NBC News ignores climate change, blows the bark beetle story

The Oldest Utah newspaper understands “climate change is now being blamed for an increased population of bark beetles.” The journal Nature published an article just this April, “Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change.” The Canadian media knows, “Climate-Driven Pest Devours Canada’s Forests.”

Yet NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams manages to do an entire story devoted to the explosion of the tiny forest-destroying pest in Colorado without ever mentioning the crucial climate change connection:

If people wonder why the American public doesn’t understand that climate change is hitting this country hard right now — making droughts longer and stronger, spreading pests, destroying forests, driving the worst wildfire seasons in recorded history — one need look no further than the traditional media.

NBC offers no explanation for what has happened beyond the statement that “The beetles, about the size of a grain of rice, have always been here, but their population has exploded as they feed off the old drought-weakened trees.” But haven’t we always had droughts? What is different now, NBC?

You know your network is failing its viewers when it won’t even offer an explanation that is so widely understood that even conservative senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) presented it in a May 2006 speech on climate change:

Warmer, drier air, has allowed the voracious spruce bark beetle to migrate north, moving through our forests in the south-central part of the state. At last count, over three million acres of forest land has been devastated by the beetle, providing dry fuel for outbreaks of enormous wild fires. To give you some perspective, that is almost the size of Connecticut.

beetle.jpgGlobal warming has created a perfect climate for these beetles — Milder winters since 1994 have reduced the winter death rate of beetle larvae in Wyoming from 80% per year to under 10%, and hotter, drier summers have made trees weaker, less able to fight off beetles. [Picture shows forests turned red by beetle.]

“The pine beetle infestation is the first major climate change crisis in Canada” notes Doug McArthur, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. “We’re seeing changes in [mountain pine beetle] activity from Canada to Mexico,” said Forest Service researcher Jesse Logan in July 2004 (here), “and the common thing is warming temperatures.”

A 2005 study, led by the University of Arizona, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey, “Regional vegetation die-off in response to global-change-type drought,” examined a huge three-million acre die-off of vegetation in 2002-2003 “in response to drought and associated bark beetle infestations” in the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah). This drought was not quite as dry as the one in that region in the 1950s, but it was much warmer, hence it was a global-warming-type drought. The recent drought had “nearly complete tree mortality across many size and age classes” whereas “most of the patchy mortality in the 1950s was associated with trees [greater than] 100 years old.”

Most of this tree death was caused by bark beetle infestation, and “such outbreaks are tightly tied to drought-induced water stress.” Healthy trees defend themselves by drowning the tiny pine beetles in resin. Without water, weakened, parched trees are easy meals for bugs.

One final note: This catastrophic climate change impact and its carbon-cycle feedback were not foreseen even a decade ago — which suggests future climate impacts will bring other equally unpleasant surprises, especially if we don’t reverse our emissions path immediately.

But how are we ever going to get the political will to reverse our emissions path and avoid even worse climate-driven catastrophes in the future if the media won’t even explain to the public how human-caused climate change is already changing their lives for the worse today. What’s next for NBC — a story on the obesity epidemic that doesn’t talk about food?

Don’t worry too much about the beetle, though. As Nature reported:

“The beetle will eat itself out of house and home, and the population will eventually collapse.”

Hmm. “Eat itself out of house and home. Does the bark beetle sound like any other species we know? Finally, the species formerly known as homo sapiens sapiens is no longer alone in its self-destructive quest to destroy its habitat.

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

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14 Responses to NBC News ignores climate change, blows the bark beetle story

  1. Dano says:

    Gosh, does GE’s financial arm have a lot of investment in fossil fool, one wonders.



  2. Jean says:

    We need to take on the media.We need some climate site dedicated to this..I will email NBC,but I don’t want to be alone…The group Media Matters does not ask us to do this..Right now hate radio(Rush) are talking about drill,Baby ,Drill…I am getting ready to stand outside the places of business that support the lies with a sign asking people not to support those places..Jean

  3. Jean says:

    We need to have a website dedicated to fighting the media..I will email NBC,but more people should do this in an organized manner..Right now talk radio(hate radio) is going on and on about the need to drill,develop shale oil,and no one fights them re climate …I am getting ready to stand outside the local businesses that support these radio show w sign”This business supports hate radio” (I am still thinking about the sign)..Jean

  4. Jean says:

    We need a website dedicated to the Media..I will email NBC,but more people need to do this in an organized manner.The disinformation(lies) told on Talk radio is widly out of hand..Listen to it please..They do not even bother w sublities…They just promote”Energy Independence” w Drill,Baby ,Drill,develop oilshale,”Clean “Coal” Who is opposing them how about going to the FCC.I will have to stand outside the local businesses that support Hannity,Rush,etc w some sort of sign..Jean

