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Posts tagged "reporting"

Trigger warning: NYTimes goofily portrays Bill Nye the science guy as an anomaly. Science reporting still has a lonnnng way to go…

Thanks for the posts about the Black Forest Fire, but can you clarify what makes it the "worst" or "largest"? Obviously it's been hugely destructive, but past Colorado fires have burned tens of thousands more acres and killed more people, so I was just curious. Thanks!
climateadaptation climateadaptation Said:

Hi perfect-weather!

Good question. Two points. First, disasters are typically measured by economic impact, not lives or environmental damage.

So, the Black Forest Fire(good wiki entry) is the “worst in state history” due to the number of homes destroyed, which is now close to 500.

Agreed. There were many other fires in Colorado that were geographically larger, destroyed more volumes of trees and habitat, killed more animals, and killed more people. 

Natural disasters that kill a lot of people are categorized as “deadliest” (here’s a list). Damage to ecosystems are categorized as “environmental disasters” (this later category is, if memory serves, unofficial and possibly arbitrary since disasters are measured by relative [shorter term] economic impact).

Second point is there are known, but little discussed, problems in the field of journalism. Among them: Using proper definitions; filtering bias; incorporating appropriate perspective; and time.

Time is especially problematic in disaster reporting because the information flow is fast paced and constantly shifting. Thus, as you pointed out, early reports include incorrect terms that (usually) disappear as the story develops.

In the case of Black Forest Fire, early reports may have (I did not check) stated it was one of the “largest” fires rather than just “worst.” Recent reports have clarified it as the “worst.”

Does that help? 


Presumably because the two former environment editors are moving to new tasks, making it an orphaned effort in a shrinking newsroom: Tracking the Green Blog’s Reporters.”

I note that at the time of this posting, the above reader-notice has “0” comments…

The Crisis in Climate Reporting.”  - An event by climate, environment, and media experts on how journalists are a critical conduit to discussing climate change.

The speakers explored several practical solutions and then launch into a decent Q&A. Some were simple, such as directing readers to share their reading materials or collaborate with authors from various news outlets (e.g., Mother Jones partnering with, say, Washington Post to work on and cross-post the same stories, which would reach different audiences.). It was good to hear some practical solutions rather than esoteric brainstorming.

The public is poorly served by reports about climate change that follow familiar lines and surface only when there’s a severe weather event or UN conference; meanwhile, media outlets like the New York Times are scaling back on environmental reporting.

Orion and media watchdog Free Press convened a panel of authors and activists (including Kate Sheppard, M. Sanjayan, Bill McKibben, and others) to propose concrete actions for improving the state of climate reporting in the mainstream media.

Climate Science Communications Week is winding down at Climate Adaptation!  For the entire week of Feb. 18 - 23, I covered how climate change is discussed by the media, scientists, researchers, academics, and politicians. If you have sources or ideas on communicating climate change, send to:

To many climatey folks, bigger snow storms in winter is a no brainer. But to the rest of the world more snow is an utter contradiction. Indeed, climate deniers exploit this ignorance as a means to protect their own profits. Notorious climate denier congressman James Inhofe (R-OK) receives nearly 90% of his campaign contributions from oil companies, so he is happy to sell his soul to continue protecting his donors from climate legislation. He knows that, to the general public, “global warming” should mean warmer winters, and therefore less storms. It’s the perfect way for a politician to prey on his constituents.

Of course, more snow in winter does not disprove climate change. Indeed, it confirms what climate science has been saying for decades - more intense storms throughout the year.

More moisture in the air means larger precipitation events, regardless the time of year - winter or summer. The best lay-analogy I’ve heard is that climate change works like steroids - storms are “juiced,” making for stronger storms. Pretty simple, to my mind. But how this “juicing” works is a bit more complicated. Physics, computer models, atmospheric science, geography, temperatures, weather cycles, etc., all act together as the “steroid.”

Explaining why there will be bigger snow storms in winter is, therefore, one of the biggest challenges amongst climate researchers and science journalists who aim to inform the public.

USA Today gifted us this fine report explaining how winter storms will become more intense. The clarity is perfect:

Global warming could lead to more blizzards but less overall snow.

With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit.

Then when a whopper of a blizzard smacked the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow in some places earlier this month, some of the same people again blamed global warming.

How can that be? It’s been a joke among skeptics, pointing to what seems to be a brazen contradiction.

But the answer lies in atmospheric physics. A warmer atmosphere can hold, and dump, more moisture, snow experts say. And two soon-to-be-published studies demonstrate how there can be more giant blizzards yet less snow overall each year. Projections are that that’s likely to continue with man-made global warming.


— The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading federal and university climate scientists. This also fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation — both rain and snow — in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the National Climatic Data Center.

— Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the last 45 years.

— And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years. The study’s author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 and 70 percent by the end of the century.

Shorter snow season, less snow overall, but the occasional knockout punch,” Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said. “That’s the new world we live in.”

