On Tuesday, National Public Radio (NPR) provided some of the worst reporting on climate change in recent memory in stories by Richard Harris, Steve Inskeep, Julie McCarthy, and Anthony Kuhn. Faced with the slow progress of international climate negotiations as developing nations reject limits on their use of fossil fuels, NPR–like much of the left–is not only ignoring scientific and political facts, but trying to overturn them.
NPR’s reporting omitted two major new developments that are affecting climate negotiations. One is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has begun to acknowledge that the world is not warming as quickly as once feared, and recently revised its temperature forecasts downward significantly. The other is that the reason U.S. emissions have fallen is not new regulation, but tracking and the shift to natural gas.
Throughout its coverage, however, NPR implied that aggressive, California-style regulation of emissions is not only the cause of U.S. reductions but also the best way to proceed going forward. But China and India are not as immune to facts as the alarmist wing of the environmental movement seems to be, and they understand that accepting new restrictions on their economic development would not only be unfair, but unnecessary.
NPR also seemed to endorse completely wrongheaded policy suggestions for moving forward. It devoted great attention to the idea of a carbon tax applied at the border to foreign imports, for example–ignoring the fact that such a tax would lead to new protectionism in international trade, which would not only make the world poorer, but could also damage the environment by holding back the export of cleaner energy technologies.
Worst of all, NPR conflated two environmental problems: local air pollution on the one hand, and greenhouse gases on the other, suggesting that people tired of smog in cities like Beijing or New Delhi might welcome new emission reductions. Though both of these problems result from burning fossil fuels, they are not necessarily related. The most important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is in fact colorless and odorless, for example.
What seems to have happened is that a political phrase, “carbon pollution,” invented to create outrage about everyday emissions that cause no direct harm, has wormed its way back into scientific discourse, even though scientists know better. That is the sort of corruption that has emerged elsewhere, as in the Climategate scandal. And it is a reason NPR’s erudite listeners “know so much that isn’t so” about climate change.