Year 4, Month 12, Day 23: So You Don’t Forget, Call Before Midnight Tonight!

Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe has noticed that our media sux donkey dick, according to the Delaware News-Journal.

As the global science of human-caused climate change improves, the public’s inadequate understanding “is definitely a worry,” a top national researcher said Monday.

“I think, for a long time, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the facts are enough,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist retained by Delaware to prepare a climate change forecast.

“In terms of scientific certainty, we’re adding decimal points [to confidence], whereas in public opinion, we could be advancing by tens of percent” through outreach and better communication, said Hayhoe, a lead author for the latest National Climate Assessment. “I think that is what we have to be doing.”

Hayhoe made her remarks at an event hosted by the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and the Environment.

A report guided heavily by Hayhoe’s research concluded in June that Delaware’s summers will grow steadily hotter on average in coming decades, with temperatures closer to those of the deep coastal southeast if emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases continue.

Time to spank some talking heads, I suppose. December 10:

Industrial civilization’s CO2 emissions are heating Earth’s atmosphere, making a far less hospitable planet for our descendants to inherit — but this news is apparently less important than the latest fleeting scandal, royal baby, or nubile starlet. Our celebrity-fixated mass media has turned us into an ADD society, perpetually distracted and unable to focus on the genuine and very serious challenges our species faces in the coming decades.

But there’s more to the story than that. For decades, “think tanks” subsidized by the fossil fuel industries have promoted climate-change denialism, supplying news outlets with unctuous and telegenic pundits who stridently reject the alarming implications of climate research in favor of false equivalence and misinformation.

The climate crisis is a civilizational emergency, but without a reformed and responsible news media competent to address science and environmental issues, the majority of our citizens will never know it — until it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 18: These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You

The Tennessean runs an Op-Ed deploring the state of our media:

It is often the case that what is absent from the nightly news sheds more light on media priorities than what is actually covered.

The lack of any serious coverage, for example, of a topic that is front and center in most other countries is one indication of very low media quality. It’s the reason that I have had to read about the release of the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change from foreign news sources, such as The Guardian, or by reading selected U.S. sources online.

The efforts of the IPCC represent one of the largest consensus-building undertakings in human history, and deal with an issue that affects not only the present, but also future generations. The panel’s exhaustive work, both pro bono and peer-reviewed, produces policy guidelines for world leaders. As has been the case since the group’s founding in 1988, the recent report continues to confirm the dire predictions for life on this planet under the business-as-usual model.

A key update in the report is the change of a 90 percent confidence level to 95 percent concerning man’s role in the changing climate. Converging to a 95 percent level of confidence from such a diverse body of scientists is no trivial matter, and impossible to write off even for the most relentless of conspiracy theorists.

Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along. November 8:

In an extraordinary mixture of journalistic irresponsibility and simple laziness, American news media and their financial enablers have succeeded in trivializing and minimizing what is unarguably the most important issue of our times. Observe their ludicrous false equivalence, which “balances” the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists with the unsupported rhetoric of petroleum-industry shills. Observe their relentless coverage of electoral horse-races and scantily-clad starlets, while a crisis of global proportions builds unremarked. How have we come to this pass?

For decades, the oil and coal industries have funded conservative “think tanks” which supply our media outlets with authoritative-sounding voices stridently rejecting the findings of climate scientists. They do this to perpetuate an economy built on convenience and consumption (while, oddly enough, reaping profits higher than any in our nation’s history).

America’s “can do” reputation is in tatters thanks to this ill-conceived strategy of calculated ignorance and greed. The time for denialism is over; the first step in solving the problem of climate change is to recognize its existence.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 9: Great Green Gobs…

The Lewiston Sun-Journal (ME) runs a good article from a trio of scientists, explaining all about fish kills:

Last summer, hundreds of economically valuable, fun-to-catch trout died at Lake Auburn. Some people blamed this event on “global warming,” but were they right to do so? It’s hard to say for sure, but the early ice-out and warm summer temperatures in 2012 did probably play a role, in combination with other, locally controlled factors.

To understand what happened to the fish, we need to know a bit about how lakes work.

