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Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010

By Joe Romm on January 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm

"Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010"

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The NY Times and others blow the story of the century

The danger posed to the nation and the world by unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases is truly the greatest story never told.

We had jaw-dropping science in 2010 (A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice).  We had gripping climatic disasters (Masters: “The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability”; Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”).  And we even had major political theater — domestic (The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 1 and Part 2) and international (see The Cancun Compromise).

But, as we’ll see, the one-time paper of record didn’t have climate change in a single one of its largest lead headlines.  And analyses of multiple databases reveal that the rest of the media sheepishly returned to 2005 levels of coverage.  The Daily Climate’s Douglas Fischer reports:

Media coverage of climate change in 2010 slipped to levels not seen since 2005, after spiking in in late 2009 in the run-up to the much-hyped United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen and the release of private emails from climate scientists stored on a English university server..

Analysis of DailyClimate.org’s archive of global media coverage shows that journalists published 23,156 climate-related stories in English last year — a 30 percent drop from ’09′s tally.

Those stories came from 8,710 different reporters, columnists and editorial writers at 1,552 different media outlets. Last year, according to the Web site’s database, more than 11,000 reporters tackled the subject – a 22 percent drop for 2010.

Despite the trend, some outlets and reporters remain prolific. Reuters again lead the pack, publishing 1,683 stories last year – 4.6 stories a day. The New York Times had 1,116; the London Guardian, 941; the Associated Press, 793.

But for network news and other mainstream outlets, the trend was down, down, down.

Before continuing, it must be noted that mere lack of quantity is only one of the many unconscionable failings by the media. If the coverage continues to be as bad as it was in 2010, increasing it won’t change anything (see “And the 2010 Citizen Kane award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to “¦” and “How the status quo media failed on climate change“).  The major flaws in climate science coverage are:

  1. Insufficient coverage for what is the story of the year, decade, and century, which is all but certain to be the story of the millennium if the media keeps ignoring it.
  2. Insufficient visibility for the coverage that there is (see, for instance, NYT headlines below) and prominence given to the ‘teach the controversy’ crap (see N.Y. Times Faces Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage: One oft-quoted communications expert calls this front-page attack on the IPCC, “the worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen”).
  3. False ‘balance” in individual stories. One of the most documented flaws.  Can be balancing real climate scientists with ones who have been widely discredited or with non-scientists [see In yet another front-page journalistic lapse, the NY Times once again equates non-scientists "” Bastardi, Coleman, and Watts (!) "” with climate scientists].  Or it can be the classic misrepresentation of what the business-as-usual case is (i.e. multiple catastrophes), so the public gets the impression that the two likeliest outcomes are a very low sensitivity and low emissions (denier spin) versus moderate (fast-feedbacks) sensitivity and moderate emissions (the middle of the IPCC scenarios, without explaining this would require aggressive mitigation starting now) — see the NYT’s “Climate Change and ‘Balanced’ Coverage.”
  4. False balance in story choice.  This is actually one of the biggest, but least discussed, problems.  In a AAAS presentation last year, the late William R. Freudenburg of UC Santa Barbara discussed his research on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge“: New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.”  Reporting science that confirms the IPCC that it is warming and humans are probably the cause or that confirms things are worse than the IPCC said is not ‘news’.  But that one in 20 study that (often misinterpreted) ‘confirms’ scientists were exaggerating, well, that is news (see “The non-hype about climate change (and malaria)“).  It’d be interesting, but difficult, to analyze this.  My rough estimate is that the media probably turns the 20-to-1 ratio to a 2-to-1 ratio.
  5. Failure to connect the dots (see CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story “” never mention climate change).  Stories on the bark beetle devastation that don’t mention global warming are rampant [see Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can't tell the (bark beetle) story (twice!), how will the public hear it?]  Stories on 1-in-a-1000-year deluge that don’t mention climate change or the increase in water vapor available for superstorms — assuming the media bothers to cover a story like Nashville’s Katrina, which wasn’t on the coasts, or Pakistan, which is a distant land, and thus of secondary interest (see Juan Cole: The media’s failure to cover “the great Pakistani deluge” is “itself a security threat” to America).

