Year 4, Month 12, Day 6: The Way You Do The Things You Do

The NYT tries to make itself look good, and doesn’t do very well at all:

EARLY this year, The Times came under heavy criticism from many readers who care deeply about news coverage about the environment — especially climate change.

In January, The Times dismantled its “pod” of reporters and editors devoted to that subject. And in March, it discontinued its Green blog, a daily destination for environmental news.

Times editors emphasized that they were not abandoning the subject — just taking it out of its silo and integrating it into many areas of coverage. The changes were made for both cost-cutting and strategic reasons, they said, and the blog did not have high readership. Readers and outside critics weren’t buying it. They scoffed at the idea that less would somehow translate into not only more, but also better.

In the Corporate States of America, discussion of an existential threat to capitalism is a grave error of etiquette. November 24:

Discussion of the Times’ handling of climate change usually tries to cast it as a matter of priorities, with environmental advocates justifiably pointing out that climate deserves more (much more!) coverage. Others note that when the NYT continues to provide a forum for climate-change denialists like columnist Ross Douthat and other apostles of the specious journalistic doctrine of false equivalency, it undermines its own reputation for veracity and integrity.

Here’s another way to think about it. Just as newsprint is the medium for the Times’ journalism, opinion, and advertising, the climate is the medium for the world’s culture. Civilization’s varied accomplishments, discontents, aspirations, joys, and tragedies are only possible because of the climatic stability which has allowed our complex culture to flourish. While newspapers may be able to shift their readership online, Earth’s ecosystems have no analogous option. Lose the climate, and we lose it all.

That’s why good reporting and analysis of the climate crisis is so important.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 23: But They Are Always Right In The Beginning

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer (OH) tries to make some sort of point:

There is no question Typhoon Haiyan was devastating — some declared it one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. It reportedly had sustained winds near 150 mph and a storm surge of 20 feet. (Some reports say wind gusts exceeded 200 mph.) Initial reports predicting up to 10,000 dead have been scaled back to 2,000 to 2,500 by President Benigno Aquino III. The storm still wiped out large sections of cities and towns, displacing thousands, and has led to an urgent call for aid for survivors.

It also has climate watchers wondering if Haiyan is just the beginning. Like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Haiyan’s strength and destructive impact is bringing warnings of even more powerful storms in the future because of changes in the climate.

Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines delegation at the United Nations climate talks currently under way in Warsaw, made it clear where he stands. In a speech Monday, Sano said he will stop eating until “meaningful” progress is made on climate change. From the BBC:

“In solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home, I will now commence a voluntary fasting for the climate. This means I will voluntarily refrain from eating food during this Cop, until a meaningful outcome is in sight. What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness right here in Warsaw.”

Bruce McQuain, writing for the website, offers sympathy to Sano and the people suffering in the Philippines. But he also says Sano is wrong about the UN taking action on climate change and says it’s not necessary. McQuain warns that proposed measures to reduce carbon emissions would “ruin” economies and bring only marginal results…

Because a conservative douchebag writing on has so much credibility it’s just awesome. November 13:

Self-styled fiscal conservatives who loudly proclaim that meaningful actions to address climate change would hurt economies simply demonstrate their own inability to think in timespans longer than the next quarterly report. Strategies like strengthening infrastructure, decentralizing our power grid, shifting the global energy economy to renewable sources, and developing less wasteful manufacturing practices are all sound investments in a longer-term future; they are the large-scale equivalent of preparing for flooding by reinforcing levees and stockpiling sandbags, steps which deficit hawks would no doubt deride as too costly or economically damaging.

