WashPost Highlights Argument That Heat Wave 'Linked to Global Warming'

August 4th, 2006 7:35 AM

Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin puts the pedal to the metal in her Friday story, "More Frequent Heat Waves Linked to Global Warming." We're told "scientists who have studied decades of weather records and computer models" are connecting the heat to Al Gore's favorite bogeyman.

Eilperin lines up all the studies promoted by global-warming salesmen, and the skeptics aren't granted an appearance until the end, in paragraph 18: "Some climate experts and industry lobbyists, however, question the correlation between global warming and heat waves."

But here's one place where I just start to choke on the panicked claims.

Since July, 179 Americans, most of them Californians, have died in the current heat wave; more than 52,000 died during the 2003 episode in Europe, where air conditioning is less common.

Excuse me? A heat wave with the death toll of an Indonesian tsunami? Where does this number come from? Eilperin has no footnote. The data comes from the Earth Policy Institute, a group of hard-core greenies run by Lester Brown. Janet Larsen crunches her questionable numbers this way:

Of the new information that has trickled out over the last few years, the biggest surprise has come from Italy. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, the summer of 2003 yielded more than 18,000 excess deaths when compared with 2002. In August alone, 9,700 fatalities were likely connected to the high temperatures, which in parts of Italy averaged 16 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the preceding year. These elevated numbers far exceed the Italian Health Ministry’s early assessment that some 4,000 people died from heat country-wide during the hottest days.

The Italian site is here, although I can't find this data easily. But notice how much guesswork seems involved in this, that 10,000 fatalities were "likely" connected to the heat? And how can an Italian health ministry underestimate the number of heat-wave deaths by 14,000 people?

Reporters like Eilperin ought to note to readers that groups like the Earth Policy Institute are putting out their data with the intention of scaring people into liberal political action. As their own website explained their mission:

The Earth’s capacity to support the economy continues to deteriorate. The gap between what we need to do to arrest the deterioration of the Earth and what we are doing continues to widen. Somehow we have to turn the tide. There is a need for a new initiative, a new organization, and a new organizational model, one engaged in a research program and research products that are designed for use by the media and that are directed at policymakers. The goal of the Earth Policy Institute is to raise public awareness to the point where it will support an effective public response to the threats posed by continuing population growth, rising CO2 emissions, the loss of plant and animal species, and the many other trends that are adversely affecting the Earth. The dissemination of information from the Institute is designed to help set the public agenda.

There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to set the public agenda. But it ought to make reporters more skeptical when they're dealing with scientific claims, especially big heat-wave death counts that suddenly spurt upward dramatically two or three years after the fact.