Dateline NBC: “Whatever the cause … global warming is a reality.”

Although NBC was given some stiff competition by Slate and the Washington Post, the judge’s choice for the worst Triage Earth Day week story was unanimous: Dateline NBC.

Sunday night millions of people were watching what seem to be a reasonable hour of television devoted to environmental issues, ending with a fascinating, if not terribly original, story about the melting of the Bolivian glaciers and its likely impact on that country. And then they got to this amazing exchange:



Here is the transcript:

[I don’t have the name of the Bolivian — if anyone does, please put it into the comments sections — so I will call him RB for reasonable Bolivian.]

NBC: Late last year, Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed his own controversial solution — taking industrialized nations like the United States to court to take responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions that many scientists believe is fueling global warming. But not everyone agrees greenhouse gases are to blame for global warming. Some scientists argue that the planet has been heating and cooling for centuries. Other people, other scientists who say, it is part of the normal ebb and flow of climate change.

RB: Greenhouse gases are the main driver. The scientific community has a consensus on that. It is man-made.

NBC: You say there’s a consensus, but other scientists would disagree with you.

RB: A few, a few.

NBC: It is highly politicized.

RB: It has been highly politicized. That I agree.

NBC: Whatever the cause, there is no doubt that global warming is a reality. And in Bolivia, it may lead to water shortages, disease and possible power outages.

Next time someone asks me if big media’s coverage of the environment and global warming has gotten better, I’m just going to direct them to this clip.

What a disgrace to journalism. I thought the media was moving beyond this nonsense, not bothering to waste the viewer’s time by actually quoting the discredited ideas of the global warming deniers. But that doesn’t mean that reporters should take it upon themselves to spread the disinformation and save the deniers the trouble. At least when a denier was put on the air, he or she didn’t have the independent credibility that an NBC reporter has — or, I should say, once had.

Note to NBC: If global warming is not caused primarily by humans (which is to say, if the scientific understanding as described by the IPCC is utterly wrong), but is just the random ebb and flow of things, then your story is kind of pointless, since 1) we might just start randomly cooling tomorrow and 2) there isn’t anything we can do about it. I guess it would then just qualify as a pointless feel-bad story.

Happy Triage Day!

34 Responses to Dateline NBC: “Whatever the cause … global warming is a reality.”

  1. Pgosselin says:

    You see!
    The debate is far from over.

  2. exusian says:

    That’s not debate, that’s deliberately manufactured misinformation and disinformation doing exactly what it’s intended to do: create controversy and forestall taking action.

  3. Mauri Pelto says:

    The Bolivian is Walter Vergara of the World Bank, he is their climate expert for Latin America. My question is who is the NBC reporter who has to get in her two cents and then some.

  4. Richie Jay says:

    Joe, thank you for the link to the transcript and video clip on my blog. I am glad I am not the only one who caught NBC’s shameful distortion, and I am happy that you are taking them to task for it. Happy Earth Day! richie jay.

  5. Max Boykoff says:

    Good lord! What is going on over there? Thanks for making this available for the international audience to peer into US media representations of climate change.

  6. EricMcGuire says:

    That’s odd, because just last week I watched a fascinating piece on the Discovery Channel about why such large boulders lay strewn in the middle of nowehere. WHY? Because the glaciers left them behind after they melted away!!! Isn’t a glacier old and there’s only SO MUCH ICE BEFORE IT’S GONE! If these people were getting all of their water supply from the glacier over the years, it seems very plausible that ONE DAY IT WILL BE GONE! IT’S BEEN MELTING AWAY FOR EONS! WHAT KIND OF A STORY IS THAT?

  7. Joe says:

    Richie — My pleasure. You’ll be glad to know I came across your website through Google, while trying to find a full video clip.

  8. Chester says:

    The Dateline reporter’s email is The producer’s is

    Complain — I did.

  9. EricMcGuire: I´m not sure I understand what you are implying. Do you mean to say because there´s runoff from a glacier it will neccessarily disappear given enough time? Of course not.

    Glaciers are important because they distribute water across seasons, storing water during cold and wet months and shedding to lower lands when it´s warm and dry. For stable glaciers winter precipitation and summer runnoff balance out, while still providing irrigation for dry plains at the time when it´s most needed. In a warmer climate, runnoff will dominate.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    EricMcGuire — During the Holocene Climatic Optimum, sea stands were higher than now. In the interveneing millennia the global temperature has cooled and sea stands have fallen. That is, slightly more ice has formed, world-wide, up until about 1885 CE. Since then, world-wide, there is only melt.

