Ambivalent coverage of climate change’s ‘new normal’
The American Meteorological Society released its annual “State of the Climate” report, a hefty, 258-page document chronicling changes in global warming data. Compiled by members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with 384 scientists from 52 countries, the report is used to set and influence domestic climate policy and distributes statistics that form the baseline for discussions of climate change.
This year’s report holds a wide roster of data—ranging from interesting to doomsday—and most major newspapers and wire serves at least ran something based on the report press release. But considering the importance, and acute detail, of the information contained in the release, the mainstream press provided a surprisingly limited amount of analysis.
Reuters filed a short summary, “Signs of new climate ‘normal’ apparent in hot 2012 report,” culling information entirely from NOAA’s press release, with one skeptical insertion framing the slowing surface temperature rise: “The decrease in temperatures has been noted by climate-change skeptics who question the impact of human activities.”
Likewise, MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times , and the Wall Street Journal pulled a quote from the press release, classifying 2012’s record-breaking temperatures as the “new normal.”
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!
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?
Newspapers have fired over 30,000 reporters in the last 5 years - Science and Climate journalists are the first to go.
“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: http://climateadaptation.tumblr.com/submit
Climate contradiction: Less snow, more blizzards
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: http://climateadaptation.tumblr.com/submit
About a Dozen Environment Reporters Left at Top 5 U.S. Papers
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