Climate

No wonder polling shows more people don’t know the scientific evidence that humans are warming the Earth has grown stronger. Revkin stunner on NPR: “I’ve made missteps. I’ve made probably more mistakes this year in my print stories than I had before.”

UPDATE:  Yes, bad coverage by big media, including the NYT‘s Revkin, is one reason there has been a modest decline since April 2008 in the number of Americans who know that there is solid (in fact, overwhelming) evidence the Earth is warming and humans are the primary cause (see here).  Big media “did” the global warming story in 2006 and 2007 when Gore’s movie came out and then throughout 2007 when the IPCC released its four major summary reports.  Looking for a new angle, the NY Times and others played up the global cooling myth.  Now couple that with a ramped up disinformation campaign from the deniers who keep repeating the global cooling myth and continued lame messaging from the scientific community (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“) and a progressive community filled with people who have been persuaded by bad analysis that they shouldn’t even talk about “global warming” (see Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ “” and that’s a good thing).  That’s a recipe for an underinformed public.

I have serious doubts whether major journalists should be blogging very much.  It conflates different roles, which can be confusing to the reader, and I’ve always thought that the media’s blogging was inherently lower quality journalism but still imprinted with the credibility of the journalist and his or her media organization (see “What exactly is the difference between journalism and blogging?“).

Today’s remarkble NPR interview of top NY Times climate reporter Andrew Revkin underscores my doubts and introduces yet another major problem I hadn’t considered — sagging quality of the print reporting as a result of too much time spent blogging.  Or, in Andy’s case, he’s apparently doing the same amount of blogging but more print reporting.

Revkin says “I’ve been in print more, but I haven’t slowed down on the blog.”  The impact:

“I’ve made missteps. I’ve made probably more mistakes this year in my print stories than I had before.  That’s kind of frustrating.”

You aren’t the only one who is frustrated, Andy!

The published articles reach a vastly larger audience.  I’d gladly do without every one of Andy’s posts at his blog, many of which are quite informative — in return for his not repeatedly screwing up the facts and the framing of those facts in just one recent story, see “NYT’s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation.”

I suspect (or, at least, hope) that if he had had more time to get the facts right, he might not have written that story at all or it would have completely reframed it.  And yes, if you check the sentences I said were wrong or misleading, he went back and changed every single one of them — although the change to the key opening sentence was just adding one word, “relatively,” which is quite inadequate:

… global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.

That is still very misleading, with the phrase “relatively stable for a decade” not actually based on scientific data and the phrase “may even drop” not supported by the recent scientific literature, including the work of the one person Andy cites, Mojib Latif (see “Exclusive interview with Dr. Mojib Latif, the man who confused the NY Times and New Scientist“).

[I still haven’t seen the print edition of that story — if someone can find it and send me the PDF, I’d love to see it.  I think my blog post was too late to correct the print story.]

Let me end with a general statement I made after the terrific journalist James Fallows made some errant statements on climate (see “James Fallows, Physics for Future Presidents, Al Gore, blogging journalists, and what will become of hockey sticks on an ice-free planet?“):

Blogging journalists.  Now that global warming and clean energy have become a first-tier political issue, every major journalist is writing about it.  My unsolicited advice: This is the story of the century, so you should be writing about it, but it has many mine fields so please do your homework before opining on it….

FINAL NOTE TO MEDIA:  Time for you to go back to the basics of reporting the science.  You might stop the blogging and start with this story — 18 leading scientific organizations send letter to Senators affirming the climate is changing, “human activities are the primary driver,” impacts are projected to worsen “substantially” and “If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced.”

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36 Responses to No wonder polling shows more people don’t know the scientific evidence that humans are warming the Earth has grown stronger. Revkin stunner on NPR: “I’ve made missteps. I’ve made probably more mistakes this year in my print stories than I had before.”

  1. So today the PewResearchCenter reports “Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global Warming”

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1386/cap-and-trade-global-warming-opinion

    “There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem — 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.”

