Washington Post‘s Headline Got the Story Wrong

It must have been a late night for one of the headline writers at the Washington Post. That’s the best explanation we can think of for the seriously misleading headline on a generally balanced story by reporter Juliet Eilperin.

The story is about the testimony of the head of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, who appeared before a Senate energy panel yesterday.

The article points out that Elmendorf went out of his way to say the costs of shifting to clean energy would be “comparatively modest” and that his analysis didn’t even include the heavy cost of failing to take action to slow climate change.  He estimated a very small economic difference under the clean energy bill over a long period of time.

The headline writer summed it up this way: “Cap-and-Trade Would Slow Economy, CBO Chief Says.”

This is extremely misleading since many readers will interpret this to mean that economic growth would actually turn negative, which is absolutely NOT what Elmendorf said.

What he said (and what Eilperin reported) is what’s reflected in the CBO analysis – that the economy is expected to grow strongly and thrive whether we pass a carbon cap or not. If we do nothing, the American economy would reach $25 trillion by January 2030; if we pass a cap on carbon, it will reach the exact same size of $25 trillion by May of 2030 (and that’s a conservative estimate – we’d reach that between March and May). And, remember, that projection doesn’t include the economic benefits of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

What is confusing in the headline is that “economy slowing” has become shorthand for “panic, it’s a recession” — which is the opposite of what Elmendorf was talking about. What Elmendorf actually said is that a cap would “cut the nation’s gross domestic product … compared to ‘what it would otherwise have been.’” The CBO finding was that a carbon cap would cut GDP “0.25 to 0.75 percent” by the year 2020. Again, that’s a cut from what it would have otherwise reached without the policy — not a cut from where the economy stands now.

To put that in perspective, if you had to cut the Post article by the same amount, you’d need to edit out – three or four words. Or, to cut that headline proportionately you’d have to – lose half the “s” on the end of the last word. That’s a tiny amount, and certainly no reason to panic – unless you’re looking for a reason to panic so you can try to kill a clean energy bill.

Read more in EDF’s latest Climate Economics Brief, Or read the CBO report itself. And check out National Wildlife Federation’s comments on, as they call it, the Post‘s “scare headlines” — we’re flattered that they used an EDF graph to help make their case.

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  1. cleanwater
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Man-made global warming is a political lie.
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    Greenhouse Theory Disproved a Century Ago
    Town Hall ^ | 02/03/09 | reasonmclucus
    Posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2009 7:15:22 PM by kathsua
    The claim that carbon dioxide (CO2) can increase air temperatures by “trapping” infrared radiation (IR) ignores the fact that in 1909 physicist R.W. Wood disproved the popular 19th Century thesis that greenhouses stayed warm by trapping IR. Unfortunately, many people who claim to be scientists are unaware of Wood’s experiment which was originally published in the Philosophical magazine , 1909, vol 17, p319-320. Wood was an expert on IR. His accomplishments included inventing both IR and UV (ultraviolet) photography. Wood constructed two identical small greenhouses. The description implies the type of structure a gardener would refer to as a “coldframe” rather than a building a person could walk into. He lined the interior with black cardboard which would absorb radiation and convert it to heat which would heat the air through conduction. The cardboard would also produce radiation. He covered one greenhouse with a sheet of transparent rock salt and the other with a sheet of glass. The glass would block IR and the rock salt would allow it to pass. During the first run of the experiment the rock salt greenhouse heated faster due to IR from the sun entering it but not the glass greenhouse. He then set up another pane of glass to filter the IR from the sun before the light reached the greenhouses. The result from this run was that the greenhouses both heated to about 50 C with less than a degree difference between the two. Wood didn’t indicate which was warmer or whether there was any difference in the thermal conductivity between the glass sheet and the rock salt. A slight difference in the amount of heat transfered through the sheets by conduction could explain such a minor difference in temperature. The two sheets probably didn’t conduct heat at the same rate. The experiment conclusively demonstrates that greenhouses heat up and stay warm by confining heated air rather than by trapping IR. If trapping IR in an enclosed space doesn’t cause higher air temperature than CO2 in the atmosphere cannot cause higher air temperatures. The heated air in the greenhouses couldn’t rise higher than the sheets that covered the tops of the greenhouses. Heated air outside is free to rise allowing colder air to fall to the ground. Atmospheric CO2 is even less likely to function as a barrier to IR or reflect it back to reheat the ground or water than the sheet of glass in Wood’s greenhouse. The blackened cardboard in Wood’s greenhouses was a very good radiator of IR as is typical of black substances. The water that covers 70% of earth’s surface is a very poor radiator and produces only limited amounts of IR as is typical of transparent substances. Water releases heat through evaporation rather than radiation. The glass sheet provided a solid barrier to IR. Atmospheric CO2 is widely dispersed comprising less than 400 parts per million in the atmosphere. Trapping IR with CO2 would be like trying to confine mice with a chain link fence. Glass reflects a wider spectrum of IR than interacts with CO2. The glass sheets reflected IR back toward the floor of the greenhouse. CO2 doesn’t reflect IR. At the time of Wood’s experiment, it was believed that CO2 and other gas molecules became hotter after absorbing IR. Four years later Niels Bohr reported his discovery that the absorption of specific wavelengths of light didn’t cause gas atoms/molecules to become hotter. Instead, the absorption of specific wavelengths of light caused the electrons in an atom/molecule to move to a higher energy state. After absorption of light of a specific wavelength an atom couldn’t absorb additional radiation of that wavelength without first emitting light of that wavelength. (Philosophical Magazine Series 6, Volume 26 July 1913, p. 1-25) Unlike the glass which reflects IR back where it comes from, CO2 molecules emit IR up and sideways as well as down. In the time interval between absorbing and reemitting radiation, CO2 molecules allow IR to pass them by. Glass continuously reflects IR. Those who claim that CO2 molecules in the atmosphere can cause heating by trapping IR have yet to provide any empirical scientific evidence to prove such a physical process exists. The experiment by R.W. Wood demonstrates that even a highly reflective covering cannot cause heating by trapping IR in a confined space. There is no way CO2, which at best only affects a small portion of the IR produced by earth’s surface, can heat the atmosphere by trapping IR. Contrary to the lie repeated in news stories about climate, science doesn’t say that CO2 is causing higher temperatures by trapping IR. Empirical science indicates that no such process exists in this physical universe.


