CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change

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"CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change"

A bushfire burns in the Bunyip Sate Forest near the township of Tonimbuk, Victoria, AustraliaIf the U.S. media refuse to make the connection between record breaking wildfire, drought, and heatwaves and human-caused global warming, why would anyone be surprised if the U.S. public doesn’t put it as a higher priority or make the connection itself (see “NYT’s Revkin seems shocked by media’s own failure to explain climate threat“)?

Australia knows it’s facing climate-driven impacts that threaten it with complete collapse. AFP (French international media) get this: “Australian wildfire ferocity linked to climate change: experts.” So does Reuter’s Climate Change Correspondent in Asia: “Australia fires a climate wake-up call: experts.”

I saw the CNN and ABC stories, and you can read the AP’s stories, which have been published in the Washington Post and NY Times (though the NYT redeemed itself, see below). The media love a good calamity of Biblical proportion:

Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters as he toured the fire zone on Sunday.

But for the vast majority of the U.S. media, you won’t find any mention of global warming driven heat wave or drought as the underlying cause of this calamity. ABC’s Charles Gibson said “the worst wildfires in Australian history” were “part natural disaster” and “part man-made crime” because arson is suspected in some of the fires. No, Charlie, the natural disaster is not entirely natural, so this is mostly a man-made crime.

The AP story in the Washington Post ends lamely:

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Government research shows about half of the roughly 60,000 fires each year are deliberately lit or suspicious. Lightning and people using machinery near dry brush are other causes.

Contrast that to AFP, which leads their story with:

Australia is naturally the most fire-prone continent on earth but climate change appears to be making the wildfires that regularly sweep across the country more ferocious, scientists said Monday.

The story also contains the warning:

Research by the Bureau of Meteorology and the government science organisation CSIRO predicts the number of days when bushfires pose an extreme risk in southeastern Australia could almost double by 2050 under a worst-case climate change scenario.

The Reuters Asia story notes:

Some analysts say the fires were predictable and that climate scientists have been warning for years about Australia’s vulnerability to rising temperatures and declining rainfall across much of the nation’s south.

I would compare this current bushfire event to one of the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol that visits Scrooge and showed him what his future would be like if he didn’t change his ways,” said professor Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide.

Hmm. Maybe Prof. Brook reads ClimateProgress (see Irreversible does not mean unstoppable: “Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”). I’ll have to track down his email address and send him a query.

As an aside, while one part of Australia is burning like “Hell in all its fury,” some readers note the incredible flooding in Queensland: “60% of the state is under water!

burdekin dam

WATER water everywhere … gigalitres of water gush over the Burdekin Falls Dam spillway as rain relentlessly falls on far north Queensland.

See, for instance, the story, “Far north Queensland in chaos after heavy flooding.”

So, yes, the point of this semi-digression is that Australia is simultaneously experiencing hell and high water.

The New York Times ran a much better story today than their earlier AP-inspired stories, no doubt because “Andrew C. Revkin contributed reporting from New York.” The story noted:

The firestorms and heat in the south revived discussions in Australia of whether human-caused global warming was contributing to the continent’s climate woes of late — including recent prolonged drought in some places and severe flooding last week in Queensland, in the northeast.

Climate scientists say that no single rare event like the deadly heat wave or fires can be attributed to global warming, but the chances of experiencing such conditions are rising along with the temperature. In 2007, Australia’s national science agency published a 147-page report on projected climate changes, concluding, among other things, that “high-fire-danger weather is likely to increase in the southeast.”

The flooding in the northeast and the combustible conditions in the south were consistent with what is forecast as a result of recent shifts in climate patterns linked to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research.

So kudos to the NYT for a much more complete story then most everyone else in the US media. Too bad the story is on page A9, the paragraphs cited are at the very end, and the headline is “Australia Police Confirm Arson Role in Wildfires.”

Related lame U.S. media stories:

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36 Responses to CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change

  1. The CBC ran a story today about the wildfires that mentioned global warming; I almost fell off my chair.

  2. lgcarey says:

    Joe, you should indeed send Barry Brook an email. Barry runs the excellent BraveNewClimate.com website, and recently has been blogging about the climate change connections of the horrific conditions in the south (he is a professor at the University of Adelaide and therefore in the midst of the disaster). Check “About the Author” for his university directory listing and email — here’s part of his posted bio:

    “Professor Barry Brook holds the Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and is Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide.

