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The media gets itself into trouble over natural disasters again

There has been much huffing and puffing in the media today about a new report from the Institute of Public Policy Research, which claims that the environment is facing multiple disasters, all at once.

Same old, same old, I hear you say.

And you wouldn’t be far wrong. Nevertheless the environmental media have faithfully relayed the horror stories, apparently without the slightest concern for whether any of them are true or not. Roger Harrabin on the BBC website says “human impacts have reached a critical stage and threaten to destabilise society and the global economy”, while the Guardian reckons there is a “gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature and economy” which are going to cause “systemic collapse”.

It’s all horribly familiar. However, as is normal on these occasions, the passing of a couple of hours has been sufficient to allow slightly less credulous readers of the report to have their say. Before 10am, the environmentalist Mark Lynas had pointed out that the report’s claims about floods and wildfires were really quite a long way wide of the mark…

And he went on to point out that the, ahem, professional journalists at the Guardian had repeated this claim verbatim (Roger Harrabin had managed to paraphrase slightly).

By lunchtime, the IPPR was backtracking, saying that there had been an error in the report, and that the correct date should have been 1950, rather than 2005. But they also revealed that their source was a paper written by the environmental activist investor Jeremy Grantham. His information came, in turn, from a database maintained by the School of Public Health at the University of Louvain.

But why, Lynas wondered, did IPPR not use an authoritative source like the IPCC? (We at GWPF are not averse to criticising the IPCC as a source, but one would have thought that upholders of the (alleged) consensus would be much keener than we are.) Perhaps, others wondered, it was because the IPCC said that there was little evidence of floods actually worsening. That’s hardly the stuff of headlines, is it?

It’s not as if this problem hasn’t arisen before. As Roger Pielke Jr, an expert on natural disasters, pointed out, Al Gore had also got into trouble ten years ago when he cited figures from the Louvain database. He had been forced to issue a correction.

The whole story is thoroughly depressing and something of an indictment of the state of the UK environmental media. Not that my noting this will make any difference. It will be the same thing tomorrow.