us who see through such reporting is: how do we address this problem. How do we respond to such reports to bring the truth to public attention. And how do we make the media accountable for what it writes or does not write.

On my part I plan to follow this post with a formal complaint to the Press Council of India unless HT issues a well-placed corrective article in the following days.

Notes and Links

This entry is also posted on Green-India mailing list and copied to the following:
    Chetan Chauhan, HT correspondent and writer of said articles
    Vir Sanghvi, Editorial Director Hindustan Times
    Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, Director-General TERI
    Sunita Narain, Director Centre for Science and Environment
    Malini Mehra, Founder & Director Centre for Social Markets


1 HT April 1, 2008: Climate change not as big a problem: report

2 Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change [2] (CSCCC) website

3 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Wikipedia

4 The CSCCC is organised by IPN according to this Wikipedia entry.

5 International Policy Network fact sheet on ExxonMobilSecrets.org

6 Paul Reiter on Science and Economic Advisory Council of The Annapolis Center

7 The Annapolis Center fact sheet on ExxonMobilSecrets.org

8 Reiter's research background on DeSmogBlog

9 HT, April 3, 2008: Sun too causes global warming

10 DNSC 1997 research papers on sun-Climate connection [PDF] and cosmic ray flux and global cloud cover [PDF]

11 BBC News on Royal Society study: 'No Sun link' to climate change

12 Deepak Lal's In Praise of Empires

13 Deepak Lal at CATO

14 CATO fact sheet on ExxonSecrets.org

UPDATE 5-Apr 2008: IPCC Chairman, Dr. R. K. Pachauri Writes Back

Words of encouragement and support have poured in from several quarters via various channels. Including one from Noble Laureate and IPCC chairman, Dr R. K. Pachauri himself. Dr Pachauri graciously took out time to reply to my email. My sincere thanks to everyone once again. I've compiled all responses - received via email or on Green-India group - as comments on this page. Read Dr. Pachauri's response. Note: timestamps on these comments may not be valid.

UPDATE 5-Apr 2008 [2]: CSM Issues Press Release

Centre for Social Markets (CSM) headed by Ms Malini Mehra, which last month served as adviser to Al Gore's climate project in India, has issued a press release against the climate change misinformation campaign in the media. It discusses the launch of "Civil Society Report on Climate Change" in India by deputy chairman of planning commission - Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

UPDATE 9-Apr 2008: TreeHugger picks up this story

TreeHugger.com - the US based popular green blog, which has a daily reach of around 200 million (that's as much as Hindustantimes.com), has published a detailed story based on this entry calling it a "complete, excruciatingly well-referenced analysis which elegantly dismantles the erroneous arguments put forth in both [HT] pieces." The TreeHugger post quotes widely from this blog and its author. Thank you TreeHugger!

UPDATE 1-May 2008: Malini Mehra writes in HT

Founder and CEO of Centre for Social Markets, Ms. Malini Mehra wrote an oped piece in Hindustan Times, published on Earth Day, flaying the two HT reports calling threat from climate change exaggerated and unfounded. an excerpt:
Having failed to win the argument in the West, the climate deniers are now moving into India and China. They see our country as a soft-touch for their propaganda and easy to hoodwink through arguments pitting poverty against development. What they do not realise is that there is a domestic movement brewing in India for positive action on climate change.
Complete article can be found here.

UPDATE 11-May 2008: Frontline Magazine writes on this issue

Well known political analyst, journalist and activist Praful Bidwai penned a column in Frontline magazine (Apr 26 - May 09) on this issue. Opening excerpt follows:
Falling back on pseudo-science?
Indian policymakers are clutching at straws to duck their responsibility to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

AS Indian policymakers come under growing pressure from global scientific and political communities on climate change, they are increasingly resorting to disingenuous, devious or downright specious arguments to avoid taking purposive action to cap and reduce the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are rising 3.5 times faster than the world average.

The detailed article calls the CSCCC report flimsy and "an exercise in charlatanry and sophistry." It also references this blog post as containing "some interesting facts" on the issue. Complete article can be read here.

UPDATE 20-May 2008: The Unsuitablog cites this post while parodying CSCCC with a game called "follow the links."

UPDATE 03-June 2008: Filed a formal complaint with the Press Council of India along with related evidence.