During the summer, deep lakes stratify — divide horizontally — into a warm, well-lit upper layer and a cold, dark lower layer. Sunfish, like bass and bluegills, grow fastest at water temperatures around 80 degrees F, so they tend to live near the surface of the lake. However, lake trout and other salmonids live in the deeper layer, since they grow best at temperatures around 48 degrees F and cannot tolerate temperatures above 75-80 degrees F.

Last summer, a large bloom of phytoplankton — algae and cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) — developed in Lake Auburn. Phytoplankton growth got an early start when the ice went out in late March 2012, which was the second-earliest ice-out ever recorded for the lake.

More science in the popular press! April 28:

Fish kills are one of many ways that climate change, usually thought of as a planet-wide problem, manifests itself locally. The consequences of our civilization’s century-long carbon fuel binge will differ radically, depending on the particular regional environment — and this variety of impact creates another problem. Our news media’s fixation on simplistic explanations of complex phenomena means that even though its epiphenomena (freak storms, torrential rainfalls, droughts, forest fires, fish kills) may lead the nightly newscasts, the climate crisis will not be televised.

Of course, it’s not just that our collective national ADD makes it impossible for us to understand the greenhouse effect, and for our pundits to explain it. Our broadcast and print outlets are also prone to the fallacy of false equivalence, in which a scientist’s measured statement about global warming is “balanced” by the dismissive rhetoric of a petroleum-industry shill. Climate change’s effects can no longer be ignored or trivialized; Drs. Cottingham, Ewing and Weathers deserve our appreciation for their careful explanation of how a global phenomenon can manifest itself in a single lake.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 7: Straining Conditions.

The Merced Sun-Star (CA) reports on the problems farmers are facing:

Ten miles outside of Modesto, in the farming town of Hughson off Highway 99, the Duarte Nursery is at the front line of dramatic changes under way in California’s immense agriculture industry.

The family-run nursery, founded in 1976, is one of the largest in the United States, and there’s a good chance the berries, nuts and citrus fruits eaten across the West began their journey to market as seedlings in Duarte’s 30 acres of greenhouses, labs and breeding stations.

The nursery’s owners have built a thriving business using state-of-the-art techniques to develop varieties adapted to the particular conditions and pests that California farmers face.

These days, according to John Duarte, president of the nursery, that means breeding for elevated levels of heat and salt, which researchers say are symptoms of climate change, even if Duarte doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“Whether it’s carbon built up in the atmosphere or just friggin’ bad luck,” he said, “the conditions are straining us.”

That friggin’ bad luck will get you every time. Sent September 30:

As growing seasons shift by weeks or months, as weather extremes endanger crops, as droughts yield vast acreages of dessicated stubble, far too many farmers are reluctant to recognize the reality of global warming. Why? When it comes to climate change and its effects on agriculture, there’s only one reason growers in America are still unpersuaded: our irresponsible news and opinion media.

When reporting on medicine, TV news doesn’t include an alternative viewpoint on the medieval theory of “humours.” When discussing the space program, talking heads correctly ignore conspiracy theorists who maintain the moon landing happened on a Hollywood soundstage. But when it’s time to discuss climate issues, our print and broadcast outlets bend over backward to ensure equal representation for the fossil fuel industry.

This is accomplished with “false equivalence,” where a genuine scientist (whose genuine data show a genuine problem) is “balanced” by a petroleum-funded spokesperson (whose spurious data don’t show a thing). By confusing the conversation, they redirect the political pressure for climate solutions, preserving the (highly profitable) status quo.

But any farmer knows Mother Nature can’t be fooled forever. By sowing misinformation and confusion, our media and their corporate sponsors ensure a harvest of disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 6: Truth And Falsehood Are Opposites, Therefore They Are Equally Responsible For All The Lies

The Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle perpetuates benign false equivalency:

It is unfortunate that global climate change has become one of those articles of faith by which politicians self-identify. On the left, there is little argument the planet is growing warmer; on the right, there is inadequate proof.

In the middle lie industries such as agriculture and utility companies, both nationally and regionally, which must deal with the consequences of a warming planet and its attendant weather disruptions. They are getting precious little help from lawmakers.

The languishing Farm Bill, for example, reflects business as usual, continuing sizable subsidies for large agribusiness interests while failing to encourage sustainable farming practices and other adaptive measures. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy called the bill “a step backwards for efforts to bring about a more fair, sustainable and healthy food and farm system” and said it “completely ignores the effects of climate change on agriculture.”