    I blame the push media. Mostly broadcasters. But print media too. (years ago there was a difference between web pages pushed to uses and those pulled by users) The difference is that blogs and specific publications are pulled – TV, radio and newspaper content is pushed onto the public.

    This is an intentional action…and this will be counted as a success by the carbon fuel industry.

    No push reporter can escape influence – even if he works in a pull medium sometimes.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Learning From Orwell

    “ … but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones.”

    – George Orwell, “1984”

    To be clear from the outset, I’m NOT talking here about Andy. Instead, my point is this, about the media more broadly:

    The problems with journalism (the way it’s being implemented today in far too many cases) and with our modern news media have much more to do with the aims, or confused aims, and paradigms, and policies, and daily choices, of the media owners, execs, managing editors, and senior editors than they have to do with the skills and qualities of individual reporters.

    Although improvements on all fronts would be helpful, of course, yet even if you combined the traits and qualities of Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Bertrand Russell, and Ralph Waldo Emerson into each and every reporter writing about climate change, we’d still be “in trouble” if those folks still had to live according to the paradigms, priorities, policies, preferences, placement choices, prides, and politics of the media deciders.

    Some VERY BIG changes are needed in journalism/media if we are going to address the present messes (climate, energy, etc.) effectively, and they go far beyond loosening up on Andy’s schedule, of course.

    Indeed, (to use Andy as an example), probably not much can change until Andy’s bosses (or their ways of thinking) are changed.

    That’s my guess.

    Again, although I think improvements across the board would be very helpful, we must ask, how are we going to achieve the understanding and wisdom necessary, in modern society, when we have stuff like “Fox News” going on, and when we have the most profitable company in the U.S. trying to confuse us and deceive us? When we have a New York Times management team that would apparently prefer to give us numerous ExxonMobil ads, on the front page itself, and not to give us many excellent climate and energy stories that belong on the front page but don’t ever get there?

    It’s getting time to start naming names more vigorously, I think, but not names like Andy’s, and not just in passing. Let’s talk much more, and more seriously, about the Rupert Murdochs of the world, and Bill Keller (not to equate those two, of course).

    Indeed, who are the key people? Most likely, twenty news media titans could indeed change the world for the better, if they only agreed to respect fact, use good judgment, respect science, realize that there’s more to life than profits, and do a much better job of saving the listing ship of society, before it sinks.

    WHO are the media leaders who are going to speak out? Or, are they like the ants that Orwell mentions?

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  3. oxnardprof says:

    Part of the problem is the conflation of quality with popularity.

    Fox News is ‘popular’, but that is not the same thing as being truly fair and balanced (it clearly is not).

    Newspapers are in a battle for survival, with falling paid circulation resulting in pressure to survive in the new internet medium. This survival is measured in a wide readership, popularity, multiple links, etc. In the case of some columnists or reporters, the use of a blog increased visiblity, which may translate to more readership of the Times web site, and more views of traditional journalism pieces.

    I think it is important for the general public to better understand the difference between true journalism and opinion pieces and blogging. They all have value, but true journalism is, I think losing out in the mix.

    How much attention was given to a journalistic review of aspen death in the LA Times http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-aspen-death18-2009oct18,0,3472413.story

    Compared to the attention that would be given to a popular blog on the same topic? (I am not aware of a blog on this topic, however; perhaps someone knows of one.)

  4. Gail says:

    I just heard an interview on NPR (wnyc) All Things Considered with the authors of SuperFreakenomics. Joe is “some blogger”. I have an even lower opinion of public radio today than I had yesterday – unless they bring on Joe R and Caldeira to refute them.

  5. Jody says:

    I agree the media has and still is sending mixed messages about climate change, but I don’t think 100% of the drop in “belief” can be attributed to the media.

