KCTS 9 Detailed Responses

KCTS 9 Detailed Responses

These misleading statements are all the more inappropriate because they are frequently (and incorrectly) attributed to individual scientists (such as Dr. Alan Hamlet) or journal articles prepared by researchers in the Climate Impacts Group (e.g. Mantua et al. (2010) which evaluated impacts to Pacific Northwest salmon as part of the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment).

Here are some examples of conclusions based on an accurate assessment of the science and factually incorrect or misleading statements or conclusions aired in the KCTS-9 piece.


Accurate scientific conclusion:
“Increasing air temperature, loss of snowpack and glaciers, and increasing winter precipitation are projected to increase winter flooding, intensify summer low flows, and increase water temperature in the Skagit basin, placing additional stress on endangered salmon and other cold water fish in the basin.”

Misleading sound bites:
“Retreating glaciers will spell disaster for salmon.”  (It’s not true.  Dr. Hamlet didn’t say it.)
“Glacier loss is devastating the salmon habitat.”  (It’s not true.  Dr. Hamlet didn’t say it.)


Accurate scientific conclusion:
“Peak summer water temperature in the Pacific Northwest is projected to reach lethal limits for salmon in a number of streams in the Pacific Northwest by the end of the 21st century, suggesting that certain life histories for salmon in the Pacific Northwest that would expose fish to these temperature extremes may become increasingly unviable as warming progresses.”

Misleading message:
“Salmon will go extinct in the Pacific Northwest due to increasing incidence of lethal water temperatures.” (Scientific studies by the Climate Impacts Group and others do not support this conclusion.)


Accurate scientific conclusion:
“Sea level rise may impact eel grass beds in Puget Sound reducing important habitat for salmon and access to forage food.”

Misleading statement:
Loss of eel grass beds in Puget Sound will impact Pacific Northwest salmon because salmon eat eel grass. (Salmon forage for food in eel grass beds. They are not herbivores.)

These misstatements of fact and erroneous attempts to present the projected impacts of climate change on salmon in black and white terms for a TV audience ultimately undermine the efforts of the scientific community to accurately assess and describe the risks of climate change, and erode public confidence in the careful work that has been done by many groups to understand the impacts of climate change and help the region plan for a future that is likely to be substantially different from our past.  This is very unfortunate, because the confusion that inaccurate reporting creates ultimately feeds directly into the hands of those who would like to discredit the science for their own reasons; and the public, not surprisingly, doesn’t know who in this sea of information to trust.

These kinds of errors (and their improper attribution to individual scientists or papers) also call attention to some of the major pitfalls of translating science for a lay audience in the popular media.  Primary sources who contribute scientific information to the development of TV programs are generally not allowed to review the final product, which ultimately allows these errors to slip into the main stream without review.  Once there, they tend to persist and grow.  The erroneous statement that loss of glaciers will decimate the Skagit’s salmon habitat is now propagating itself across cyberspace, when in fact it is mostly human activities that have decimated the salmon habitat.

For those who want to follow up on the details, there are a number of carefully prepared scientific reports that present the science behind these issues and provide balanced and carefully thought out conclusions that are accessible to a lay audience.  These include:

Swinomish Impact Assessment Technical Report  (highlighted in the piece)

Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment

Seattle City Light Climate Change Analysis

Skagit River Basin Climate Science Report

In addition to this website, Climate Impacts Group is also a good source of information on climate change impacts in the Pacific Northwest and Skagit Basin.

In addition to the scientific inaccuracies, the report also states “Under Cladoosby’s leadership, the Swinomish have become the first tribe in the country to assemble a panel of scientists — the Skagit Climate Science Consortium — and conduct a comprehensive climate adaptation plan.”  As noted through the link to the Swinomish Tribe’s website above, the Skagit Climate Science Consortium did not participate in the Comprehensive Climate Adaptation Plan. The Skagit Climate Science Consortium Vision and Mission can be found here.