I’ve listened to Dave Lee’s morning show on 830 WCCO AM radio for years. We’re both North Dakotans. Dave grew up in the small town of Hatton, while I was raised in Fargo. Prior to WCCO, Dave worked for Fargo’s news and talk radio station, KFGO The Mighty 790 AM, whose tagline is, “News You Trust.” Over the years, his folksy manner and homespun anecdotes drew me in. I liked Dave. I trusted Dave. For me, he personified WCCO’s tagline, “The Good Neighbor.”
Recently, he broke that trust. A good neighbor is fair with the facts. Dave wasn’t when he reported on his visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He told the audience “global warming is interesting and climate warming is interesting.” Then he delivered a whopper: “And if you think it is something new, think again.” He claimed a “parchment” he saw in the museum showed Egypt experienced “climate warming issues back in 21 [sic] B.C.”
A flash of anger and disbelief hit me as I listened while driving to my downtown office. How could a responsible journalist and trusted voice in our community make such a statement? I thought of my three children and the activities we treasure: outdoor hockey, fishing, and Boundary Waters canoe trips. I thought of the people whose livelihood depends on walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs (warmer temperatures mean warmer water, and that means less tullibee, a cold-water fish that is an important source of food for walleye). Surely, all Minnesotans can agree we’re obligated to leave our children and grandchildren the same Minnesota we treasure.
Not parchment, not ‘climate’
When I arrived downtown, I walked to WCCO and asked for an audio clip of the story. I sent the clip to the museum. A curator in the Department of Egyptian Art confirmed no parchment (an animal skin used as a writing surface in ancient times) existed in the relevant galleries. Eventually, she determined that what he saw was not a parchment, but a typed, paper sign sitting on a plastic stand in front of several stone tablets and other objects that constituted the museum’s collection of material from the Late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period (ca. 2150-2010 B.C.).
More problematic than telling his listeners he “found a parchment” was Dave’s on-air reading of two sentences from the sign. He read them accurately, except for one word, “climatic.” The sign says “[t]he ancient Near East underwent climatic changes at this time and Egypt became increasingly arid.” Dave read: “[t]he ancient near east underwent climate changes at this time and Egypt became increasingly arid.” In the audio clip he pauses as he begins saying the word “climatic” and then he substitutes the word “climate.” That newly substituted word becomes the cornerstone of his conclusion: “So there you go, climate warming issues in 21 B.C.” He clearly meant 2100 B.C. because he referred to the 2150-2010 B.C. Late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period. But a paper is not a parchment. “Climatic” is not the same word as “climate.” Little or no rain (arid) is not warming temperatures.
The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it. I am an electrical engineer with a law degree. I’ve spent 20 years working with inventors and entrepreneurs. American inventors and entrepreneurs can solve the difficult problems caused by climate change and create new high-tech jobs and industries along the way. But they can’t do that if we don’t acknowledge the problem.
When a trusted and influential voice in our community tells Minnesotans that a “parchment” from ancient Egypt demonstrates people should “think again” about climate change, he makes people less likely to acknowledge the problem. When he substitutes the word “climate” for “climatic” so he can tell his audience, “there you go, climate warming issues back in 21 B.C.,” he sows confusion. And when he equates a natural climatic change that occurred 4,000 years ago with the issues we face today, he causes people to doubt what 97 percent of scientists tell us: Climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels is real, man-made and dangerous.
Dave’s story was not news that can be trusted. It certainly was not what a good neighbor does. Minnesotans need and deserve better.
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