Those effects can be as specific as a Clifton Springs, Ontario County, dairy farm that will discontinue raw milk production because this year’s drought has dried up the pastures cows feed on. Or they can be as systemic as crop insurance, which is becoming more expensive as heat waves and droughts continue to decimate crops.

Our romance is going flat. Sent August 31:

Yes, it’s regrettable that the burgeoning climate crisis has been politicized. As Earth’s atmosphere heats up, as polar ice melts, as the ocean acidifies and the weather gets more extreme, the last thing we need is for any discussion of the problem to turn into another example of back-and-forth partisan squabbling.

Things have indeed come to a pretty pass. How did this happen?

Any news report that simply leaves the question at this point wrongly imputes equal responsibility for America’s partisan deadlock on climate issues to Republicans and Democrats. Given that GOP strategists have spent decades misrepresenting the science, stigmatizing environmentalists and framing every discussion of the climate crisis as a battle against socialist liberal New-World-Order conspiracies, suggesting rhetorical equivalence between the two sides of the discussion is disingenuous at best and mendacious at worst.

Democrats and liberals and environmentalists didn’t politicize climate change. Republicans, conservatives, and oil-industry money did.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 16: Summer In The City — Back Of My Neck Feeling Dirt And Gritty

Damn. I wonder how the hell this happened:

Major U.S. cities are among the world’s wealthiest and technologically advanced, but they lag behind their counterparts in Latin America in preparing for climate change, a survey finds.

Nearly all, or 95%, of major cities in Latin America are making plans to deal with the adverse impact of climate change, compared to 59% of such cities in the United States. according to a survey of 468 cities worldwide released this week by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The most prepared cities are often those facing the greatest changes in temperature or rainfall, the survey finds. For example, officials in Equador’s mountainous capitol of Quito have been studying the effects of global warming on nearby melting glaciers, developing ways to handle potential water shortages and organizing regional conferences on climate change.

U.S.A.!!!! U.S.A.!!!! U.S.A.!!!! U.S.A.!!!!


Because Shut Up, That’s Why.

Sent June 6:

It’s puzzling. The United States has been a world leader in science and technology for decades. Our record in innovation is unrivaled; our capacity for responding to crises is second to none.

Or so we claim, anyway. The news that cities in Latin America are far further along than those in the USA when it comes preparing for the inevitable effects of global climate should have a sobering effect on American exceptionalists. It should, but it won’t — because the folks who insist that our country is Number One in Everything are the same ones who’ve swallowed the convenient falsehood that the burgeoning climate crisis is actually a conspiracy fabricated by a secret cabal of scientists and liberals.

Maybe Latin America’s cities are ahead of us in preparation because they aren’t distracted by a clamor of media voices promulgating a false equivalency between climate science and corporate mendacity. Maybe.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 9, Day 29: Potayto, Potahto, Tomayto, Tomahto

The Bangor Daily News runs an excellent piece of analysis on why climate denialism is so deeply rooted in our contemporary culture. Spread this piece far and wide!

Check it out:

NEW YORK — Tucked between treatises on algae and prehistoric turquoise beads, the study on page 460 of a long-ago issue of the U.S. journal Science drew little attention.

“I don’t think there were any newspaper articles about it or anything like that,” the author recalls.

But the headline on the 1975 report was bold: “Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” And this article that coined the term may have marked the last time a mention of “global warming” didn’t set off an instant outcry of angry denial.

In the paper, Columbia University geoscientist Wally Broecker calculated how much carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere in the coming 35 years, and how temperatures consequently would rise. His numbers have proven almost dead-on correct. Meanwhile, other powerful evidence poured in over those decades, showing the “greenhouse effect” is real and is happening. And yet resistance to the idea among many in the U.S. appears to have hardened.

What’s going on?

Read it and weep. Here’s my response, sent Sept. 25:

While much climate denialism is simply rooted in people’s unwillingess to accept unpleasant news, we must also consider the role of the American news media. The principle of false equivalence facilitates journalistic irresponsibility: as long as both sides’ positions are reported, the reporter’s work is done, regardless of their truth or falsity.

