By Caleb Howe
The Day After Tomorrow is a disaster movie. The plot is fiction, a typical apocalypse story line common in film about the folly of man bringing about his ultimate demise. Fiction. Not too shabby fiction, either. Fiction, I am given to understand, means imaginary, made up, or not true. Still, the movie, like all of the genre, is also a warning to man: be not proud. Put down the nanobots, step away from Skynet, and for Gaia’s sake, do not drive that Hummer. The point being, using a story to dramatize some broader point is, of course, one of the main literary functions of fiction.
But then there are lies.
Let me take an aside here. I want to take a moment just now to tell you that this is not an article about how global warming is a myth or a conspiracy. It’s not an article about how conniving scientists have conspired to dupe the entire planet in order to suckle at the teat of Big Daddy Research Grant. It isn’t. No, this about is about truth in science. Truth, I am given to understand, is one of the main practical and moral functions of science.
Take, for example, this tweet:
— Alexander Verbeek (@Alex_Verbeek) April 4, 2015
Which leads to this article. Here’s a screenshot in case of the extremely remote chance that they update the story:
The tweeter is not the author. As the title indicates, the story is about extreme weather on the rise, and the photo shows an extreme collapse of a street. The caption extremely tells you it is a sinkhole in Baltimore. What might that cause you to think? Might you think that extreme weather caused an extreme sinkhole? Of course. Because that is what it means to say. They are telling you about extreme weather as the result of climate change, and they show an extreme weather event. Pretty cut and dried.
Only … not so much.
You see, this photo, which is commonly used as an immediate example of how global warming is already causing destruction, was taken when the side of a street collapsed into a sinkhole in Baltimore, Maryland. But contrary to the popular myth that this was caused by global warming, this is just an “extreme” example of an otherwise mundane event. In fact, this extreme example has some of the elements of a great disaster movie.
As the caption says, the ground was wet from recent rain. Now, before you panic, let me assure you that rain has been occurring on Earth for at least a hundred years. So the fact that there was rain in Baltimore should not be taken to mean “go into the shelter and bring seeds.” It was just rain. It made the ground wet. Wet dirt, in scientific circles, is sometimes called “mud”. You should keep that in mind, it’s important to our dramatic storytelling.
So we have rain and we have mud. What we also have, or had, was a retaining wall. The retaining wall was not new. It was a known quantity in the area. The city was in fact aware of it, it having been built in the late 1800s. Not only was the wall old, it had been “highly modified” over the years. Now our extreme sinkhole story has several things going on. There’s rain. Conflict. There’s mud. Complication. There’s an old retaining wall on it’s last legs. Drama. And of course, there’s a train. Or rather, train tracks. You see, the sunken street and old retaining wall and mud were all along a train track. Because of the tracks, there had also been, along and below the slope, excavation.
I know! I’m making popcorn RIGHT NOW.
And there is still more. So we have a wet slope held up by an ancient retaining wall that feels tired and ready to move on, lots of old city repairs and reconstructions, excavation along the line, and heavy train tracks that carry heavy trains. And what could we possible add to this mix? Why, exactly what every good disaster movie needs, the lone voice trying to warn everyone. A whisteblower. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the neighborhood residents:
People who live along East 26th Street have been concerned about the integrity of the retaining wall since at least the 1990s. Some say the landslide was only a matter of time.
“My wife and I haven’t been parking on the side of the street for years because we knew it was going to happen,” retired engineer Jim Zitzer told the Baltimore Sun.
Yep. So there’s a decayed and excavated slope, an old wall, a train and some rain, and of course, concerned locals; and it all leads up to cars getting sucked into the maw of a devastating sinkhole. Get me the SyFy channel!!
This was not global warming. It was not even, in fact, “extreme weather” as the authors of the post attempted to paint it. It was none of the things the subsequent article was about. Oh and by the way? It also wasn’t a sinkhole. That’s right, it was a landslide, as National Geographic pointed out. Maryland Geological Survey Director Richard Ortt even said it’s something “that happens all the time.” Not extreme weather. Not climate change. Common. Usual.
The authors of the Think Progress article got the photo wrong. They attribute to climate change something that is not the result of climate change. The caption is in fact flatly wrong about what even happened, calling it a sinkhole. It’s not a mistake any credible scientist would make. And speaking of credibility, here is the opening paragraph of the subsequent story.
Was the non-sinkhole sinkhole part of that estimated damage? If not, how many other events incorrectly and unscientifically attributed to climate change are included in that total? Still, the article is rocketing across social media today, accompanied by nods of consensus and grim predictions and smug ‘I told you so’ harumphs. And on the panic goes. It’s almost like they are trying to scare children.
That is not science. Maybe fiction. High drama fiction, and family fun if you’re watching John Cusack dodge a volcano or Jake Gyllenhaal burning books or Al Gore massaging his chakra. But for people who aren’t paid purveyors of fiction like those three, well, the picture is just a lie.
Truth matters. Facts matter. They should especially matter to people screaming SCIENCE in your face at the top of their lungs. So why do we keep seeing the same lie over and over? And more importantly, how many other lies are there?
By the way, I mentioned this to the person who sent the tweet. His handle is @Alex_Verbeek. I’ve been following him for some time for science news, particularly climate news. I sent him two tweets on the subject. Here are the two tweets about the article he tweeted and the image included in the tweet.
@Alex_Verbeek There had been a high level of modification and recent excavation weakened it.
— Caleb Howe (@CalebHowe) April 4, 2015
How did Science! enthusiast Verbeek respond to a factual error and a misrepresentation in his tweet? I’ll give you zero guesses.
Caleb Howe is Senior Fellow of Wearing American flag shirts. Contributing Editor to Redstate, Contributor, Truth Revolt, The Right Scoop.