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Yellow Journalism

December 4, 2019

The term "yellow journalism" refers to news media that emphasizes sensationalism over facts. It usually refers to tabloids that specialize in scandals or celebrity misdeeds. But it can also be directed at mainstream media that ignore or distort facts in order to present a favoured partisan view. A case in point is a recent news item on Global Television News predicting that food prices in Canada will rise next year, driven, of course, by climate change.

The news item was based on Canada's Food Price Report, 10th Edition, 2020. The report analyzes numerous factors that contribute to food prices, including population growth, changes in eating habits, increased demand from developing countries, trade barriers, inflation, competition, and Global's current hobby horse, climate change.

According to Global BC's News Hour, the Food Price Report projects that food prices in 2020 will increase "with climate change being singled out as the biggest contributing factor." But not only is that not true, it is impossible.

The Food Price Report, which apparently nobody in Global read (or if they did, decided to misrepresent), lists several variables affecting food prices and, for each one, states whether it will increase prices, decrease them, or vary. The report lists climate change as one of these variables and states that its effect on prices will vary, which means it could either increase or decrease them. This makes sense. A drought will reduce crop yields, increasing prices, while a warm growing season could increase the supply. So for Global to claim that the report singles out climate change as the "biggest contributing factor" to increasing prices is wrong. That's not what the report says. Whether it's wrong because Global was sloppy and didn't study the report or because Global decided to mislead its viewers is something only the network can know.

But there's a bigger problem, which the Food Price Report reflects. It is impossible to predict the effect of climate, whether it's changing or stable, on food production. Food production depends on weather, not climate. For example, the climate, which is long-term, may be hot and dry, but any given growing season can be cool and wet. An ice age can have a hot summer. As any farmer can tell you, food production depends on what's happening this season, not on some long-term average. And predicting the weather for an entire season is a fool's game.

Climate and weather can both be good sources of analysis of past production patterns. We can look at yields, prices, and distribution and determine what effect the weather had on them. But determining in advance what production yields will be? Good luck with that. It seems that Global, with its ongoing fixation on climate change, has chosen to ignore facts and logic in order to scare its viewers.