  11. spits says:

    (long time lurker/reader, first time commenting)

    Gee, this seems to fit the theme of the global warming lecture I had in one of my (admittedly, lower division) classes today – uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty! What was worse was the audible grumble that would rise whenever humans were mentioned as a cause…

  12. William Taylor says:

    None of you global warming advicates have answered the questions I posted awhile back. i am all for cleaning up the air. But regarding global warming, I see with my own eyes things that should not be if global wrming is real, but non the less they are visual facts, that are there

    Let me start here

    China, record snows, more snow recorded than the last fifty years
    Vit Nam, a sub tropical, tropical climate, record snow in the north, killed 1600 oxen
    North America, Casacdes, 158% snow pack this winter and still snowing as late as 4/18/2008, Everett, Sequim, and PA had to call out snow removal equipment for roads. These cities are just above sea level, 539 inches of snow at Snoqualmie pass. thats 44.9 feet, still snowing
    Last of March snow storm dumped 1-1/2 to 7 inches around Puget Sound area

    Spokane, the most snow this year than in 25 years. Record levels.
    Washington river resoviors dry, snow pack hasn’t started to melt yet to fill them

    midwest, record snow fall, 10 to 20 foot drifts in Northern parts all the way to Maine very bad floods in the South when it did start to melt

    Europe, millions of swallows dying, no bugs to eat which is their diet. To cld yet to hatch them.

    I would really like these questions answered, if any of you have a answer. This is what I see with my own eyes. In fact last weekend, Sat. on Vashon Island, there is a Farmers Market that I go to. Earth Day and Global Warming both had booths there. A few people were at Earth day. The poor Lady in the Global Warming booth, had a sweatshirt on, a parka on over that, ski pants and boots, and she was still shivering. 18 april 2008.

    In the middle of April, is when I plant a pretty good size garden. Couldn’t do that last year or this year, to cold.

    How come this is happening if we are into global warming? Not being sarcastic, but I would really like you to make your point. There are a whole lot of scientists who do not agree with you, and me, well I always look at both sides before I make my mind up. How about some answers.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    William Taylor — It is due to La Nina and ‘climate variabilty’. For example, March 2008 is the warmest March on record for land temperatures, world-wide. But due to the strong La Nina the sea surface temperatures are lower, so that March 2008 ends up being the eigth (or so) warmest on record.

    Handley Centre predicts that as global warming continues, the world will experience more of these extreme events in the weather.

    And no, there are only a crack-pot ‘scientists’ who don’t agree. They are largely of an age to be put out to pasture.

    If you want to learn the science from a historian, read

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Correction: Hadley Centre

  15. paulm says:

    I have ask them to help in being part of the solution…
    We need to get the media on line with this as soon as possible. Our politicians wont act until they think that they have the consensus of the masses and that is through the tabloids.

    # Chester Says:
    April 22nd, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    The Dateline reporter’s email is The producer’s is

    Complain — I did.

  16. Nylo says:


    The planet is in its warmest decade, at least in a century. In this scenario, having some months reaching hot records is not something unsurprising.

    But in a scenario of global warming, having some months reaching hot records should not only NOT be strange, but it should be the norm, it should be happening like twice or three times per year, and they should be absolute records. But we are not seeing that. And we definitely shouldn’t be having months which are breaking decades-long COLD records, or southern pole sea ice reaching ever-before records, or northern hemisphere showing snow-cover records, or cold-related catastrophes in Asia. No, those are things that you can expect in generaly stabilised climate conditions, but not in a warming scenario.

    This cold we have now has been brought by La Niña, no doubt. However the question is why that should be thought as dismisable, why we should expect things to go back to previous warming levels. The strange thing is not this year’s La Niña, but the lacking of La Niña episodes for 8 years, with three El Niño episodes in the middle and 41 consecutive months with positive anomalies in the southern pacific. AGW alarmists are claiming that this La Niña is very strong, but you only have to look at the numbers of the anomalies of temperature in the southern pacific to see that this La Niña is quite an average La Niña, and so far it has been short, we will see when it ends. We have had much stronger La Niñas in the past, and more importantly, the El Niño episode of 2002 was of a similar but positive magnitude, and 1998’s El Niño was way stronger.

    So if your point is that warming will take place except when La Niña distorts the conditions, I’m sorry but between 2001 and the end of 2007 not only we didn’t have La Niñas but we had 3 El Niños and still the planet didn’t warm any more than it was in 1998. An increase of La Niña’s episodes should be expected, and not presented as accidents. And if we did not warm in the middle of El Niño’s episodes and with lots of increasing CO2 in our atmosphere, then I would bet that we have already reached our peak temperatures for a long, long time to come.

