Every so often blogger Tom Nelson conducts a search on a particular phrase connected to the climate debate and discovers all sorts of silliness. Earlier this week he looked for examples of people declaring that a particular locale is ground zero with respect to the effects of climate change.

But here’s the problem: everyone thinks ground zero is somewhere different. Which means that most (perhaps all) of these declarations are dead wrong. They’re meaningless. Journalists and activists evidently employ this phrase casually and cavalierly. Hey, it sounds dramatic and attracts attention.

In December 2008, John Connor – the lawyer who is CEO of Australia’s Climate Institute – was quoted in the The Courier Mail declaring that the northern part of the state of Queensland is ground zero for global warming (backup link here).

Two years later, the Center for Environmental Journalism reported that a research station in Antarctica is “ground zero for climate change” (backup link here). The person making that claim was a biologist named Christopher Neill. Incidentally, between 2007-2009 this gentleman received $90,000 in research funding from the activist organization Nature Conservancy. In 2003 he received $95,000 from the same source, which overlapped with still another project funded to the tune of $20,389. In total, Neill accepted more than $205,389 in financial assistance from an activist group in a single decade (see his CV here; backed up here). Yet the Center for Environmental Journalism didn’t think any of this was worth mentioning.

Last October National Geographic declared that ground zero for climate change is actually the Maldives – a collection of 1,200 islands in the Indian ocean (backup link here). In fairness, journalist Jon Bowermaster merely said the Maldives were “a front-runner” in the ground zero race. But that didn’t prevent the headline writer from awarding it them the gold medal.

According to the Smithsonian magazine, Alaska is climate change ground zero. But chemist Atiq Rahman insists that Bagladesh deserves this distinction (UK journalist Johann Hari describes Rahman as “a climate scientist” and “one of the IPCC’s leading members” – see backup links here and here).

Meanwhile, says the Miami Herald, a report released three days ago has “pinpointed South Florida as ground zero for global warming impacts” (backup link).

So the next time you hear someone self-importantly making similar remarks take a deep breath and remind yourself that there’s no need to panic. All that ground zero talk is just an opinion – a fact-free rhetorical flourish masquerading as news.


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