And the (climate) beat goes on. And on. And on.
After seven years of preparation the latest assessment team from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now done with the heavy lifting. It released over the weekend the third and last major section of this assessment – the fifth since 1990. Earlier this year it said that global warming is still a clear, serious, and worsening peril we have brought upon ourselves; just last month its second part said that climate change impacts on humanity are already measurable and that far more misery is on the way. The topic for IPCC Working Group III. which just met in Berlin, concerns mitigation, what it will take to slow and eventually stop humanity's persistent nudges upward on the planet's thermostat. The hope is to start reducing CO2 levels in the air before global calamity strikes. Nuclear power and geoengineering that please some conservative industrial sectors, on top of renewables and efficiency drives that keep greens smiling, are included among what the panel thinks should be considered.
A synthesis report on all three sections of the report is due in October, not that it will do appreciably more to inspire fast international action than have previous assessments. Greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated consistently despite multiple high-level reports for decades by prestigious scientific bodies warning of the danger. Many loud voices of contrary lines of thinking insist that scientists are suffering mass delusion, or write scary papers for the grant money. Some say climate researchers are tyrannized by peer-reviewed journal editors who will blackball them if they dare write a paper casting doubt on global warming. Seriously – a very nice fellow just the other day told me that last one. He'd read it in the Wall Street Journal.
To get into the right mood for a modest roundup on major media coverage of the latest working group report, try this dismal commentary:
- New Yorker (Apr 14 issue) Elizabeth Kolbert: Rough Forecasts ; Kolbert, an experienced reporter on the climate and environment beat and one who has become more overtly frustrated by events in recent years, starts off her piece with a look at the career arc of Sherwood "Sherry" Rowland, a trajectory that got him a Nobel Prize in chemistry for helping to unravel the impact of freon refrigerants on the atmosphere's high altitude ozone. The industry and big-bucks ridicule he suffered offers a parallel to what climate scientists are now facing from forces whose footing is largely outside of science: finance, energy industries, and fiscal conservatives appalled by the idea that any problem can be real if its solution impinges upon free enterprise. Kolbert calls US policy of subsidizing fossil fuels ludicrous and part of greater lunacy in the land.
The paralysis that has kept wealthy nations from backing up their rhetoric with muscular policies can hardly be attributed to absence of information. All the major national academies of science have weighed in. And despite the sameness of the news, major media outlets continue to cover the IPCC and to circulate its reports widely. The IPCC says it is still possible to hit the brakes in time to avoid the worst extremes of climate change. It may not be politically easy, but the UN's expert say it is quite doable and affordable if the world's nations get serious soon.
Berlin IPCC Assessment stories: Let's start off with the Washington Post and the UK's The Guardian, in the news for coverage of NSA surveillance that just won each a share of a Pulitzer Prize.
- Guardian: A raft of stories including commentary has run over the last few days. To list a few specifically: Jim Skea (op-ed by an IPCC co-chair): The IPCC's message is clear: it's the end of business as usual for fossil fuel users / … we need to make huge policy changes to wean ourselves off CO2 producers ; Leo Hickman: IPCC report: the scientists have done their bit, now it is up to us ; Hickman, in this blog, writes that "for anyone to downplay or deny its findings would be irresponsible, short-sighted and, above all, a gross failure of risk analysis." Such could be said of most every meek step in policy since the Earth Summit in Rio more than 20 years ago; Damian Carrington: IPCC report": world must urgently switch to clean sources of energy ; also from Carrington, IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable ;
- Washington Post – Darryl Fears: UN climate panel: Governments must do more in face of dire global-warming threats ; Story is not so striking as the published reader reaction. It comprises yet another comment string (more than 1,000 of them) so horrifically ignorant on average that one wonders why publications don't abandon the process en masse. Treat them like old fashioned letters to the editor. Select a few diverse but well-argued, civil ones for publication. File the rest. Other sites could still offer soap boxes for trolls to react to anything they like. But why flaunt that one's readership is suffused with angry ax-grinders and character assassins?
- NY Times – Justin Gillis: Climate Efforts Falling Short, UN Panel Says ;
- AP – Karl Ritter: UN climate report balances science and pollitics ; On the process and deal-brokering among delegates as the report's verbiage went through final touches ; Interesting that a lot of argument swirled over such things as the number of income categories into which the report should divide the world's nations – just two, for developed and developing as some small, poor counties wanted, or up to four income divisions. Also from K. Ritter, after the report came out, Cost of fighting warming 'modest,' says UN panel ;
- Wall Street Journal – Gautam Naik: U.N. Climate change Report Says Worst Scenario Can Still Be Avoided ; Never mind the weakness of the journal's op-ed page for arguments that global warming science is dominated by lefties and mediocrities, this is an honest news story. Naik covers it straight, and does offer something for those with doubts to applaud: a passage noting that climate models did not anticipate the significant slowdown in worldiwde warming over the last decade or so. Such skeptics will also see the irony in reading that one IPCC co-chair told Naik that the slowdown is just a small natural cycle the momentarily masked the longer run rise in surface air temperatures. Hey, they might say, I thought natural cycles are our line! I say just wait until (if) El Niño kicks in next fall – global warming may make up the lost ground in a hurry. Natural cycles work both ways.
- National Geographic Daily News – Dan Vergano: Dire UN Climate Reports Raise Questions About Global Willpower/ A pivotal year ahead in climate diplocmay looks likely…; with sidebar: Battle Plan for Climate Change: How to Cut Greenhouse Gases and a call-out to an NG magazine article by Michelle Nijhuis: Can Coal Ever Be Clean? Two good and experienced reporters at work here. Nijhuis provides a punchy history of what for centuries, she writes, has been the cheapest, dirtiest, and most lethal energy source we have. And that's before one even factors in climate change. Vergano does the more recent history in a dispatch written as the Berlin meeting got underway (drafts of the final report were already in circulation). While the report says there still is time to hold the Earth to a (forecast) rise of 3.6F (2 C) degrees, one economist tells him "Most people think it's very unlikely" such a ceiling will not be punctured in coming decades. Vergano's perhaps hopeful, perhaps skeptical lede: "Trust in technology".
- NPR – Nell Greenfieldboyce: Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, UN Panel Says ; Good summary of some of the strategies that might work. The story implies such a change will be quite costly, in contrast to other stories reporting that the IPCC's thinks the overall price would be modest.
- BBC – Matt McGrath: World must end 'dirty' fuel use – UN ; Part of a large package of stories, others linked to this one. One of his sidebars, on ambitions to remove CO2 from the air: UN dilemma over 'Cinderella' technology ;