    “He has published two books and over 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and regularly writes opinion pieces and popular articles for the media. He has received a number of distinguished awards in recognition of his research excellence, which addresses the topics of climate change, computational and statistical modelling and the synergies between human impacts on Earth systems.”

    Thanks for the great work.

  3. TomG says:

    We have our own ticking fire time bomb here in North America.
    Do we not have a huge and growing area of dead forest in the Canadian and US west as a result of heat stress and beetle infestation?
    Australia is on the other side of the planet, but when it happens here in our own backyards I suspect more intelligent attention will be paid to Climate Change.

  4. Dano says:

    AT least the AP connected birds and warming:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jpZ8b9L2-UjrsLb82x-BpyYi7y8gD968NKDG0

    WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to global warming, the canary in the coal mine isn’t a canary at all. It’s a purple finch.

    As the temperature across the U.S. has gotten warmer, the purple finch has been spending its winters more than 400 miles farther north than it used to.

    And it’s not alone.

    An Audubon Society study to be released Tuesday found that more than half of 305 birds species in North America, a hodgepodge that includes robins, gulls, chickadees and owls, are spending the winter about 35 miles farther north than they did 40 years ago.

    Best,

    D

  5. paulm says:

    Climate scientist did not really jump on it either and make a big thing about it initially. The papers are cautious – If the climatologist dont shout they wont shouting either!

    This is precisely why everyone is unsure about whats in store for us.

    “I would compare this current bushfire event to one of the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol that visits Scrooge and showed him what his future would be like

    This is an understatement….its here and now. By future does he mean the next 3yrs. cause this is whats going down now on a weather basis.

    Next year or 2 the conditions will probably be just the same with probably the same result or even worse.

  6. @Dano…

    I saw that story today, too. It’s funny; I never much noticed birds living in the city, but now that we live in a small town with barely 2000 souls… and miles upon miles of miles of coastline just beyond town… We notice evidence of our changing climate on birds populations every year… American Robins and great blue herons that forget to leave in the winter, cormorants returning earlier each spring (saw the first pair on Saturday), turkey vultures soaring overhead (they’re new to Nova Scotia), exploding raptor populations (bald eagles and red-tailed hawks are everywhere because we get rain instead of snow, so hunting is easier…)

    Some times I wonder why the deniers don’t look out the window sometimes. :-)

  7. JCH says:

    I read on one blog that AGW could have nothing to do with the Australian fires because arson was suspected. I guess they think AGW has to strike the actual match before it can be implicated.

  8. paulm says:

    A subtle bit of finger pointing…

    Australian bushfires: when two degrees is the difference between life and death
    Scientist Tim Flannery
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/10/australia-bush-fires

    Rudd has said that the arsonists suspected of lighting some fires are guilty of mass murder, and the police are busy chasing down these malefactors. But there’s an old saying among Australian fire fighters — “whoever owns the fuel, owns the fire”. Let’s hope that Australians ponder the deeper causes of this horrible tragedy, and change our polluting ways before it’s too late.

  9. llewelly says:

    CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story — never mention climate change

    I keep reading the traditional news media is dying. I keep thinking ‘good riddance’. This is why.

  10. paulm says:

    just in…

    China’s car industry overtakes US

  11. Tim Flannery, the Chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council, published a commentary in the Guardian today drawing attention to Australia’s “weak” climate policy and warning the his country faces future blazes because of climate change.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “The first such lesson I fear is that we must anticipate more such terrible blazes in future, for the world’s addiction to burning fossil fuels goes on unabated, with 10 billion tonnes being released last year alone. And there is now no doubt that the pollution is laying the preconditions necessary for more such blazes.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/10/australia-bush-fires

  12. Steve Bloom says:

    Here’s Barry Brooks’ Brave New Climate post on the fire. He posts a lot of original material that you would find useful, Joe, but with more of an ecology slant.