    Americans, in general, have the attention span of a two year old. I’m afraid that until the problem slaps us in the face, the level of attention this problem deserves will be mediocre. In the interim, the scientific community will have to continue to beat us over the heads with facts.

  6. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, just now I heard an interview of Dubn and Dubner on NPR Marketplace. Basically they blame Caldeira for having the poor judgement to hang around with the likes of Myhrvold and Wood.

    At the end of the program, the teaser for tomorrow’s show features an interview with an unnamed climate scientist. There’s a brief clip in which he says “there is no silver bullet.” Caldeira, perhaps?

  7. mark h says:

    Part of the problem could also be global warming as defined by the worst case descriptions of doom and gloom that tend to capture the headlines vs the attention span of the typical citizen. A casual observer to media coverage over the last 4 years might equate global warming with 20′ sea level rise, ice free arctic, droughts and famine abound, mass extinction, while now looking out thier window to basically the same picture and question what all the fuss is about. It’s a bit of a catch 22.

  8. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, are single-link comments (I just posted one) now going into moderation?

    [JR: No. More human error. Now fixed.]

  9. Dano says:

    Steve, that’s happened to me as well.

    I was quite surprised at the new polling results. Reading the Pew site and the breakdowns, the decline looks similar across the board for different groups.

    My initial thoughts were that the disinformation lobbies succeeded. My next thoughts were that if the trend goes so sharply up and down, up and down, there is a systemic information dissemination problem somewhere.

    Best,

    D

  10. “Part of the problem is the conflation of quality with popularity.”

    Medieval logicians (possibly Aristotle as well, but here my scholarship fails …) had already identified this as a logical fallacy, the argumentum ad populum or what is also called the “bandwagon fallacy” http://www.fallacyfiles.org/bandwagn.html. Seconding some of oxnardprof‘s comments above, I’d also add that it is discouraging how unoriginal the forms of stupidity are.

  11. MarkB says:

    Your opening paragraph describes some of the key reasons for drop-off in concern. To add to that, local weather plays a role in perceptions. 2006 was also the warmest U.S. year on record, with the 2006-2007 winter in much of the U.S. being extremely mild. 2009 had cooler temperatures in some populated areas of the U.S.. Couple this with the dire economic situation and a stepped up disinformation effort from deniers, along with the suckering and laziness of mainstream media, and we have a set of factors that explains a drop-off in concern. Andrew Weaver said it well:

    Andrew Weaver, a professor of climate analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said politics could be drowning out scientific awareness.

    “It’s a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public,” he said.

    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=104&sid=1791858

    Still, the same Pew Research poll indicates by a 50-39% margin, Americans favor emissions reductions even if phrased to say that energy costs will increase. This indicates to me that some of the “skeptism” is soft. Someone not well-informed might be thinking “Al Gore and some scientists say global warming is real but Fox News, George Will and others told me it stopped and since our summer in Michigan was very mild this year I tend to believe them. However, reducing emissions seems like a good idea just in case and it’s always good to get off fossil fuels.”

  12. mike roddy says:

    Too many of us here don’t realize how small our own world is. I don’t know how many look at CP, CA, and DE, but these audiences are generally already decided: it’s the educated ones along with the paid or just cranky skeptics.

    As for the New York Times, the second choice among many of us, we seem to think because we see it in Starbucks all over the country that everybody must be reading it. As tattered as its reputation is becoming, you can still stumble across something intelligent there, especially from Rich or Krugman. And, let’s face it, Revkin writes some really good pieces from time to time. Here’s some reality check daily reader or watcher numbers:

    circulation

    New York Times 1 million
    USA Today 2 million
    Wall Street Journal 2 million

    TV network news program 7 million
    Rush Limbaugh 15 million

    And we wonder why the message isn’t getting through. We need to get out of our ivory towers, because the polling numbers reflect what I hear on the street: someone of my acquaintance, even among halfway educated ones, is always arching his eyebrow about the global warming evidence. It’s not a mystery if you were to listen to the above sources. Even if their global warming coverage were mixed or indifferent, we hear a lot more details about celebrity mating habits than about global warming, so the default becomes “why worry?”.