    Don’t forget: any year that passes without a world’s new absolute average temperature record is a year that diminishes the 0,7ºC/century rate of warming of the planet. I believe that, because of this decade of no warming, we have already dropped down to about 0,63ºC/century. You alarmists really need another 1998 asap, and stop shielding yourselves under La Niña events which are, if anything, more scarce than usual.

    Maybe you were expecting the world not to ever have a La Niña episode again?

  17. Jan Heywood says:

    If you think you have it bad in your media, you should suffer our national newspaper, The Australian. Here are two stories published today – and there have been plenty more of the same, including one straight from the Heartland conference. Chris Mitchell’s the editor, notoriously anti “green”,25197,23583375-7583,00.html,25197,23584524-30417,00.html

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Nylo — We have no historical records of what occured in the far distant past when the climate dramatically warmed. The most impressive in the Holocene is the recovery from the 8.2 kya event. Even more impressive is the D-O event at the end of the Younger Dryas and the beginning of the Holocene.

    Despite these, the record of decadal (10 year) variations in the Holocene doesn’t llok that impressive. It is the record of 50 or 60 year variations which does.

    So compare the average temperatures in the 2000s with the temperatures in the 1950s or 1940s:

  19. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Climate Cycles

    The recent warm cycle from about 1980 was due to a positive phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which modulates the intensity of the the El Nino and La Nina episodes or events.

    Currently, the PDO is shifting into a cool phase. and it is likely the earth is going to cool down and stay cool for awhile, perhaps for 20 or so years.

    So I say. “Take a break and Chill out!” The NHL and NDA playoffs are underway, and I don’t want to be annoyed by all this global warming gobblygook and climate change claptrap!

  20. Morgan Mghee says:

    Well now, that makes ever so much more sense. The whole time they have been trying to maintain ignorance in defense of a possible global lawsuit! It all becomes VERY clear now! So, with that in mind, lets get on with it! The government will continue to ‘Not be convinced’, won’t ‘officially acknowledge’ the research, while we ‘The People’ will move ahead with our plans to rectify the problem. Get over the problem and on with the solution.

  21. William Taylor:
    Your concern seems genuine, so I´ll have a go at explaining why private observation may not always seem to match up with global warming trends. (I´m a technical writer, not a scientist, and I won´t bore you with a lot of references. I´m sure other commenters can add more specifics.)

    1. As individuals, we are geographically biased. Global warming is global. So cold weather in, say, North America, may seem like evidence against a warming trend. The only way to judge whether there actaully is global warming is by looking at global data, ie data based on widely distributed measurements, including the oceans and uninhabited land.

    2. As a culture we view the world through a very narrow window in time. We note the here and now, and relate it to the recent past. Global warming is the gradual long term trend towards a warmer global climate. There may appear outliers: months or years which, even if they are based on global data, are actually colder than preceding years. But the only way to judge whether there is a trend is to look at long time series. By a trend we do not mean that each year will be warmer than than the previous year; only that it is likely that the next decade will be warmer than the previous.

    Yes, some spots on the globe will experience cold spells, and yes, some months will be cold globally. But so far there is nothing in the data to suggest that global warming is not a fact.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Harold Pierce Jr wrote “… it is likely the earth is going to cool down and stay cool for awhile, perhaps for 20 or so years.” Nope. Using the difference in temperature over a 60 year interval removes those oscillations. Compare the temperature in the 2000s with the temperature in the 1940s and those with the temperatures in the 1880s:

    Using the GISP2 data for just the Holocene, the transition from the 1880s to the 1940s is a 38% event; the transition from the 1940s to the 2000s is only an 8% event.

  23. David B. Benson says:

    Nylo & Harold Pierce Jr —

    More about the PDO and the current strong La Nina:

    entitled “Larger Pacific Climate Event Helps Current La Nina Linger”

  24. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Hello David!
    Here are two links re PDO:


    The homepage has two really cool sat images of the cool and warm phases of the PDO.

    Lots of data on PDO indices.

    BTW: I have data from Quatsino (BC) WS that show the shift in the PDO about 60 years, and have recent data (i.e., last 5 years) that show a shift back to a cool phase. I am writing a short report for Roger Sr and will request that he post it on his blog.

    The results are quite amazing. For example, a constant mean max temp for the September Equinox Interval (SEI, Sept 16-26) of 290.4 +/- 1.5 K for 66 years (1940 to 2005). The “+/- 1.5 K” is the classical AD per decade, and it has remained constant for mean max and min temp since 1895 to present. I’m not quite sure of the significance of this vlaue, but I have seen mention of it on a blog that I forgot to bookmark.

