CNN’s Attempt to Link the Singapore Airlines’ Turbulence to Climate Change Is Disgusting

Less than 24 hours after likely air turbulence caused injuries and even a death on a Singapore bound, Singapore Airlines fight, CNN reporter, Jacopo Prisco, was quick to raise the specter of climate change as the cause. There is no real-world connection between long-term climate change and trends in air turbulence or in air injuries. There is no data whatsoever indicating climate change threatens to cause an increase in unstable air currents, and the data that does exist shows that even as the planet has slightly warmed, in-flight injuries from turbulence have declined or remained relatively flat, even as the number of fliers and miles flown have increased dramatically.

The reader might notice the phrase “likely air turbulence” in the paragraph above. That’s because, although from the experience of the aircraft and the testimony of the passengers and flight crew, turbulence was the most likely cause of the deadly mishap, until the flight recorders are checked, and plane examined we can’t know for certain their were no other issues contributing to or causing the jet’s unexpected sharp drop in altitude and erratic flight for a short period thereafter.

Despite its title, most of CNN’s story, “Climate change could be about to make flight turbulence a lot worse,” is a straight forward discussion of the various type and degrees of turbulence, how it can affect flights and cause injuries, and how many people experience in-flight turbulence and injuries each year. So far so good, straight reporting in the aftermath of a horrific, ultimately deadly, air incident.

Not content to stick with the facts, however, Prisco then brings in the climate change angle, quoting Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading in the UK, who told Prisco that he:

believes that climate change is modifying turbulence, and started studying the subject in 2013. “We ran some computer simulations and found that severe turbulence could double or triple in the coming decades,” he says.

Williams’ analysis predicts that clear-air turbulence will increase significantly around the globe by the period 2050-2080, in particular along the busiest flight routes, and the strongest type of turbulence will increase the most.

Of course, the flight computer simulations use inputs from climate models to produce their outputs of future conditions. The problem is model forecasts are only as good as the assumptions and data that is input into them. But, as Climate Realism has discussed repeatedly, here, here, here, and here, for example, climate models are woefully flawed, consistently producing forecasts that don’t match the temperature and other weather and climate conditions that the world is actually experiencing. As a result, Williams’ forecast of worsening turbulence is a case of what is known in the sciences as “Garbage in, Garbage out!”

Sadly, almost every time a flight encounters serious turbulence, especially if it results in injuries, the mainstream media is quick to claim climate change is making flying more dangerous. Citing real-world data, Climate Realism has debunked this pathetic attempt to tie greenhouse gas emissions to in-flight turbulence several times in the past, including our rebuttal to the BBC last year. Repeating the same lie over and over again, even if one thinks it is in a good cause, like preventing a purported climate crisis, does not make it the truth.

The facts about trends in turbulence amidst modest warming is that there is no increasing trend. A 2021 report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plotted accident data related to turbulence, finding no statistically significant increase since 1989, despite a tremendous increase in passengers and miles flown. See Figure 1 below:

If turbulence had increased due to climate change as CNN’s story implies, there would be a clear upward trend demonstrated in the graph. Instead, turbulence related aircraft accidents have held steady since about 1995, even as the number of people travelling and the number of airline miles travelled has increased dramatically globally.

CNN’s decision to allow Prisco to act like a vulture before the body was cold, promoting false climate alarm, sans evidence, was awful exercise of judgement. Even before the poor 71-years-old man from Britain who died during the Singapore Airlines had been laid to rest, and even as dozens of people injured on the flight remained hospitalized, Prisco made hay of the tragedy to promote a political narrative about dangerous climate change. This is a disgusting indicator of the state of the modern media. This story is just one instance, perhaps explaining why trust in journalists has fallen so dramatically over the years as those tied to the mainstream media have repeatedly parroted claims made by activist, politicians, and special interests, about myriad recent scientific and political controversies and policies, only to have those claims and narratives falsified again and again.

Such stories might suggest to any thoughtful observer that the press, with alarming regularity, misrepresents, covers up, and even fabricates stories in pursuit of an agenda.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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  1. Another shamelessly stupid knee jerk claim that climate change had a role in the unfortunate death of a passenger who was either not in his seat or not buckled in as were several other passengers who were injured from this airline turbulence disturbance! These occurrences happen very rarely and when they do can cause serious injuries if people are not securely fastened into their seat 💺 properly! If you’re traveling in any aircraft follow instructions when turbulence occurs and don’t leave your seat and always buckle up!
    This is just common sense safety but the airline will probably be sued for not informing the passengers of the sudden drop in altitude! It’s part of the risk in flying and not the pilots fault but CNN uses any kind of tragic event to justify their idiotic claims!


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