    The strategy to penetrate the largely ignorant and frightened large circulation mainstream media remains nonexistent, other than rants about its greedy and shortsighted ownership. I plead guilty of this myself. But we need ideas here.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    No Dice

    We shouldn’t be gambling with this, walking a tightrope, or skating on thin ice.

    Clearly, public understanding is WAY below the level it should be by now. Clearly, the media are doing a poor job. Basically, that’s evident, nearly by definition.

    On nearly the same day that 18 leading science organizations send a serious letter of agreement, The New York Times seems to have not covered it (so far, although perhaps this weekend?), and the poll shows that public understanding is poor.

    What more info do the mainstream media need?

    Are the media’s leaders real humans, or what? Do they understand the situation and their responsibilities, as humans?

    Although I’m not usually of this preference, and I don’t think I started using this phrase until this year on this immensely important issue, it is time to name names. The stakes are too high. We shouldn’t be rolling dice on this. Any news organization or company that is not doing whatever it can do to improve public understanding on this, and to take the right and responsible steps into the future, is dropping the ball, and we should begin noting those names, asking why, and calling loudly for change.

    Eighteen scientific organizations.

    Sigh.

    Jeff

  14. lizardo says:

    My regional rag (The News and Observer, Raleigh, which covers the eastern half of NC pretty much) seems now to be running a lot of AP stuff (ugh, really bad) and some NYT stuff, so yes it really reaches a lot of people when NYT gets it wrong, including when reporters like Revkin use misleading wording like “relatively stable.”

    I don’t recall our paper covering the really important story about how much AGW heat is being stored in the world’s oceans.

    I would like to add that for a lot of people, yes, sad to say and per the poll, re “evidence” of global warming, it’s more compelling if you are in a drought or hot summer, or California megafire, whereas in my part of the East coast, July was kinda usual (hot) but August was cooler than usual, so was September. I think that such anomalies coming along (as irrelevant as they are) subconsciously reinforces ideas being propagated about either “global cooling” or “global warming but not so fast at the moment…”

    Incidentally, this aforesaid regional paper is shrinking but more frequently putting state and local news on the front page (but not exclusively), which is smart. The national stuff people are getting from TV (or radio) and they ran the best refutation of George Will ever (given the length constraints of one op-ed page piece).

    Remember when the media obsessed over the Iran embassy hostages? If GW were a gigantic asteroid we’d be in countdown clock mode even if it were 5 years off, but God help us if it arrived a couple of days late I guess.

    Oh and those folks on NPR’s Marketplace strike me as dopes, I never listen.

  15. Mossy says:

    And has any mainstream media helped to rally support for Saturday’s 350.org International Climate Action Day? To me, 3000 events worldwide calling for strong agreement in Copenhagen IS news. Instead, I listened to an NBC story about an RV factory in Indiana, having been hurt by the recession, and now producing again due to renewed demand. Let’s burn as much fossil fuel as we can producing and then driving these vehicles!
    And let’s feature this on national news so our citizens understand what is really important!

  16. Leif says:

    Jeff, I agree. Today on the electronic issue of the NY Times is a spread on the “front page” about raising chickens in an urban environment and the trials and tribulations of same. ( “Pasty butt” can be a real problem) Where are these folks coming from?
    Good grief!
    I sent another letter to them with a copy of yesterdays post in case they have no one around that could google it.

  17. logie says:

    The solution for the climate movement is just to get nastier. Deaths have already started from heatstress, from revolting droughts, and these deaths are caused by climate change.

    Every time the moronic deniers sound off, they are allowing more deaths, and condemning more and more of us. So we need to simply explain, every single time, that deniers aren’t just morons, they are morons with blood on their hands, and it looks like the blood will soon be ours.