    Here’s a guideline – if a non-scientist tells you what is or is not good science, you should be very skeptical of his unverified statement.

    3 posted on Tuesday, February 03, 2009 7:25:32 PM by Post Toasties (Conservatives allow the guilty to be executed but Lefties insist that the innocent be executed.)
    [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]
    To: kathsua
    “If it isn’t science, why do so many scientists claim it is?”
    Because nobody gets hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in grants to study something that isn’t a problem. So, the “scientific community” looks the other way as the UN and western governments back up the dump truck full of tax-payer money to the back doors of their labratories.
    It’s about money. As my grandfather taught me a long, long time ago. It’s always about money.

    To: kathsua; OKSooner; honolulugal; Killing Time; Beowulf; Mr. Peabody; RW_Whacko; SideoutFred; …

    FReepmail me to get on or off

    Climate Research News
    Click on POGW graphic for full GW rundown
    Ping me if you find one I’ve missed.

    To: Post Toasties; kathsua
    Here’s a guideline – if a non-scientist tells you what is or is not good science, you should be very skeptical of his unverified statement.
    Here’s another guideline – if someone with a PhD in science tells you that you must change your life because of something that science dictates, you should be very skeptical of his pseudo-verified statement.

    For discussion purposes… Wiki seems to say that GW theory is based on a different effect than that of a greenhouse. To wit:
    The greenhouse effect refers to the change in the steady state temperature of a planet or moon by the presence of an atmosphere containing gas that absorbs and emits infrared radiation.
    Greenhouse gases, which include water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane, warm the atmosphere by efficiently absorbing thermal infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, by the atmosphere itself, and by clouds. As a result of its warmth, the atmosphere also radiates thermal infrared in all directions, including downward to the Earth’s surface.
    Thus, greenhouse gases trap heat within the surface-troposphere system. This mechanism is fundamentally different from the mechanism of an actual greenhouse, which instead isolates air inside the structure so that the heat is not lost by convection and conduction, as discussed below.

    To: grey_whiskers
    I say CO2 absorbs infrared, and you protest by sending me a link about how CO2 absorbs infrared?
    As Mother Gaia tilts and wobbles around a 23,000 year elliptical orbit that brings it closer to the Sun, and then out again, there is climate change. Heating and Cooling.
    Milankovitch and Wood worked this all out 100 years ago. Where is the mystery? But today, the Greens stand poised to wreck the economies of the West creating policies based on feelings: on un-scientific gibberish. Auto emission rules are made up by people who wouldn’t know a spark plug from a camshaft. The modern Diesel engine, which employed as the family car’s prime mover, could end our dependence upon foreign oil, is an object of some sort of cult hatred.
    What the hell is going on when a Republican Candidate, John McCain, a graduate of the US Naval Academy, where one is presumably required to pass Thermodynamics, has never made an anti- “Global Warming” statement.
    Development of domestic oil resources and refining capacity is fought tooth and nail. Coal? Worth your life to mention it in polite company. Nuclear? OK, When?
    We are not reaching the people at the mall. We cannot even get the point across to our representatives, who are largely lawyers, most without even the barest minimum of technical knowledge. They have fallen prey to pseudo-scientists who milk them like cows for research money to create self-fulfilling theoretical prophecies in which contrary data is dismissed.
    Sorry, but Americans, even those in positions of great power, are now so technically stupid* that when Al Gore says “The Sky is Falling!” they believe him.
    * Yeah. Stupid. Ignorance is reparable. This isn’t.

    conspiracy of idiocy at FR.

    To: kathsua
    This is silly, the absorption spectra of CO2 is well studied and known.
    Because of that spectra any doubling of CO2 can only increase temperature by a couple of degrees C. The function is logrithmic and there is absolutely no science showing any tipping point or linear relationship between CO2 ppm and temperature increase.
    In fact CO2 has risen in a linear fashion for the past decade with no accompanying increase in temperature. So the question is when does AGW become falsified. 10 years, 20, 50, 100?
    Never is the right answer I suspect.

    24 posted on Wednesday, February 04, 2009 8:36:04 PM by Gondring (Paul Revere would have been flamed as a naysayer troll and told to go back to Boston.)
    [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]
    To: jwalsh07
    In fact CO2 has risen in a linear fashion for the past decade with no accompanying increase in temperature.
    If solar variability is a factor, then we might see a decrease even in an AGW scenario.

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  2. Posted October 20, 2009 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    hi good article. gonna bookmark this page