Here’s more from the Daily Climate:

Drexel University professor Robert Brulle has analyzed nightly network news since the 1980s. Last year’s climate coverage was so miniscule, he said, that he’s doubting his data.

“I can’t believe it’s this little. In the U.S., it’s just gone off the map,” he said. “It’s pretty clear we’re back to 2004, 2005 levels.”

Coverage of December’s United Nations climate talks in Cancun is Exhibit A: Total meeting coverage  by the networks consisted of one 10-second clip, Brulle said. By contrast, 2009′s Copenhagen talks generated 32 stories totaling 98 minutes of airtime. “I’m trying to check it again and again,” Brulle said of the 2010 data. “It’s so little, it’s stunning.”

Overall, based on preliminary data, the networks aired 32 stories on climate change last year, compared to 84 in 2009 and 144 in 2007, when former Vice President Al Gore released his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a key assessment on climate change. The two shared the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

The figure at the very top comes from “The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, which has tracked media coverage of climate change since 2000.”  They found “a similar slide in five major U.S. newspapers“:

After spiking to more than 450 articles in December 2009 – almost equal to the 2007 peak – coverage dropped precipitously in early 2010, falling to levels last seen in late 2005.

And as noted above, it isn’t it just lack of coverage — it is insufficient visibility for what coverage there is.  On New Year’s Eve, The Politico publishedthe largest lead headlines of The New York Times, 2010.”  It ain’t pretty.

I’m going to reprint them all, since it isn’t just that the one-time paper of record has chosen to deemphasize this most important of stories.  While it has certainly dropped from the prestigious position it held decades ago, the paper still defines for many other media outlets what are the major stories that they need to follow.

Read ‘em and weep:

–6 columns:
1/22: Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Campaign Spending Limit
3/22: Congress Sends White House Landmark Health Overhaul
11/3: G.O.P. TAKES HOUSE — SETBACK FOR OBAMA AND DEMOCRATIC AGENDA; CUOMO WINS; SHOW OF STRENGTH BY TEA PARTY

–5 columns:
1/15: Hopes Fade in Quake-Ravaged Haiti, and Anger Rises
1/17: Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises
5/5: Terrorism Suspect, Charged, Admits to Role in Bomb Plot [Times Square]
5/19: Specter, Running as Democrat, Ousted in Pennsylvania Primary
11/29: Leaked Cables Offer a Raw Look Inside U.S. Diplomacy — State’s Secrets, Day 1
12/19: Senate Ends Military Ban on Gays Serving Openly

–4 columns:
1/14: Haiti Lies in Ruins; Grim Search for Untold Dead
1/16: Patience Wears Thin as Haiti’s Desperation Grows
1/18: Supermarket Rescue Beats Dimming Odds in Haiti
1/20: G.O.P. Surges to Senate Victory in Massachusetts
1/28: Obama Says Nation Can’t Afford the Politics of No (Faulting G.O.P., He Stands by His Agenda) [State of Union]
2/27: Under Fire, Paterson Quits Governor’s Race
2/28: Chile in ‘State of Catastrophe’ After Vast Quake
3/8: Iraqis Defy Blasts in Strong Turnout for Pivotal Vote
3/24: Health Care Overhaul Becomes the Law of the Land [Signing]
3/30: Female Suicide Bombers Strike at Moscow Subway
4/10: Justice Stevens Retiring, Giving Obama a 2nd Pick
4/16: Volcanic Ash Grounds Air Traffic in Northern Europe
4/25: Feeling Warehoused in Army’s Trauma Care Units [Sunday enterprise]
5/3: Police Seeking Man Taped Near Bomb Scene [Times Square]
5/10: Obama Said to Pick Solicitor General for Court
6/24: OBAMA FIRES AFGHAN COMMANDER, CITING NEED FOR UNITY IN THE WAR
7/26: The War Logs — The Afghan Struggle: A Secret Archive
8/27: Much of Pakistan’s Progress Is Lost in Its Floodwaters
9/16: Challengers Mine a Deep Discontent Among Voters [NYT/CBS poll]
10/23: The War Logs — The Iraq Archive: The Strands of a War
12/28: Blizzard Ends, Leaving Trail of Disruption Along Coast