    Ask them ‘so you were pleased with the recent heatwave, and the 500 plus people who died. You say thats normal do you?’

    Its brutal but its the simple truth.

    These morons are threatening our lives.

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    More ingredients for the recipe for an underinformed public:

    Newspapers printing op-eds from PR flacks that aren’t labeled as such (George Will, Debra Saunders) – sad to say, those readers who still accord the paper some credibility don’t realize that many op-ed columnists aren’t constrained by reality.

    Local environmental nonprofits being bought off by restricted-grant money, which sends them off to labor in out-of-the-way, low ROI endeavors.

    Newspaper copy editors applying he-said-she-said headlines to otherwise informative articles;

    Journalists not wise to – or editorially constrained from calling out – cardboard studies produced via think-tank (or other advocacy-funded) opinion laundering;

    Undisclosed ties of reciprocity – e.g. Tim Harford’s having written a largely positive review of SuperFreakonomics in the Financial Times, without disclosing to readers that SuperFreak coauthor Levitt had glowingly reviewed Harford’s own pop-econ book.

  19. Phil Eisner says:

    The public doesn’t understand science, any science. Reporters have never taken a science course after high school. In fact, very few college graduates have ever taken a mathematics or science course other than statistics and physics for poets or some such fluff. How do we expect them to understand an issue as complicated as global warming caused by CO2 emissions? The public and its precious media reporters are easily confused on this issue, especially since the weather they see and feel has variations that are greater than the daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly effects of global warming.

  20. paulm says:

    I have to say its changing up here in Canada. Since literally the last month or so. Not quite sure what did it, but 2008/2009 was special:

    collapse of the pacific salmon run, huge BC fires, immense prairie droughts and bad weather affecting wheat crops, tornadoes & ice storms in Ontario, odd polar bear behavior, collapse of the west coast bear population, pine beetle wrecking havoc on lumber communities and busness, sudden rush to protect and claim our north coast cause the ice has melted away, record breaking temps across BC, equivalent world extreme events affecting family and/or messing up our holiday plans

    The CBC is constantly airing climate change issues and I mean on a daily basis.

    They ignored the issue for so long in the main steam coverage, but now they discuss it like it is an every day problem with very serious consequences – on the radio at least.

    The papers are still a bit hesitant, however, you can see it bursting through. And its about time cause the general public here just hasn’t a clue whats in store.

    The government are still hedging their bets that they can off load the tar sands to the US, but are seeing clear signals now that Obama will not have it. Good on Obama. I think he’s playing this chess match as good as it gets.

    I think a few adverts by the gov on prime time TV would help get the ball rolling faster. I cant see why this is not viable. There is absolutely no reason not to air hard hitting adverts. I mean they did it for the war. In fact they should force the stations to do it as a community service for free.

  21. Richard Brenne says:

    According to Mike Roddy (#12) these are numbers of readers/viewers, and the figures seem reasonable.

    New York Times 1 million
    USA Today 2 million
    Wall Street Journal 2 million

    TV network news program 7 million
    Rush Limbaugh 15 million

    Then you might ask how many Americans watch the Weather Channel, other national and especially local weather reports on TV. My guess is far more than all the figures above combined.

    Few people know a real scientist and they assume their TV meteorologist is a scientist, when many if not most don’t have a science degree (often a broadcast journalism or communications degree).

    Most people view climate through the lens of weather. I haven’t heard any reference to climate change by any TV meteorologist for many years, and I view an average of at least a few viewings of different weather reports on TV a day.

    Last June I attended the AMS short course on climate change. We have a wonderful and ongoing e-mail list with many of the country’s top climate scientists, climate change authors, journalists and TV meteorologists that’s really great. At the same annual AMS Conference for TV meteorologists NCDC Director, AMS President and dynamite climate scientist Tom Karl encouraged TV meteorologists to use teachable moments like heat waves to at least mention their relationship with climate change. His fellow panelists talked a good game during the panel but have mentioned nothing on their broadcasts about climate change even during record heat waves, as far as I can see and have heard.

