I've been laying doggo for a week or two, recovering from a vacation (that included so much loose time I tracked a bit), but a short but snappy story on climate change and the peculiar reticence of either the US President or his would-be successor to mention it prompts a return to duty. I have more too: competing tales of Earth's polar ice packs plus a recent, disappointing PBS interview.
1) The election season...
The AP this week is circulating a story as part of an election issues project at the service. Except this one is about a campaign non-issue that, some (me, me...but more important, the majority of scientists on this beat) say is an immense, active threat to planet Earth as we know it.
- Seth Borenstein: WHY IT MATTERS: Global Warming. There is no mistaking where Borenstein stands in this mini-essay, a stout declaration about what's happing to the thermodynamics of Earth (not his language, but he addresses its two expressions: climate and weather) and about the starkly different attitudes of Obama and Romney and of their chosen squads of trusted advisers. Yet, as a campaign issue, this report says clearly that here is one fundamental policy "totally missing" from stump speech content.
2) Watt's up with PBS?
But, while the press's interest in global warming is understandably flagging (There is no news except old news. The climatee keeps changing right on or ahead of the feared schedule while the world's primary political and economic systems are hardly responsive) media have produced some remarkable reports recently.
For instance, last week PBS's respected NewsHour program webiste included a video and blog by San Francisco-based reporter Spencer Michels. He has won Emmies and is well-regarded around the Bay Area for years of reporting for the local KQED PBS and NPR outlet. But he evidently has little experience with the basic issues of climate change. Evidence: Last week's interview with prolific blogger Anthony Watts, a meteorologist who does not believe global warming is severe enough to matter. Watts is an icon of the contrarian climate intelligencia such as it is. Michels sat by as Watts delivered a train of insubstantial or long-discredited assertions including insistence that the urban heat island effect accounts for long term, perceived rise in overall global temperatures. Michels offered few challenging or probing follow-up questions.
The comments box at PBS lit up with objections to how Michels handled the interview plus, naturally, some celebratory gratitude from contrarians delighted to read this platform for Watts and his viewpoint. There is no need to go through it all point by point anew for this post. That's been done. See this careful dissection of both Michels's production and of the response by a PBS senior editor to the criticism:
- Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media - Bud Ward: A PBS "NewsHour" Blog Post and Broadcast Provoke Viewers' Ire ; This is strange company PBS briefly kept. Ward says it got, following Michels's video blog and interview transcript posting, the kind of snort that mainstream scientists (and those inclined to accept their expertise) usually aim at "Fox TV talk-show programming or Wall Street Journal opinion pages dealing with climate change."
3) Hey look - Antarctica has LOTS of sea ice, more all the time (or, more Watts).
At a prominent website one finds a story, or opinion piece, remarkable for its apparently unconscious hypocrisy.
- Forbes - James Taylor: Antarctic Sea Ice Sets Another Record ; His theme is that mainstream media, ever-inclined to cherry pick events that raise worry about climate change while ignoring reassuring news, have been so intent on the record low sea ice level in the Arctic earlier this month that there was no room to mention Antarctica has been playing sea ice yang to the north pole's yin. But wottayaknow. After excoriating mass media including science writers for incomplete reporting, he asserts that Antarctica's sea ice and ice cap changes are so opposite to those of the north that they, essentially yield a global ice parity. He cites not a single trained climatologist or glacier expert. The one 'authority' he turns to: Anthony Watts. Taylor, by the way, is the Heartland Institute's senior fellow for environmental policy.
Fortunately Taylor is wrong about there being no media attention to Antarctica, not to mention that researchers of course know what's happening down there and say his assertion of a sort of parity, north and south, is just wrong. A good account of this is out. If not quite in mainstream media it is by a mainstream media reporter of long standing:
- Climate Central - Michael D. Lemonick: Forget the Melting Arctic, Sea Ice in Antractica is Growing! ; Lemonick does not mention the Forbes article. But one of his lines seems aimed at anyone who believes that piece: "You'd be wrong, for all sorts of reasons."
4) The US is not the world...
One more thing. Lemonick's article led the eye across a new, small item that merits comment:
- Climate Central - Andrew Freedman: Barring Unusual Cold, 2012 Will Be Hottest Year on Record ; Freedman, a long time reporter on weather and such (Energy and Environment Daily, Washington Post, Weather Channel...), is talking here about the hottest year for the US, not necessarily the world. What he might have mentioned is that if the US temperature leaped above the long term trend so far this year, then it did the rest of the world a favor of sorts. Temperatures elsewhere, by arithmetic necessity, must have been a bit cooler than the recent norm. Global warming is real and persistent but the yearly changes are small. Ergo, if one place jumped notably hotter and thus grabbed more than its typical heat share, it has to have left fewer therms for everywhere else. Freedman does not say his item indicates any change in the pace of global warming. Explicit mention that we are not the world would have been pertinent.
- Charlie Petit