The science is unequivocal, despite the natterings of denialists. There is no more uncertainty about the human causes of climate change — and the dangers it presents to our civilization — than there is about the causal link between smoking and cancer. Anticipating the damage from a climate-transformed world, and working proactively to minimize its extent, is fiscal common sense. Even more important, it’s the right thing to do for the posterity of our species.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 30: I’m Looking Through You

The Denver Post’s Vincent Carroll addresses the LA Times’ recent decision to exclude denialists’ letters:

Most skeptics of any sophistication recognize that global warming has occurred and appreciate that some or much of it in recent decades could be caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. But they tend to believe, for example, that there are more uncertainties in the science than generally conceded, that the relative dearth of warming over the past 15 or more years is a blow to the models and that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has demonstrated consistent bias in favor of alarmist interpretations.

Surely readers should be free to debate such points.

For that matter, are there really no properly credentialed experts who question whether humans are largely responsible for the warming since the 1970s, as the IPCC maintains? Of course there are — and it would be editorial arrogance to exclude their views.

Climatologist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville declares on his blog that “evidence from my group’s government-funded research … suggests global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution.”

Is that a factual inaccuracy or simply a minority view among climatologists?

Is it factually inaccurate to declare “we don’t know” how large the human contribution to warming is, as Judith Curry, professor of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told an NPR reporter in August?

I’ve criticized Republican candidates who dismiss the mainstream view of global warming as a hoax, and no doubt will again, but I’m also reluctant to shut down reader discussion on issues in which most scientists may share similar views.

Where would it end? What other debates raging among our readers do the arbiters of truth believe we should silence?

Mealy-mouthed. October 20:

Even the most lenient opinion page would be unlikely to print a letter on a medical topic from an advocate of the medieval theory of “humours,” and media outlets don’t feel obliged to allot space to arguments for such regressive or unscientific viewpoints as geocentric cosmology, a flat Earth, or the moral acceptability of slavery.

It’s in this context the the LA Times’ recent decision to reject letters denying the reality of anthropogenic global warming must be understood. While climatologists disagree about particular climate forcing mechanisms or the relative severity of specific effects, there’s no longer any scientific argument about the human causes of climate change. Outlying views will always exist, but this is no reason to treat single dissenters as worthy of equivalent airtime or column inches — especially since, in media handling of climate issues, these contrarian opinions invariably come from the same individuals (Spencer, Curry, and Lindzen).

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 5, Day 17: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Radical economist Winona LaDuke, in the Duluth News-Tribune:

The problems facing our nation can’t be solved in Washington, D.C., said Winona LaDuke, economist, author and two-time vice presidential candidate for the Green Party. The solution starts at home.

“You’re either at the table or on the menu,” LaDuke, a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe, said in a speech Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

She focused on three main issues: climate change, extreme energy addiction and the rising cost to transport food.

“I’d really like to get people to hang around another thousand years,” LaDuke said. “And so the question is how are we going to do that?”

People today have two paths in front of them, one well-worn and scorched, the other green and less traveled.

“We’re the ones who can keep them from putting a mine in … our watershed, which is the wrong thing to do,” she said. “We’re the ones that can keep them from combusting the planet to oblivion. We’re the ones that can keep them from changing the direction of any more rivers or blowing off the top of mountains, yeah. Or genetically engineering the world’s food chain … what a great spiritual opportunity that is, to be those people, to do the right thing.”

I like Winona LaDuke; I think she’d probably agree with the gist of this letter. May 4:

It’s indisputable that the struggle to address global heating and its devastating consequences must be waged on the home front, and Winona LaDuke is correct in her assertion that for the most part, useful approaches to the climate crisis will probably not emerge from Washington, DC. But this simplistic formulation ignores the role that our notoriously dysfunctional Congress plays in making it exponentially more difficult for individual, local, and regional solutions to develop and flourish.

When Republican Representatives and Senators demonize science and block even the most eminently sensible legislation for patently political motivations, this sets them in opposition to the American people’s natural impulse to action and innovation. When conservative media downplay the danger of climate change and instead assert bizarre conspiracy theories, they corrupt the national conversation and make it harder for ordinary citizens to stay well-informed about the grave threat posed by a runaway greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 4, Day 19: Turn On Your Lovelight

The Missoulian reports on Steven Bunning’s recent speech:

Montanans need to look no farther than their own state to see the effects of global warming, a University of Montana professor said Thursday.