    All the good journalism is also important, but until TV stations and their meteorologists come on board, they’re doing way more harm than good, and the word is not getting out as it should. I know just the brief sentences they can occasionally slip into broadcasts.

    The problem is how many meteorologists are deniers – the worst of all scientists, in additon to geologists. I’ve been met with tremendous resistance in this area, despite my best efforts to be diplomatic, nice, kind and friendly. How do we change this?

  22. Gail says:

    “How do we change this?” It seems to me that often times large changes in the US are driven by the third branch of government, the judiciary.

    Perhaps instead of bemoaning the media, we should be pouring our resources into some legal action to sue those who produce carbon emissions, and maybe even those who deliberately spout denial canards.

    There is enough real scientific evidence (empirical, not models) that deniers and delayers are causing real harm.

    I’d gladly ante up.

    As an aside, oxnardprof, pretty much all I do is blog about trees!

  23. Andy says:

    The anti-intellectual / anti-science push from the previous administration continues to wreak havoc. Unconscionable. I apologize in advance to my children and their children.

  24. ken levenson says:

    It’s time for the NY Times to have a daily “The Climate Crisis” section within the International section – like they’ve previously had for the “The War on Terror” and “The Iraq War”.

    No matter your political stripe the climate crisis is real and it is a crisis that will soon overwhelm all other considerations. The haphazard nature of the crisis’ presentation in the news pages does a huge disservice to the public’s understanding of its enormity.

    They could easily have a solid page of reported climate crisis news every day…easily two pages. Today they actually have most of a page devoted to climate crisis articles – and of course there is no mention of the scientific organizations’ letter to congress. Encouraging and pathetic simultaneously!

  25. Seth Masia says:

    This isn’t a new development. I did a master’s thesis on the ways the press covers energy issues. Historically, the deadline press oversimplifies EVERY complex issue into the he-said/she-said or horse-race story (let’s call this the balance fallacy). The politically aware class knows this and gets their hard info from magazines doing long-form fact-based reporting (Scientific American, The New Yorker, The Atlantic etc). This has been the case throughout the past century (read Walter Lippman for instance). Revkin is the canary in the coal mine here — the most visible evidence of a dangerous atmosphere.

    Important thing to recognize is that most politicians don’t care about their own polling (and they won’t pay attention to the Pew study, either). They are, however, strongly influenced by what they read in the newspapers. When they see consensus in the press, they interpret that as the parade they want to lead. Believe it or not, there’s peer-reviewed academic work demonstrating this phenomenon. So Revkin and the WSJ editorialists are more important for the influence they have directly on policy-makers than for the influence they have on voters.

  26. MaldiveSally says:

    Is Revkin actually a *reporter*? He doesn’t seem to actually cover any events, doesn’t have a beat, and doesn’t do any investigative pieces.

    Every once in a while he will email a bunch of scientists about some issue and cobble together an article and even his blog is mostly a regurgitation of banalities that are better covered elsewhere.

    The NY Times actually has very good environmental reporting–the recent series by Charles Duhigg on water should win a Pulitzer.

    My sense is from reading his work is that Revkin is a contract employee with the Times and his compensation is somehow tied to the number of words he writes. Since real reporting requires months of digging and background work before any words are actually written, being a daily [professional] blogger is somewhat incompatible with reporting.

    Probably the best reporter on the climate beat is Fiona Harvey of the FT. Her reporting on the policy angle is essential and a must-read for people interested in the issue.