    So, please add BNC to your blogroll. Also, I think you should remove the AccuWeather blog, since entirely too much misleading crap gets posted there. I won’t try to give you a complete list of suggestions, but another good one that would complement your present roll is Ove Huegh-Goldberg’s Climate Shifts, focusing on ocean acidification and coral health.

  13. Jim says:

    If you think America is bad for climate change denial, you should check out this link. Apparently, an Irish minister has banned all climate change advertisements. This guy makes Inhofe look like Greenpeace.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/irish-minister-bans-climate-change-adverts-1605489.html

  14. Russ says:

    But there’s an old saying among Australian fire fighters — “whoever owns the fuel, owns the fire”.

    I never heard that before, but it’s pretty good. You recklessly let massive kindling pile up in a high fire danger zone, the way Australia, America, and others do, and it’s really a massive public nuisance, and you’re to blame.

  15. Nick says:

    I’m surprised Barry Brook’s site isn’t on your blogroll. The quality of his work highlights the weakness of MSM science coverage, and offers journalists a way forward in communicating the details.

    There will be a so-called Royal Commission, the highest level of official inquiry available in the Australian legal system, into the fires and their circumstances. This will push the AGW aspect well into the limelight at a very detailed level, I hope. The collective agony at the moment will make it very difficult to narrow the terms of reference to minimise politically unpalatable information.

  16. To accept global warming means one has to reject carbon dioxide. Or at least blame CO2.

    No fossil fuel company will let that happen, so heavy advertising relationship and other heavily subsidized opinions are meant to prevent the connection.

    They know that CO2 levels will be limited eventually, they are scrambling to finish it off before inevitable constrictions, either by peak oil or from smart science policy.

    This is an end-game maneuver, they know that within 3 to 5 years all this will be settled. But last year Exxon took in profits of 45 Billion (B). That profit going to share holders who also must deny global warming

  17. paulm says:

    I dont know if this is reality or just my impression but a component of this wilder weather were seeing all over the globe recently seems to be accompanied by a higher rate of sustained and variable wind.

    Is the average speed of the wind weather increasing in general across the surface of the earth due to the warmer temperature?

    This seems likely and could affect a whole lot of interconnected systems. Can the wind speed be linked to the energy being absorbed by the planet?

  18. Alex_J says:

    The BBC radio news initially had a fire expert on. I thought I heard the interviewer ask if climate change is “responsible”. This expert thought it was too small or subtle, compared to weather conditions and fuel buildup, to be relevant to this event. Maybe he doesn’t realize that climate change is a cumulative thing that ultimately influences regional weather patterns and the amount of dry biomass. That would make it not “the cause”, but perhaps a contributing factor.

  19. Call it the “CO2 Point of No Return”

    There will be a time very soon when we will have passed the point where CO2 curtailment would have any useful effect.

    Because of previously un-calculated tipping points, this moment may have arrived, or may be 5 or 10 years hence. Call it 450ppm.

    Now the diabolical strategy for the hydrocarbon fuel industry is to silently move past this point — using denialism, and controlling research funding, etc. Then in a world of conflagration, flood, starvation, the continued use of carbon fuels will help ‘preserve order’ and offer power for the last few decades.

    Is predictive climatology a specialty science yet?

  20. paulm says:

    Mudslide envelops Argentine town
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7880959.stm

    The slow collapse of civilization. The frequency of these incidents are increasing by a huge leap. These communities all over the world will not be able to rebuild to where they are just before these events.

    Civilization is definitely on the decline directly due to climate change and now the Financial crisis. Just like the recession (come depression) we will look back in hind sight and say well it started around 2008!

  21. Wes Rolley says:

    Two fine sources…
    Try the Sydney Morning Herald for the global warming connection.

    Then, for another blog site I find useful… have their RSS feed to my desktop. West Coast Climate Equity, based in British Columbia.

  22. K. Nockels says:

    The only US media I found was Time “Why Global Warming May Be Fueling Australia’s Fires” not very long but at least it was something.
    Paulm, your right about the wind some new findings about the Stratosphereic Jetstream. Enter Drew Shindell, He works under Jim Hansen. In the last chapter of “With Speed and Violence” “Why Scientists fear tipping points in Clinate Change” it tells about his new work with the GISS Model when the stratosphere is included and when its not. You can find more on his papers at NASA website. As the statoshpere cools the winds have become stronger and they in turn increase the speed of the winds driving the Artic Oscillation and the Sam (Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode) These winds are located in the Troposhere, He’s found that the one drives the others, which with the heating in theTroposhere form CO2 means its moving a lot of heat around the north and south poles. More gases in the Troposhere more heat more wind. Because its trapped there it is not warming the Stratosphere it gets colder Jet moves faster. Its a self prepetuating positve feedback.