Steven Running is the Regents professor of ecology at UM and was on a United Nations climate change panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

For the past 30 years at UM, Running has used satellites to study the global environment and measure its health.

Running spoke to students and faculty members at Rocky Mountain College on Thursday and will make similar climate change presentations at Montana State University Billings on Friday.

Not only is climate change real and mostly caused by human activity, global warming also hits close to home, he said.

Global mean temperatures are rising at an accelerating rate, and the earth no longer has cooling cycles as it once did.

Signs of that trend are everywhere, but none is more dramatic than the fact that the polar ice cap around the North Pole has receded more than 40 percent since 1979.

That melt is expected to continue and “by 2040 or 2050, the Arctic Ocean may be open water,” Running said.

Closer to home, all glaciers in Glacier National Park could be gone by 2020 if current trends continue.

Al Gore is fat. Also. April 5:

At this late date, a newspaper headline announcing that climate change is real forms excellent evidence of the corporate corruption of our public discourse.

Of course climate change is real. The scientific evidence is overwhelming; climatologists’ predictions have been confirmed with ever-increasing precision, and by now the consequences of runaway global warming are showing up all around us: more fires, more droughts, more extreme precipitation, more weird weather everywhere.

An article on outer space no longer needs to acknowledge those who believe the Earth is flat; an article on medicine would be irresponsible if it referenced the medieval theory of humors. On no other subject has the hard and irrefutable evidence of science been subjected to so much unwarranted obloquy; climate scientists routinely find themselves subject to legal harassment along with death threats and public campaigns of intimidation. Why? Their research has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt the reality of the greenhouse effect, of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, and of the likely consequences to human civilization of allowing this state of affairs to continue.

The simple answer is that fossil fuel corporations cannot stand hindrance or interruption in their continued pursuit of record profits, and a few impressive-sounding “think tanks” and heavily-degreed spokespersons are a good investment if they can help delay the robust policies needed to address the crisis.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 11, Day 9: Fair And Balanced: 50% Truth, 50% Lies

The Arizona Daily Star reprints Eugene Robinson’s column from the Washington Post, in which he wonders:

We’ve had two once-in-a-century storms within the span of a decade. Hurricane Sandy seems likely to be the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina. Lower Manhattan is struggling to recover from an unprecedented flood and the New Jersey coast is smashed beyond recognition.

Will we finally get the message?

How, at this point, can anyone deny the scientific consensus about climate change? The traditional dodge – that no one weather event can definitively be attributed to global warming – doesn’t work anymore. If something looks, walks and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Especially if the waterfowl in question is floating through your living room.

For decades now, researchers have been telling us that one of the effects of climate change would be to make the weather more volatile and violent. Well, here we are.

And here we will remain, perhaps for the rest of our lives. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest, the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by an incredible 40 percent. We have altered the composition of the air.

Rupert Murdoch has a lot to answer for. He’s not the only one, but he’s a biggie on the list of climate criminals. Sent November 3:

Hurricane Sandy’s devastation has indeed brought the metastasizing greenhouse effect back in the national spotlight. But is our chronically distracted American media up to the challenge of addressing a long-term issue fraught with compounded interdependencies and complex variables? Because this country’s politicians are for the most part creatures of the media, taking their cues from the opinions of well-paid professional pundits, this is a crucial question.

Any scientist who’s experienced media coverage of his or her work can attest that the standard of scientific literacy in our print and broadcast media is shockingly low. Statistics are misunderstood, misrepresented and misreported; tentative conclusions are broadcast as breathless fact; robust correlations are dismissed; false equivalencies are rampant.