  27. Seth Masia says:

    Maldive Sally: There are several different disciplines within the reporting craft. What you call “real reporting” is usually called investigative reporting. It does take days, weeks or months to dig out the real facts — good investigative reporters seek truth in a process not unlike scientific method. But most newspaper writing is deadline reporting, which throws together 800 or 1000 words in four or five hours (sometimes less) and may depend in part on press releases and other material prepared by outside sources. Broadcast journalism is far worse: it often comes together in a few minutes, on the scene with only a single source. Andy Revkin is a well-respected science-environment beat reporter. He does some investigative stuff but mostly deadline reporting on breaking science stories, especially with the blog. A beat reporter is not paid by the word but is required to produce a story every day.

  28. paulm says:

    Richard Brenne I think you have highlighted a major area where this whole thing failed.

    how many Americans watch the Weather Channel, other national and especially local weather reports on TV.

    If the weather chaps had been on board then this issue would have been mainstream.

    There should still be effort in convincing and dissemination the message through the weather channel.

  29. David Lewis says:

    Regarding the role of the media: Here is a quote from a recent Dan Rather interview:

    “…because we had gone through a period where American journalism had, in some important ways, had lost its spine. We needed a spine transplant. I don’t think Katrina and what happened in New Orleans alone supplied this transplant, but for the first time in a number of years, dating back to at least the run-up to the Iraq War, when we in journalism, again, including myself, did not do the job we should have done, nearly as well as we should have done, and part of it was, the fear of being called unpatriotic, at the very least…. But, until Katrina hit, until it was really obvious that the government was having an almost total breakdown in trying to respond to this – it was a wake-up call for American journalism. My concern is that we haven’t heard that call, loudly enough, even yet”

    One day, after the country is more unified in understanding climate change is a threat, we’ll hear the Andy Revkins of the US confess their sins, and the rest of them confess they were blind.

    I’ve been thinking about climate for 21 years. Starting in 1988, I put in a lot of time calling out to the public as a politician asking for their votes, saying one aim is to return the composition of the atmosphere to the preindustrial. It was a pretty rough go. I’ve come to think the population will only respond once it has a more direct experience. We need a few billion deaths from starvation, I’m afraid. There is no cultural memory of the perils of running out of planet as there is on other issues such as war.

    It is often said that civilization could mobilize as it did during WWII and solve any problem. I’ve said this a number of times myself. I just transcribed the words of an historian discussing the British response in early WWII. It wasn’t until France actually fell and British forces were ejected from the Continent that Britain could face the situation it was in:

    “British historian Dan Todman: ‘So they misjudge how the war is going to be fought. But they’re not alone in doing that. I mean there’s a widespread misconception amongst the whole population. And the limits on their freedom of action are not just conceptual. Its not that Chamberlain and members of his Cabinet want to continue with business as usual because they are somehow bad people, or that because they believe that always, business must come before national survival. Its really more that they are trapped in a situation, where they can’t gain compliance on the part of the population…. So really the Chamberlain government is trapped in a circumstance where it can’t generate the national will that’s necessary to fight a more total war, even as it becomes more and more convinced as it gets into the spring of 1940 that that is what it has to do. And really it is not until the circumstances change, until the fall of France, and this great threat to Britain that emotionally mobilizes the population, that ANY government can start to do that. And it has to be said that even when the Churchill government comes in in 1940 it takes a far more hesitant approach to the mobilization of domestic efforts than is often assumed. May to June 1940 is not as great and decisive a shift as we sometimes think in terms of things like rationing, and the conscription of women, those are events that take place much later in the war. And they’re very concerned, the Churchill coalition, to stay behind the demand curve, really, they’re operating inside the same set of limits as their predecessors, but they’re doing so in a drastically changed international circumstance.”

    PS, re: a printed copy of Andy’s article dept. I was unable to find a print edition of the Oct 21 NY Times that contained his article. (I live in Seattle, and what the library carries is what is called the “national” edition). I’ve subsequently read there is a possibility the article actually was printed Oct 23 but have yet to go back to the library to see. I think it is a case of Andy experimenting with believing he wasn’t printing bald faced lies when he was. The admission of mistakes on NPR now is a partial effort to atone. If “relatively cool years” is a mistake, given the quality of Andy’s previous work, his experience and position, its of the order of a math teacher who mistakenly teaches that 2+2 is not 4 and sees if he can get away with it.