However, the two positions in the climate change “debate” are not equally true. On one side: tens of thousands of climate experts from all over the world, building a robust scientific consensus with predictive power that have steadily increased over the past several decades. On the other: a few well-publicized contrarians amply funded by the fossil fuel industry.

Which is likelier? Thousands of climatologists all making spurious claims in order to get funding — or the world’s wealthiest corporations trying to rig the game, as they’ve done so many times before? Denialism is not supported by the facts.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 1: Teedledee Dee….

Reports the Duluth News Tribune, a local and well-regarded TV talking head has seen the light. Don Shelby figured out that climate change isn’t an ordinary news story. Speaking at a two-day sustainability fair at the University of Minnesota, he came clean about having promoted false equivalency and stenographic journalism on the subject for years.

Actually, he was pretty forthright. I can’t wait to read the comments.

The TV newsman’s mea culpa about having misreported climate change came after of years of treating the story the same as he would any other, requiring the views of two opposing parties, Shelby told the packed lecture hall of the chemistry building.

But, he said, climate change is not a pro or con issue; it’s a scientific fact. And journalists who work to “balance” a story present an inaccurate picture when they give equal weight to sources promulgating inaccurate facts.

“If I report a story on abuse of children, I don’t go out and interview an abuser on the up-side of child abuse,” he said as an example of how an effort to balance can go too far.

Sent April 23, and published a few days ago:

While it’s terrific news that a respected media personality has recognized the grave consequences of “false equivalence” in the media’s handling of climate change, there still are hundreds of journalists who haven’t come to their senses yet. Some of these reporters are overly credulous; some are overworked or lazy; the worst, however, have chosen to ignore the magnitude of the problem for the most venal of reasons. As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Rather than giving up a fraction of their mind-boggling profitability to help humanity make the transition to renewable energy sources, the fossil fuel industries find it cheaper to fund denialism in the media, obscuring the facts and fostering a political climate that supports the (highly remunerative) status quo. We need more Don Shelbys, and we need them soon.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 6: Ban Ki Goes To Hollywood

I just finished reading Will Bunch’s “Tear Down This Myth,” and I was already thinking about the disaster that Reagan’s Hollywood presidency was for the country. Then I read this article in the LA Times, about Ban Ki-moon’s heavy lobbying of Hollywood bigwigs on climate change, and was struck by a line midway through.

This is a site-specific version of the generic media irresponsibility/false equivalence letter. Enjoy.

Mailed February 26:

The key sentence in your description of Ban Ki-Moon’s plea to Hollywood figures for support in combating climate change is director David Carson’s remark, “You don’t want to offend your sponsors.” That is to say, television is fed by big oil, and people who work in TV shy away from biting the hand that feeds them. Ban Ki-Moon’s initiative may yield tangible results; one can only hope that America’s entertainment media will contribute constructively to our species’ ongoing struggle with the greenhouse effect, since the nation’s news media have virtually without exception abdicated their responsibilities in this arena. Yes, we need movies and TV to get people thinking about global warming, just as we need good, accurate news on the subject. But as long as those who provide entertainment and/or facts cannot depict climate change as both scientific fact and imminent threat without offending their sponsors, it’s unlikely.

Warren Senders

Month 12, Day 27: Julian Hunt Tells It Like It Is

The South Bend Tribune runs an excellent piece by Julian Hunt, outlining what we’ve got to do, and some of the problems we’re going to face.

Julian Hunt’s advice is prescient. The fact is that the climate crisis has been enabled and accompanied by a breakdown in many of the systems we human beings have taken for granted. The collapse of our political system, ruled by the outrageous requirements of campaign financing and hobbled by the short-term scheduling of electoral cycles. The breakdown of our economic system, incapable of self-preservation because of its fixation on immediate profitability. Our disaster of a communications system: spreading stupidity, driven by cupidity, offering gaudy distraction after gaudy distraction while “balancing” scientific facts with egregious misrepresentations. We need to recognize the reality of climate change and begin planning for how to deal with it in our lives and the lives of our descendants. We need to recognize the reality of climate change and begin planning for how to deal with it in our lives and the lives of our descendants. — and we will receive little or no help from politicians, corporations or the media, all complicit in an unintentional synergy of ignorance, incompetence and greed.

Warren Senders