Can an accelerating planetary crisis motivate our news establishment to handle climate change with higher standards of reportorial accuracy and integrity? Far beyond Tuesday’s election, this is the crucial question of our time.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 24: You Say Ee-ther, I Say Eye-ther…

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in an editorial:

While those with vivid memories of weather during the Depression might take umbrage, it is now official that July 2012 was the hottest month ever in the United States.

So far, 2012 is the driest and hottest year in more than a century. Farmers are battling a drought estimated to cover 63 percent of the country. Crops are failing and livestock are being put down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated half of all counties disaster areas and expects the lowest corn yield in 17 years. This soon will be reflected in higher food prices.

Meanwhile, wildfires have been a problem nationwide. Rivers are receding and exposing once dark river beds to direct sunlight. At the same time, heavy rains have hit parts of the United States, but the damage to crops and livestock has been done.

Writing July 28 in The New York Times, former climate-change skeptic Richard A. Muller conceded what most of the scientific community has already considered gospel — global warming is real. Mr. Muller now agrees that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to the rise in the planet’s temperature, but he also believes much of the extreme weather is the result of cyclical, natural forces.

While there will probably be an argument about the validity of global warming until the last polar bear drowns, the oppressive heat of July 2012 will be remembered for a long time — or until its record is broken.

That is to say, August. Sent August 13:

The scientific argument about the reality of planetary climate change was settled quite some time ago — well before the recent conversion of erstwhile skeptic Dr. Richard Muller. The overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists (ninety-seven percent, more or less) are in agreement on the issue, differing only in their interpretation of particular details.

Yes, there probably will “be an argument about the validity of global warming until the last polar bear drowns,” as your editor writes. Heck, there’ll probably be such an argument as long as there are enough humans to encompass a wide range of opinions and beliefs. But just because there’s an argument doesn’t mean that both sides have equivalent factuality. The Earth is not flat; astronauts actually landed on the moon; Elvis is dead; global warming is real, human-caused, and getting worse.

Without a responsible news media, the Jeffersonian ideal of “a well-informed citizenry” is unachievable — and if there ever was a time when we needed such a citizenry, it’s now.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 13: Coming Up: More On That Runaway Squirrel Story!

The Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA) regrets that the public is so uninterested in the problem:

Maybe the lack of substance in the presidential campaign reflects a perception by President Barack Obama and Republican erstwhile nominee Mitt Romney that voters aren’t really that plugged in.

If so, that would explain why issues such as climate change seem lost in the ether as the candidates seem content to trade daily attacks.

An illustration: Despite years of gloomy prognostications by scientists and California’s efforts to get out in front on global warming, most people in this state know absolutely nothing about the controversial cap-and-trade program, which is due to be rolled out in November, the same month as the presidential election.

According to new polling by the Public Policy Institute of California, 57 percent of likely voters say they haven’t heard anything about the program, in which the state will be auctioning off emissions permits. Cap and trade is a central part of California’s AB32, signed into law by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. AB32 sets limits on companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, while allowing non-polluters to sell permits to companies that exceed the new limits.

The state will get money from these auctions — with estimates as high as $1 billion annually. Gov. Jerry Brown is already eyeing this revenue to help pay for another controversial project — high speed rail, which might explain why two of three Californians say they have little or no confidence the state will spend the auction money wisely.

Yadda yadda yadda. Sent August 2:

Our species’ survival is absolutely the most important issue of the century — indeed, the most important issue in our entire history on the planet. Right? Right. When surveys show that citizens aren’t that worried about climate change, our media reliably poses the same old question: why not?

The answer is pretty simple: because that same media has for years been hewing to an irresponsible approach that “balances” every genuinely worried climatologist with a petroleum-funded denialist — thus presenting “both sides of the argument.” Our politicians take their cues from the media, so it’s hardly surprising that all but a few of our elected representatives won’t spend any more time on climate change than they have to.

If we want more people to be concerned about this very genuine and very terrifying threat, it is incumbent on our news media to inform them about it without equivocation or false equivalency.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 8, Day 12: What Would You Do If The People You Knew…?

