Hume ignored facts in attempt to discredit climate change report, scientist

Apparently relying on a misleading article authored by an energy industry-funded climate scientist, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume attacked the credibility of a World Bank scientist in order to discredit a recent United Nations report on world ecosystems written by a panel the scientist co-chaired.

On the "Grapevine" segment of the March 30 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume claimed that Robert T. Watson, chief scientist and director of the World Bank's Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Network, “boasts a somewhat controversial track record on environmental issues”:

HUME: A new report suggests that humans have used up nearly two thirds of the world's resources, claiming that the planet's ecosystems may no longer be able to sustain future generations. The report was supervised by chief World Bank scientist Robert Watson, who boasts a questionable track record on environmental issues. In 1992, Watson forecast an imminent hole in the ozone layer over the northern hemisphere. That hole has yet to appear. And in 2001, Watson predicted that U.S. emissions would cause water shortages, disease, and agricultural damage and could raise global temperatures more than 10 degrees over the next 100 years.

In fact, though Watson co-chaired the United Nations' recently-released Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, its findings were the work of enormous team of scientists. Watson oversaw a 47-member board, and the project included "1,300 experts from 95 countries."

Further, the 10-degree (Fahrenheit) estimate of global temperature increase was not Watson's personal prediction, as Hume alleged; rather, it came from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Third Assessment Report in 2001; Watson was merely one contributing author among a team that included scores of scientists. Moreover, the report did not “predict” a 10-degree rise in global temperature; that figure was merely the uppermost boundary of the IPCC's prediction range, which was based on a variety of scenarios and climate models. The report explains: “The globally averaged surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.4 to 5.8°C [2.52°F to 10.44°F] over the period 1990 to 2100. These results are for the full range of 35 SRES [Special Report on Emission Scenarios] scenarios, based on a number of climate models.”

As for the ozone hole, Watson did not “forecast an imminent hole” in the northern hemisphere's ozone layer. As director of the science division and chief scientist for the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), he participated in a NASA team that predicted in February 1992 that “the Northern ozone layer could be depleted by 30 percent to 40 percent” during the following spring [Associated Press, 2/4/92]. (The Environmental Protection Agency notes that ozone thinning is considered a “hole” when it reaches 70 percent.) Though NASA subsequently acknowledged that its prediction was not fully realized, some thinning did occur. The AP reported on May 1, 1992:

The feared “ozone hole” didn't make an appearance in the arctic last winter -- and scientists say you can thank unusually warm weather. A group of NASA scientists, who warned in February that damaging chemicals were likely to poke a hole in the arctic's protective ozone layer for the first time, reported Thursday that it didn't happen. Nevertheless, they said there was seasonal ozone thinning of 10 percent to 20 percent over the United States, Canada and Europe. They warned a hole is still a good possibility in future winters that have closer to normal temperatures.

Indeed, despite NASA's inaccurate 1992 estimate, more severe ozone thinning in the Arctic has occurred since 1992. The Denver Post reported on March 2:

Last winter, Arctic ozone declined more precipitously than ever in the upper atmosphere, probably because of violent storms on the sun's surface, one team reports today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. ... “I don't think we can be confident about whether or not we're seeing an ozone recovery or if we're attributing recovery to the correct causes,” said Cora Randall, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado.

Randall and her colleagues studied a dramatic and unexpected drop in upper-level ozone levels last winter.

Similarly, The Washington Post reported on March 5: “In recent years the size of the southern 'ozone hole' has reached historic proportions, and ozone thinning has also appeared over the Arctic.”

Hume's attack on Watson is apparently based on an article by industry-funded global warming skeptic Patrick J. Michaels, titled “Global warming: Watson indulges in scare tactics ... again,” published on the website of the conservative Heartland Institute on March 1, 2001. Like Hume, Michaels similarly suggested that Watson had specifically endorsed the IPCC's most pessimistic estimate of global temperature increase. Michaels took a quotation of Watson remarking on the significance of the entire report out of context and using it to suggest that Watson was commenting specifically on the high estimate. Michaels wrote:

Word from the IPCC meeting in Shanghai is that the upper range of temperature rise during the next 100 years is nearly 11°F. “This adds impetus for governments of the world to find ways to live up to their commitments . . . to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” Robert Watson, chairman of the IPCC and former Clinton science advisor, is quoted as saying.

On the ozone hole, the language used by Hume and Michaels is strikingly similar. Michaels wrote: “Watson is the same scientist who, in 1992, predicted an imminent ozone hole in the Northern Hemisphere” (emphasis added).

As Media Matters for America has noted, Michaels is a senior researcher in environmental studies at the Cato Institute; author of two books critical of global warming theory, The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about Global Warming and Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming; and chief editor of the World Climate Report, a biweekly newsletter on climate studies funded in large part by the coal industry. According to his bio on the Cato website, Michaels is a visiting scientist at the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, which the nonpartisan Congressional Quarterly described as “a Washington-based think tank supported by industry and conservative foundations that focuses primarily on trying to debunk global warming as a threat.” According to an ExxonMobil report, the ExxonMobil Foundation donated $80,000 to the Marshall Institute's Climate Change program in 2002. Journalist Ross Gelbspan also noted in a December 1995 Harper's Magazine article that “Michaels has received more than $115,000 over the last four years from coal and energy interests.”

The Heartland Institute, which published Michaels's article, receives much of its funding from the oil and tobacco industries. A March 6 Kansas City Star article refers to the Institute as “a Chicago research center skeptical of the environmental lobby.” In a February 15, 2001, Los Angeles Times article, staff writer Robert Burns called the Heartland Institute “so anti-environment that it is actually pro-tobacco.” According to progressive media watchdog Media Transparency, Heartland has received funding from prominent conservative foundations, including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; the Roe Foundation; and two foundations controlled by notorious right-wing Clinton-hater Richard Mellon Scaife: the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Carthage Foundation.