- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

The devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean shocked the world. No one could fail to be moved by the horrific pictures and harrowing stories that emerged from the region as the scale of the tragedy unfolded.

But, in the days that followed, another story started emerging. Unscrupulous environmentalists, it seemed, were outrageously exploiting the tragedy by claiming it was caused by climate change. A provocative story except for one major flaw: It wasn’t true.

Shortly before Christmas, and therefore before the tsunami struck, Friends of the Earth in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Greenpeace U.K. were asked by a British newspaper, the Independent, to comment on a re-insurance company’s findings there had been a dramatic increase in insurance claims in 2004 resulting from hurricanes, floods, droughts and other weather events linked to global warming.

Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace U.K., commented, “No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree.”

My remarks included, “Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions.”

Our comments appeared a few days later (shortly after the tsunami struck), but to any reader, it should have been clear neither organization linked climate change to the disaster.

But the Wall Street Journal saw things differently. Using our quotes out of context its Dec. 28 editorial thundered, “In the world of environmental zealotry, even an event such as this is seen as an opportunity to press the agenda. Thus, the source of the South Asian tsunami is being located in global warming.”

Conservative commentators were quick to join in and vent their righteous indignation. The facts don’t always get in the way of a good story, and here was an opportunity for them to get on their high horses, lay into environmentalists and pour scorn on concerns about global warming. Presumably not having read the original article, and certainly not bothering to contact us to check the facts, they swiftly began their attacks.

“Global warming claims wrong in wake of tsunamis” shouted a Cato Institute press release, which was subsequently withdrawn. Steven Milloy, in a syndicated column (carried by The Washington Times, Fox News online and others) accused us of “shamelessly” trying to “exploit last week’s earthquake-tsunami catastrophe in hopes of advancing their global warming and anti-development agendas.”

The American Enterprise Institute’s James K. Glassman, in a column, called us “unscrupulous activists” for whom “the tsunami offers an irresistible opportunity for exploitation.”

Patrick Michaels attacked “environmental experts” for the “moral audacity” to link climate change to the tsunami: “Unfortunately it is another ‘Predictable Distortion’ of global warming, similar to dozens documented in my recent book.”

Not just conservative columnists were quick to condemn.

The Chicago Tribune told its readers: “This is worse than a hoax. It’s an insult to the victims and the survivors of the tsunami and to the millions of compassionate people trying to bring relief and figure out how to prevent a similar disaster.”

While the Boston Herald said: “We wondered if some environmental zealot would try to blame the catastrophe on global warming. Our fears have been realized in Britain.”

Neither Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace has ever claimed earthquakes can be caused by climate change or made any such link. Our “comments,” taken completely out of context, were made before the tsunami and related to a separate issue.

But not one journalist or commentator contacted us to see if we had in fact linked the tsunami to global warming before writing their attacks. But then it suits certain quarters to discredit those who want to see action on global warming.

Climate change is a genuine threat to people and the environment, a fact credible scientists agree on, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which says “greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.”

It’s time the world woke up to the threat of climate change. Discrediting genuine concerns about global warming or shooting the messenger might make a good story, but it won’t make the problem go away.

TONY JUNIPER

Director, Friends of the Earth

in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

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