Without Proof, NBC Presumes Global Warming to Blame for Wild Fires

ABC and CBS stuck Tuesday night with news stories on the impact of the roaring California wild fires, but as houses were still burning NBC Nightly News found it an opportune time to make the case that global warming caused the fires. NBC's sole expert, however, delivered a circular argument in which the lack of scientific proof did not detract at all from his media-shared presumption that anything bad which occurs in the environment can be tied to global warming. After reporter Anne Thompson cautioned scientists say you can't know “after just one season” whether warming is to blame, Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, a leading global warming alarmist who, NBC failed to mention, serves as a science adviser to Environmental Defense, reasoned:
The weather we've seen this fall may or may not be due to the global warming trend, but it's certainly a clear picture of what the future is going to look like if we don't act quickly to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases.
Standing in smoldering ruins of a home in San Diego County, anchor Brian Williams introduced the story: “This has been the driest season on record, unusually severe, that's leading some people here to wonder: Are these fires somehow a result of climate change? The UN panel on global warming did warn that we would see more wildfires, so is there a real connection? We've asked our chief environmental affairs correspondent, Anne Thompson. But Thompson is hardly in a position to provide an independent assessment. In August, she filed a story smearing critics of global warming panic as “deniers” and “denier groups”and, the day Al Gore won his Nobel Peace Prize, she endorsed his position on the threat of climate change.

With two uses of the “could” caveat, Thompson asserted in her Tuesday piece: “A new study out this week suggests the impact of climate change could be stronger and sooner than expected. And one of the predicted impacts from climate change could be more wildfires.” She soon added: “The wildfires are just one example of this fall's extreme weather: Tornadoes in Michigan, a lack off fall color in the Carolinas, the spectacular foliage muted by drought and warm temperatures....And here in Minnesota's twin cities, they are still awaiting the first official frost.”

My October 12 NewsBusters item recounted Thompson's endorsement of Gore view:
She [Thompson] enthused [on NBC Nightly News] that a presidential bid by Gore is "a tantalizing prospect," though "few expect" it to happen. Thompson concluded by seeing complete vindication: "Gore's co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, left no doubt that man is responsible for global warming. The debate now is over how much the climate will change if nothing is done."
(Kyle Drennen's posting, “CBS’s Pelley Uses Wildfires to Prove Global Warming,” looked at a Sunday 60 Minutes report which argued warming has increased the frequency and size of “mega-fires” in Western forests.)

After Katrina, the media were full of claims that it represented a dire trend of more powerful tornadoes fueled by warmer water. Two hurricane seasons later, there have been fewer and milder hurricanes yet I'm waiting to hear from any chastened journalists. If there aren't any huge California wild fires for a few years, what are the chances Anne Thompson or NBC News will see that short term reality as disproving what they are using a couple of years and one really bad week to prove is a long term danger?

A transcript of the October 23 NBC Nightly News story:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: As we all know, wildfires in this area are nothing new. In fact, we see them just about every year. As Don [Teague] mentioned, the last benchmark was the Cedar fire, but this has been the driest season on record, unusually severe, that's leading some people here to wonder: Are these fires somehow a result of climate change? The UN panel on global warming did warn that we would see more wildfires, so is there a real connection? We've asked our chief environmental affairs correspondent, Anne Thompson.

ANNE THOMPSON: Wildfires so unusual today may not be in the future. A new study out this week suggests the impact of climate change could be stronger and sooner than expected. And one of the predicted impacts from climate change could be more wildfires.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: The study is very disturbing because it means we're lunging forward faster and faster at an accelerating pace, pouring emissions into the atmosphere while the earth continues to warm.

THOMPSON: China and India's growing economies are spewing more carbon dioxide into the air and the earth's forests and oceans are losing their ability to absorb it. The wildfires are just one example of this fall's extreme weather: Tornadoes in Michigan, a lack off fall color in the Carolinas, the spectacular foliage muted by drought and warm temperatures.

MARTHA BOGLE, BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAIN PARKWAY: We've been through periods of short droughts, but nothing of this magnitude.

THOMPSON: And here in Minnesota's twin cities, they are still awaiting the first official frost, when the temperature dips to 32 degrees. It should have happened two weeks ago. But not this year. So does all this add up to global warming? Scientists say you can't answer that question after just one season.

OPPENHEIMER: The weather we've seen this fall may or may not be due to the global warming trend, but it's certainly a clear picture of what the future is going to look like if we don't act quickly to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases.

THOMPSON: A stark warning in this autumn of change. Anne Thompson, NBC News, Minneapolis.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center