The Monterey County Herald (CA) tells it like it is:

The United States, among the top three emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, cannot hope to confront climate change unless our political leaders stop tiptoeing around the issue. Few scientists doubt that the Earth’s climate is changing and growing warmer. Only a small number of skeptics dispute that humans are a prime cause of the problem, and the ranks of the skeptics just got smaller, with UC Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller joining the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is real and that human-caused pollution is a major culprit.

Describing his “total turnaround,” Muller wrote in a Sunday column for the New York Times: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

This summer offers a sense of the consequences. We’ve seen huge drought, Colorado on fire, and Atlanta recording its hottest day in history. While it’s impossible to tie specific events to climate change, these are the kinds of extremes we will increasingly see unless emissions are brought under control.

On the campaign trail, there is plenty of vague talk about “energy independence” or “clean energy,” with both presidential candidates ducking what policies they will pursue to reduce greenhouse gases.

J. Lo had TWINS! OMG! Sent August 1:

There is no better demonstration of the complementary dysfunctions of American media and American politics than the failure of both systems to properly address global warming. In a culture where news is a form of entertainment, it makes a bizarre sort of sense that the long-term consequences of atmospheric carbon dioxide are ignored or dismissed in favor of the latest celebrity scandal. When the subject is discussed at all, every genuine climatologist is “balanced” by a petroleum-funded spokesperson, creating the utterly false impression that the science of climate change is still unresolved. This is like including a member of the Flat Earth Society in a segment on the space program.

Things are no better in the political arena. An official in the previous administration famously asserted, in a conversation with journalist Ron Suskind, that “We’re an empire…we make our own reality.” We are indeed making our own reality, and it’s going to include droughts, wildfires, resource wars, steadily rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and all the other epiphenomena of an accelerating greenhouse effect. Pitting the exigencies of political theater against the laws of physics and chemistry is a recipe for disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 31: I Know Nothink!

The Iowa City Press-Citizen notes that nobody’s talkin’ about it:

The 800-pound gorilla in the Mount Pleasant High School Gymnasium Tuesday was the subject of climate change.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad called for a public discussion on drought conditions in Iowa, and all of the governmental players were there:

• U.S. Department of Agriculture.

• Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

• Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

• Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

• And the Farm Services Administration.

The phrase “climate change” or any analysis of causation for the current drought was absent from the public discussion. This was a meeting about row crop agriculture and related agricultural producers and it was intended to deal with the as-is situation.

The obvious problem, as Mark Schouten of Homeland Security and Emergency Response put it, “you can’t snap your fingers and make it rain.”


It was the Farm Services Agency that raised the issue of environmental groups, saying a group had sued for an environmental impact statement before releasing CRP acres to haying or grazing.

During the public comment section, a truck driver who had just delivered a load of grain stood at the microphone and demonized the environmental groups for trying to influence food production. It got the biggest applause at the event and the governor jumped on board reminding us of his joining a lawsuit in Nebraska against an environmental group.

Trouble in River City. Sent July 20:

It’s unsurprising that people still aren’t drawing the connection between the extreme weather hammering America’s farmlands and the accelerating greenhouse effect caused by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but blaming environmentalists for devastated crops while ignoring the role of climate change is like blaming oncologists for cancer.

While scientists have been making increasingly scary predictions for several decades about the consequences of uncontrolled greenhouse emissions, their words have gone unheeded; many who’ve tried to sound the warning have been mocked, harassed, and threatened for their pains. Meanwhile, our print and broadcast media have maintained a scrupulous false equivalency between genuine expertise and the pronouncements of petroleum-funded denialists.

The United States owes its existence to the Minutemen of Concord and Lexington, who responded unhesitatingly to a midnight rider’s call. The Paul Reveres of the present day are climatologists; our nation will owe its future to those who heed their alarms.

Warren Senders