  23. K. Nockels says:

    Sorry Joe I hit the enter dey before I finsihed. You hit it on the “Hell and High Water” Great book by the way thanks for all you do to help us NON’s keep up and have some idea what the science really means. I have only one wish; That the Climate Scientists would speak up much louder than they do.

  24. Bruce Sterling summed it up nicely:

    1. The climate. People still behave as if it’s okay. Every scientist in the world who isn’t the late Michael Crichton knows that it’s not. The climate is in terrible shape; something’s gone wrong with the sky. The bone-chilling implications haven’t soaked into the populace, even though Al Gore put together a PowerPoint about it that won him a Nobel. Al was soft-peddling the problem.

    It’s become an item of fundamentalist faith to maintain that the climate crisis is a weird leftist hoax. Yet, since the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, an honest fear of the consequences will prove hard to repress. Since the fear has been methodically obscured, its emergence from the mists of superstition will be all the more powerful. Unlike mere shibboleths of finance, this is a situation that’s objectively terrifying and likely to remain so indefinitely.

    http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2009/01/2009_will_be_a_year_of_panic.php

  25. paulm says:

    well joe, this is evolving in to quite an unpleasant thread….

  26. plover says:

    FYI
    Professor Barry Brook’s blog is

    http://www.bravenewclimate.com

    and his email address is

    barry.brook@adelaide.edu.au

  27. jorleh says:

    Your journalists have some education? Seems don´t.

  28. Bob Wright says:

    Random goofy stuff:

    Northern Ireland environment minister bans GW ad campaign. Another guy deferring our fate to God.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/sack-sammy-call-after-climate-change-ad-ban-14180328.html

    I read someplace the aborigines once used controlled burn-offs, I suppose to at least protect villages and plantations. Us white guys are so smart! I watched abc News that night. Charlie left out the GW part, and looked like he didn’t like what he was saying. Maybe abc is just tired of the denier cranks lighting up the switchboard and jamming the website.

  29. It IS happening here, in Oklahoma and California.

  30. Greg N says:

    Just followed a link from CNN.com to a Time article that quite strongly links future fires to AGW:

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1878220,00.html?cnn=yes

    Maybe there’s some hope for CNN after all?

  31. Gail says:

    Now will someone link this?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/us/12drought.html

    It is going to spread and there will be food shortages and panic in the US very soon.

  32. paulm says:

    Ah ha. So wind speed observation here…. is backed up by some science….

    Stronger coastal winds due to climate change may have far-reaching effects
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-12/uoc–scw121208.php

    This is also directly related to fires on the coast.

  33. Melissa says:

    I live in the bushfire affected area you are talking about. As our town didn’t burn down (but was surrounded on three sides for a month by towns that did and by 80,000 ha of fire,) we still have a lot of unburnt fuel. You don’t need to be a scientist to notice that the snow doesn’t come down closer from the mountains anymore, that frost doesn’t build upon the windows and need to be washed off with a bucket of warm water in winter – a regular occurrence in my childhood.

    I’ve never lived through so many extreme days of heat and each summer feels worse. These fires were like no one had ever known. The rule book has to be re-written. They did things that we never anticipated they could.

    This is why I am training to be a firefighter. Because I know that we are in for hotter, drier summers from now on. I am worried, and I want to be as prepared as I can. I believe in fuel reduction burning, and I also believe that the Royal Commission has become a witch hunt targeting on the few people that tried to do anything, rather than being a constructive forum to develop new answers for the future.

  34. one of many Aussie AGW skeptics says:

    I wonder who ‘peer reviews’ Barry Brooks articles. Michael Mann?

  35. one of many Aussie AGW skeptics says:

    The Australian Koories used fire for two reasons. To make travel easier and to be able to track animals for food.