  5. Something to ponder:

    (a) From the New York Times, 9/25/1998
    “[Because of mountain pine beetles] By the year 2000, most of the lodgepole pine in Oregon ”will be dead, whether it is harvested or not’, said Ed Blaydon, a marketing specialist for the four national forests in southeastern Oregon.” (Lodgepole pines are alive and well in Oregon in 2008)

    (b) From the New York Times, 6/6/1989
    [in Summit County, Colorado, because of mountain pine beetles] in 1986 […] green vistas turned rust

    (c) From the New York Times, 12/6/1932
    “Director Horace Albright reports that he is greatly worried about the situation in the Yellowstone, where the mountain-pine beetle threatens the destruction of the lodgepole pine, which constitutes 80 per cent of the park’s forests”

    (d) From the New York Times, 10/6/2007
    “the mountain [pine] beetle refuses anything short of a high altitude. Here it abounds in destructive numbers, especially in the West: and as fast as it travels through those salubrious regions down go vast quantities of pine”

    If you’d read the article of 101 years ago, you’d think we’d have no trees left whatsoever by now. It didn’t happen. One worders why.

    [JR: 101 years ago we hadn’t entered a multi-decade period of warming and desertification. That’s why.]

    ps the not-so-mild 2008 winter has not killed as many beetles as expected. perhaps temperature is not that important.

    [JR: Temperature is one of several factors that act synergistically, as my post and the science says. Again, one should distinguish between happens year-to-year versus what happens over extended period of time.]

    pps you take as a given that local “warmer, drier” conditions are consequence of global warming. on what basis?

    [JR: I don’t take it as a given. I take it on the basis of the scientific literature. If you’ve read the post than you know about the “global-warming-type drought.” I will blog more on this after the election.]

  6. William Greene says:

    Go for it Jean! I agree with you, even though environmentalism is now a massive global movement, it’s seems like in many ways we are failing horribly to get the message across. I believe if we keep at it, eventually global warming/environment will be a TOP issue, the problem is we do not have unlimited time. We have to get away from the image of environmentalists as pot-smoking hippies and move it mainstream. There are a lot of “Rush Limbaugh’s” out there who are turned off by that. Also we need to vehemitly fight the notion of “clean coal” and begin a naionwide campaign to SHUT DOWN COAL PLANTS!!

  7. Dano says:

    Mauritzio obviously doesn’t live in Colorado. Come out here, lad and we’ll show ya about lodgepole and Engelmann. I’m sure it won’t change your mind, but we’ll show ya

    BTW, for others, OR lodgepole occupies a different niche than in the Rockies, and in the PacNW this makes it more resilient to beetle infestation. Scale.



  8. David B. Benson says:

    Maurizio Morabito — Climate modelers predict that as AGW proceeds, it will be wetter where it is wet and dryer where it is dry, in general.

    By the way, Central America has just suffered an intense rain, with resulting heavy flooding.

  9. llewelly says:

    The CO and UT pine beetle infestations of the late 1980s did not have the severity or the extent of the infestations of today.

  10. Sydni Moser says:

    I’m definately going to write to NBC and give them my 2 cents… We have to demand that broadcast media tell the whole truth, and inform American’s of the reality of global warming in our environment…. It’s the least I can do to write them.

  11. gaiasdaughter says:

    Joe wrote: “This catastrophic climate change impact and its carbon-cycle feedback were not foreseen even a decade ago — which suggests future climate impacts will bring other equally unpleasant surprises, especially if we don’t reverse our emissions path immediately.”

    As I see it, this is key. Throughout history, there have always been jokers in the deck — the effects no one predicted. I’m afraid Mother Nature may have a few more jokers up her sleeve this time, too.

  12. Tim Hurst says:

    The one thing I’d like to add to this conversation is that the explosion of the mountain pine beetle infestation is very real, and while it is being exacerbated by warmer winters less moisture, it is also an artifact of the culture of fire suppression that dominated the US Forest Service for over a century.

    Preventing forest fires from ever burning through these lodgelpole forests has kept alive trees that would have otherwise died off — trees which become old, weak and susceptible to the ravenous pine beetle.

    That said, I couldn’t agree with Joe more, for NBC to complete ignore such a critical component of the outbreak is irresponsible.

  13. Glenn J says:

    There was extensive beetle kill in the CO Rockies in the 30’s. We still find jerry-cans of old pesticide that the army used in vain in an attempt to stop it when we go elk hunting…

    It is not an unnatural occurance, but it was exacerbated due to a mild drought that has weakened the trees.

    It is expected to require sustained sub-zero temperatures for at least 2 weeks to serious drop the beetle population – not a normal occurance in the forests of CO for most years

  14. Dano says:

    I disagree with Tim Hurst for Intermountain West fire suppression. Where the MPB is most severe, the Fire Return Interval (FRI) is longer than the current period of suppression. In BC this may be the case, but not in the Intermountain West.

    Remember: the suppression period is ~80-100 years, but for most lodgepole in the Rockies the FRI is ~150-250 years (wide variations in location, elevation, aspect and mean precip.).