Ten climate scientists say the idea of less snow and more blizzards makes sense: A warmer world is likely to decrease the overall amount of snow falling each year and shrink snow season. But when it is cold enough for a snowstorm to hit, the slightly warmer air is often carrying more moisture, producing potentially historic blizzards.

Great read via the underrated USA Today

It’s Climate Science Communications Week at Climate Adaptation!   For the entire week of Feb. 18 - 23, I’ll cover how climate change is discussed by the media, scientists, researchers, academics, and politicians. If you have sources or ideas on communicating climate change, send to:

I signed up. It’s a call-in webinar. There will be discussions about the future of climate journalism, then Q&A with some experts:

On February 14, join a panel of writers and thinkers at 4 p.m. Eastern to discuss ways to rectify the situation. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones, Orion columnist Bill McKibben, writer/activist Wen Stephenson, CBS News contributor and Nature Conservancy scientist M. Sanjayan, Nature founder Thomas Lovejoy, Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director Josh Stearns, Susie Cagle of, and others will share concrete ideas for getting the public better coverage of climate issues.

Sign up: The Crisis in Climate Change Reporting.

This should get more traction.

The New York Times is dismantling its environment desk and reassigning the reporters throughout the newsroom provoked an outpouring of reaction, much of it suggesting that now isn’t the time to take risks that could diminish the coverage of climate change.

Michael Mann, a climatologist who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said specialized, experienced environment editors and reporters are essential to navigate the escalating politics and complicated science of climate change. “Without properly trained science journalists to serve as honest brokers … the public is increasingly ill-equipped to sift through the cacophony of anti-scientific propaganda that pervades the public discourse and to identify the emerging threats to our health and our environment,” Mann said. 

With two editors and seven reporters dedicated exclusively to environmental coverage, the Times has long been home to the single largest environment staff of any daily U.S. newspaper. Its coverage has become even more important in recent years, because many struggling papers have slashed their reporting staffs, often relying on the Times as inspiration for the stories they do cover.

If the Times’ coverage falters, more pressure would be placed on other national media—including the Associated Press and National Public Radio—to fill the gap, as well as Bloomberg and Reuters, which report on climate primarily for financial audiences, and environmental magazines and specialized websites.

Once the Times’ environmental desk is dismantled, the nation’s top five newspapers by readership—the Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal—will have about a dozen reporters and a handful of editors among them whose primary responsibility is to cover the environment.

Via Inside Climate News

If science journalism were like mainstream journalism, every time we wrote a story about spacecraft in orbit, we’d also need a comment from the flat-earthers to “balance” the story. I think that too many journalists are reneging on their duty to present the truth by hiding behind a fundamentally mistaken interpretation of balance.

David Harris, freelance science writer, on why he thinks traditional journalism practices undermine science journalism’s ability to reach new audiences. Do you think this is true? How should a journalist approach the issue of balance? 

Read more about Harris’s work in this week’s featured member profile on

Not really. Often times journalists don’t have much say in the final product. Drafts come back from editors asking for grafts to balance the story. It’s likely the newspaper doesn’t want to be perceived as biases and/or playing favorites. Second, though a small group, flat-earthers are incredibly vocal and can cause severe damage if they’re voice is not heard. So, papers operate both on fear and on self-perception.

Yet, I find that modern science reporting rarely follows this same model of fear. Many newspapers are increasingly likely to report the truth. The NYTimes, for example, has dozens of dedicated staff that reports on science from all angles, from business to progressive. They publish several pieces per day and skip the “balance” part mentioned above.

So, I push back against Harris and ask for some data supporting his conclusion. I think he’s operating on a perception of the recent past, and not on a snap-shot of today’s newspapers.

(via onaissues)

Follow up to my previous post: Starvation returns to the Horn of Africa, extreme drought, high food prices, rape. The Economist and Al Jazeera are vigilantly covering the devastating drought in east Africa - the worst since the 1960s effecting Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. Aid groups can’t get in sufficiently to provide food, water, and shelter. Refugee camps, it seems, are run by militant rebel groups.

Some rebel groups have cut deals with al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab to allow starving refugees cross borders. The U.S. State Department has issued a strongly worded letter to al-Shabaab to allow foreign aid into Somalia. Update below

Who is to blame? An oscillation in the climate in the form of La Niña—a cooling of the surface temperature across the equatorial eastern-central Pacific, causing big changes in airflow and weather patterns—is likely to have contributed to the droughts.

But humans too play a part. “This is a preventable disaster and solutions are possible,” says Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s humanitarian director. It is no coincidence that the worst-affected areas are also the poorest in the region. Long-term investment could have made villages and towns more resilient.

Sources: The Economist, Al Jazeera, CNN Africa

Update: US Dept. of State sending food aid.

This week, USAID activated a disaster assistance response team (DART) operating out of Ethiopia and Kenya to work with the World Food ProgramUNICEF, and over a dozen other organizations to coordinate emergency efforts to relieve the crisis. So far this year, the United States has provided more than $366 million to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and continues to explore additional ways to assist those in need.

 Read the Press release, here.