  30. MaldiveSally says:

    Seth Masia: Thanks for the clarification. I recognize different types of reporting, but under your description of Revkin as a beat reporter I am still unclear exactly what his “beat” is?

    He certainly isn’t pounding the pavement rounding up stories like Fiona Harvey does.

    Does the Times even have someone on the climate beat? Who is their UNFCCC reporter? Who covers the Hill–specifically on climate/environment?

    Revkin’s work seems pretty reactive as opposed to proactive. Compare him, for instance, to Elana Schor at Streetsblog–she is breaking stories, providing new and relevant info for policy discussions.

    I can’t remember the last thing that Revkin wrote that would be considered “essential” for understanding the fast-moving debates surrounding climate and the environment.

    I have nothing against him–I just think he is reflective of the Times’ muddling through on an important issue. This is especially problematic since the Times influences the larger news cycle.

  31. Gail says:

    Ha ha was I just saying we should use the courts? The “Oil and Gas Journal” seems to think it could threaten them!

    http://www.ogj.com/index/article-display/7089276925/articles/oil-gas-journal/general-interest-2/hse/2009/10/lawsuits-point_to.html

  32. john says:

    Andy’s admission is vaguely reminiscent of the Mea Culpas issued by NYT and other MSM types after getting everything wrong on the run up to Iraq. They then continued to act as stenographers to the Bush propaganda machine, rendering their apology mute.

    So the question is, Andy and MSM, when will you report the science, and not the “controversy”?

  33. Greg Robie says:

    One of my “favorite” missteps of Andy’s this year: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/copenhagen-summit-seeks-climate-action/
    Note how he frames his “reporting.” If you read the comments to the blog post—relative to the subscription data stated above—deducing why he is “cautiously honest” (as he likes to describe his orientation to his job) is not hard to fathom.

    Currently, his latests misstep is that he did a blog post that used, as an example, how BP has reduced the methane that leaks from 2,300 of its wells in the southern San Juan basin from 4,000,000,000 cuft. per year to 100,000 cuft. per year (realizing 3 time the cost of this control in the process). The framing he chose, by omission, panders to the market defined by the I-need-to-feel-good “news” consumer.

    And this critique of the framing as being about omission seems reasonable because of the observations that, even with such reductions, atmospheric methane is, again, on the rise. The cause for the renewed increase in atmospheric methane is the “why” that makes this “good news” story—also—part of a more complex “bad news” one (and therefore, including such, more rational framing—assuming a common search for truth is a social value; is the basis for science). Supporting this assertion concerning the framing is this dotearth comment—an answer to Andy’s request for clarification of a comment awarded an “Editors’ Selection” classification. The clarifying comment argued that understanding the renewed increase in atmospheric methane is an under-studied, under-researched and under-reported story . . . and, in terms of what is needed for rational behavior, The Story.

  34. Jeff Huggins says:

    Question

    So far, I haven’t seen any coverage of the letter from the eighteen scientific organizations to the Senate, in The New York Times. That said, I haven’t been looking closely, yet, except on the website. I’ll try to carefully scan yesterday’s and today’s papers today.

    Please, has anyone seen such coverage in The Times? If so, can you please let me know the date, article, and page number, ideally?

    Be Well,,

    Jeff

  35. Phillip Huggan says:

    The skyrocketing temperatures of our oceans over the past decade are about to default on their subprime loans. Revkin has an alien bailout in mind?

  36. ron from Texas says:

    Everyone talks about how “complicated” climate science is yet want us to believe that a simple gas like CO2 is driving up temperature. If it’s complicated, then how can one say that only CO2 is doing it? Or even any combination of gases? Anyway, if you want some science, try thermodynamics.