    The reasons I chose the SEI are that (1) effects of ENSO are minimal at this time of the year and (2) a short sample of 11 days ensures little change in sunlight energy (ca, 30 min or +/- 15 min before and after the Equinox) during the interval.

    If the usual one month interval is used, the change in sunlight energy is about 80 min, i.e., Sept 1 has 80 more min of sunlight than Sept 31. I have also found that the ENSO just messes up temp data from late fall to late spring at this WS, and it is harder to discern long-time trends from the MEI, JSI and DSI data.

  25. Nylo says:


    From your link I read: “Boosted by the influence of a larger climate event in the Pacific, one of the strongest La Niñas in many years is slowly weakening but continues to blanket the Pacific Ocean near the equator, as shown by new sea-level height data collected by the U.S.-French Jason oceanographic satellite”.

    Here you have a link with the southern pacific temperature anomalies. You can clearly see we are in a “La Niña” episode with an anomaly topping -1,5ºC for the trimester Dec-Jan-Feb. You can also see that we hadn’t had La Niña episodes since 1999 and 2000, and in both cases the top anomalies were EQUAL OR BIGGER. So I beg you to explain how they can say that this is “one of the strongest La Niñas in many years”, if not to lie in the face of the ignorants with scientific-like statements to try to make excuses about the obviously colder weather we are experiencing compared with the forecasts of the alarmists. This La Niña is not strong. It’s a normal La Niña episode.

    The link:

    By the way, the La Niña before 1999, in 1995, was weaker, yes. And the one before in 1988 was way stronger. And the one before (1985), weaker, and the one before (1976), stronger. And so on. You can just check yourself. This is a pretty normal La Niña episode, not a strong one. The anomaly is not this La Niña but the lacking of them for 7 years, with 3 El Niños in the middle. Find that in the historical records. And yet we didn’t warm.

    As to the temperature comparison between 1950 and 2000, I recommend you to compare the graphs to the Global Annual Precipitation Anomalies that you will find in the IPCC AR4. You can see the graph in this link:

    It is in Figure 3.3.1.

    What does this comparison show? It shows that we had warming at the same time that we had decreasing rain. Decreasing rain is mostly associated with decreasing low cloud formation, as low clouds are the ones bringing the rain. But as soon as cloud formation and annual precipitation anomalies have started to rise again, the warming has stopped.

    Now, in which way does CO2 concentration affect cloud formation? There’s no available theory relating the 2 things. But there are theories that do relate cloud formation with solar activity and cosmic rays, and there are studies demonstrating the vastly better correlation between cosmic rays and temperature.

  26. David B. Benson says:

    Nylo wrote “But there are theories that do relate cloud formation with solar activity and cosmic rays, and there are studies demonstrating the vastly better correlation between cosmic rays and temperature.” This has been gone over, several times, on Real Climate. The theories are at best misleading, and probably wrong. Since cosmic ray flux has not changed in the past 50 years while the temperature has dramatically increased, I’ll suggest looking elesewhere for the cause: CO2.

  27. Nylo says:

    Last page, figure 3b). There you have your “not change” of cosmic ray flux as shown by ion chambers and by Climax (Colorado Neutron Monitor). You can also find interesting the correlation with temperatures, between 1935 and 1995.

  28. caw says:

    I do not understand your resentment towards debate. If you spend significant time researching climate, like I do, it becomes very clear that there is no conensus on the cause of climate change. Roger Pielke’s poll is intruiging; check it out. The Petition Project is too; yes I’ve heard alllll the criticisms, and to check out the legitimacy for yourself, search the names, and email the scientists. They’re out there and they’re not part of the “consensus.” Contempt for debate must stop now.

  29. Jesus Christ says:

    This is a Christmas & New Year’s message from Jesus. The world’s population is now 6.8 Billion people. Experts say that by the year 2050 the world’s population will be 9.1 Billion people. That will be an increase of 2.3 Billion people in just 41 years. If there is poverty and starvation now what do you think it’s going to be like in 4 or 5 hundred years? Scientists have already said that there’s a hole in the ozone layer. If people continue to over populate and the ozone layer disappears your generations will suffer a total disaster. It will be like a freight train going 200 miles an hour running into a steel wall 100 foot thick. There won’t be any survivors. If you don’t want that to happen then I suggest that you stop creating and tell your children when they grow up not to create. If they get married they can always adopt. I am 100% sure your future generations will appreciate not being created. If you don’t believe me then just go to any prison and ask them if they appreciate being created. If you do not stop your generations now then your generations will stop themselves the hard way. Spread this message to the entire world. Don’t forget the Amish. JC