Two recent, sober analyses of extreme events on the landscape - one on widespread US drought and the other on recent and ferocious wildfires in and around the Rockies - offer lessons for any journalist covering such things.
- Columbia Journalism Review/The Observatory - Tom Yulsman: Flames, Cause, and Context ; This is a link-filled roundup of stories on the fires consuming woodlands, forests, and prairie in western US. He moves expeditiously through the big picture and writes, "..as one fire after another seemed to pop up in the parched and sun-baked region in June and early July, reporters, bloggers and opinion writers began trying to move the story beyond the details of breaking news to causes and context. There was much to discuss."The column's strength is to zero in on how disparate coverage is, with some reporters favoring one theme, others another, in seeking to explain why this, why now? He brings attention and praise particularly to a widely picked-up, graphics-rich package with vivid text from the Colorado-based, non-profit I-news outlet. It is by Michael Kodas and Burt Hubbard with videojournalist Carolyn Moreau. The pic up there is a sidebar's map of red zones in Colorado, fire-prone scenic places where millions live and more do so all the time, and where it is risky to build a house or much of anything one wants to use for long. Also praised - a Boulder Daily Camera story by Laura Snider that cautions residents not to blame all the beetle-killed lodgepole and other pines for the fires. They are a product of global warming, perhaps, but science finds no evidence they burn any fiercer, and perhaps less so, than healthy (and pitch- and resin-rich) trees. The lesson: Beetles kills tress, so do fires, each may be revved up by climate change. But beetle-blights don't enhance fires. Yulsman reports that some writers nonetheless think that they do.
- Climate Central - Andrew Freedman:Drought Has Ties to La Niña with Global Warming Assist ; Freedman has to balance on a narrow beam here. Yes, GW makes droughts more likely, but they happen no matter what (check the map with this morning's NYTimes drought roundup by John Eligon plus three other writers. In their story climate change does not come up). While Freedman cites changes in the Pacific as the main, proximate cause, and the nation has had other dreadful droughts during its history, and paleoclimatology shows far worse ones sprinkle the last millennium or so. GW isn't helping. And as he writes, "it doesn't bode well for the future." Incidentally but pertinently, a Climate Central book is coming out (hat tip to Michael Lemonick): Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and Weather from the Future.
- The New Yorker/Talk of the Town - Elizabeth Kolbert : The Big Heat ; Corn sex, dang it's hot, and re global warming "Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer."
- Charlie Petit