The Eco Forum
Once again, our magazine hit upon a hot-button issue that stokes the fires of our readers' emotions and intellects. Global warming is a topic that not only enflames certain individuals in the environmental community but can also spark heated and spirited discussion.
Actually, we are surprised that out of the 95,000 readers of Environmental Protection, our question on global warming incited only three responses, which we published in our March 2001 issue (see www.eponline.com under archives). Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." Thus, we invite you to fully participate in on-going discussions relevant to the environmental community.
Please remember though, in essence these are letters to the editor on a focused topic. Our goal is to provide a public forum to promote discussion of these topics, and we believe that the progress of environmental protection is furthered by healthy debate in a free society. Our only gate-keeping function is to avoid publishing libelous statements that are libelous or not relevant to the topic under discussion.
Stevens Publishing Corporation is not responsible for the contents or the accuracy of the readers' opinions expressed herein.
I have just finished reading The Eco Forum in the March, 2001 issue and I must say I am amazed at the low threshold set for acceptance of a letter. The first two letters by Mark Ryan and Kelly Wray presented viewpoints opposing the majority opinion that global warming is occurring and is caused by human activity. Their letters presented information, albeit not completely attributed or footnoted, that supported their positions. They raised issues that readers can research in peer reviewed literature for a better understanding of this complex investigation.
On the other hand, Carter Hart's letter is nothing more than a political diatribe filled with distortions, misstatements and demagoguery. He offers up pronouncements about un-attributed statements made by the "space administration" regarding ozone depletion that are completely opposite to the dozens of peer reviewed reports published by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and university scientists over the past twenty years. He cites two sentences from the Federal Register that refer to increasing the availability of bike paths as an alternative for commuters, states they show a grand conspiracy to eliminate private ownership of cars, and alleges this is fostered by Al Gore.
His paranoia even mixes global warming, the traffic scanners that allow you to sail through toll booths without stopping, license plates (which he seems to think were recently developed to track U. S. citizens), Adolph Hitler and Checkpoint Charlie. What any of these have in common, other than Hitler dying in Berlin nearly twenty years before Checkpoint Charlie was built by the Soviets, I cannot fathom. What I also cannot fathom is why in the world he was given a column-and-a-quarter of space to vent his venom against "special interest groups." Surely there were more than three letters received and at least one of them presented something worth reading in place of this National Enquirer piece.
Emergency Response On-Scene Coordinator, Ohio EPA
I am writing because of concerns about opinions printed in The Eco Forum. I am not talking about the opinions presented -- benighted or enlightened as they may be. I am talking about bad, or just-plain wrong information that gets published in your pages.
I think that you do have a gatekeeper function. It is one thing to host a chatroom -- the intellectual equivalent of a barroom brawl, if you ask me -- but it is entirely another thing to print some opinion as though you have verified the reliability of the information upon which the opinion is based.
Here is a recent example. Mark D. Ryan, of Birmingham, Ala., has been attributed the following:
" . . . I read a book several years ago about natural pollution events such as volcanic eruptions, dust storms and fires storms like those experienced this past summer in the United States and the potential impacts of these events on Earth's climate. I also read the famous study done in the early 1980s co-authored by the late Dr. Carl Sagan regarding nuclear winter and its effects on global climate. It was noted in the natural events book that one of the major volcanic eruptions, Mt. Vesuvius or Mt. Krakatoa produced more carbon dioxide than humankind has produced since our existence on the planet."
Actually, what he probably read was that Krakatoa and the other volcanoes spewed out more particulates (not carbon dioxide) than all of human civilization. There is a world of difference between particulate and carbon dioxide emissions, especially when it comes to their affects on global climate. (I will not go into the science here.)
Just imagine how many of your readers -- especially those who think that global climate change is a big liberal conspiracy (you can find some pretty interesting opinions on the Internet) -- now think, and quite incorrectly, that volcanoes spew out more carbon dioxide than all anthropogenic sources put together for all time. If that were true, then there really would be no point in attempting to combat carbon-dioxide emissions because it would represent a very small perturbation on a very large atmospheric carbon-dioxide flux, over which humans have no control. But that is what many people would like to argue, though it is wrong, and it matters because such (misinformed) people may have the ear of policymakers, or policymakers may turn to such misinformed people for support of a particular policy.
I could go on about the other misinformation in the other Eco Forum opinions. I found that of Carter Hart to be pretty bizarre, and I would be interested in his "space administration" sources. Some of it (the latter part) was rather offensive, and some of it seemed like a patchwork quilt of bits of disparate pieces of unrelated information joined in a way to give a completely different message. That's demagoguery at its finest.
The bottom line is that you should not allow misinformation to be printed, both for the sake of accuracy and your publication's own good name. You do not have an obligation to print anything and everything; that is what gatekeeping is all about. The accuracy of the information is more important than the message supported by the information. Unfortunately for global climate change -- I really hate the term "global warming" because it is uninformative and also misleading -- it is easy to take pot shots but difficult to devise workable solutions to a real problem, and The Eco Forum seems to be where the pot shots are taken.
In any case, I hope that you will consider what I have said about the editorial gatekeeper function for The Eco Forum.
David L. Wagger, PhD
This article originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 12, No. 5, p. 8.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.