–3 columns:
12/14: CORE OF HEALTH CARE LAW IS REJECTED BY A U.S. JUDGE [in Richmond]

–2 columns, all caps:
2/13: ALLIES ATTACKING BIG TALIBAN HAVEN IN AFGHAN SOUTH [dateline: Marja, Afghanistan]
2/19: IN SURPRISE MOVE, FED SIGNALS PIVOT TO NORMAL POLICY
6/26: ACCORD REACHED FOR AN OVERHAUL OF FINANCE RULES
10/2: ACCORD PAVES WAY FOR IRAQI PREMIER TO BE RE-ELECTED
10/30: EXPLOSIVES FOUND IN PARCELS MEANT FOR U.S. DELIVERY
11/4: FED SETS OUT PLAN USING $600 BILLION TO SPUR ECONOMY
11/11: PANEL SEEKS CUTS IN SOCIAL SECURITY AND HIGHER TAXES
12/22: SENATE SET TO GIVE OBAMA A VICTORY ON ARMS CONTROL

–2 columns, 3 lines:
10/28: Coalition That Vaulted Democrats Into Power Has Frayed, Poll Finds [NYT/CBS]
12/7: Obama Reaches Accord With G.O.P. on Tax Cut; Democrats Hold Back

–A few notable 2-column lead headlines:
1/21: Obama Weighs a Paring of Goals for a Health Bill [day after Scott Brown election]
2/2: News Analysis: A Red-Ink Decade (Obama Budget Sees Years of Deficits, A Test of U.S. Power and Political Will) [by David E. Sanger] (page stripe: ‘The Budget Proposal: High Ambitions and Deficits”; inside: “In Proposal, Obama Takes the Long View: Paints Deficits as Investments)
2/6: Jobless Rate Falls to 9.7%, Giving Hope Worst Is Over
2/21: Despite Signs of Recovery, Chronic Joblessness Rises [Sunday enterprise]
4/4: Contesting Jobless Claims Becomes a Boom Industry [Sunday enterprise by Jason DeParle]
4/15: Discontent’s Demography: Who Backs the Tea Party (Supporters Are Better Educated, Wealthier and More Conservative, Poll Finds) [NYT/CBS]
4/17: S.E.C. Accuses Goldman Of Fraud in Housing Deal
5/1: Government Criticizes BP For Response to Oil Spill
5/11: News Analysis: A Trillion for Europe, With Doubts Attached
5/24: Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwart More Job Seekers (Faced With Bleak Prospects, Low-Income Parents Are Resorting to Welfare) [Peter S. Goodman, "The New Poor" series: "Articles in this series will examine the struggle to recover from the widespread strains of the Great Recession."]
8/3: Obama Reaffirms Pullout From Iraq Is on Schedule (Combat Mission to End this Month Amid Rising Skepticism on Afghanistan) [Atlanta speech to Disabled Veterans of America]
8/15: A Secret Assault on Terror Widens on Two Continents: U.S. Strikes Make Yemen a Testing Ground for a ‘Scalpel’ Strategy on Al Qaeda
8/29: Graft-Fighting Prosecutor Dismissed in Afghanistan
9/1: Obama Declares an End To Iraq Combat Mission [Oval Office address]
11/12: Obama’s Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage [G-20, Seoul]
12/4: Jobless Rate Rises to 9.8% In Blow to Recovery Hopes
12/12: A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Derivatives Trading (Clubby Clearinghouses Limit Competition, and Consumers Face Higher Prices) [Louise Story, "House Advantage" series: "This series examines the ways that Wall Street banks can, and often do, gain advantages over their customers."]

–A few notable 1-column lead headlines:
1/25: OBAMA TO OFFER AID FOR FAMILIES IN STATE OF UNION (AGENDA IS NARROWED: A Plan for Retirement Savings and a Credit for Child Care)
1/28 [col. 2, top of page]: WITH ITS TABLET, APPLE BLURS LINE BETWEEN DEVICES: IPAD, HEIR TO THE IPOD
2/1: OBAMA TO SEEK SWEEPING CHANGE IN ‘NO CHILD’ LAW
3/14: OBAMA PROPOSES SWEEPING CHANGE IN EDUCATION LAW
3/23: GOOGLE CLOSES SEARCH SERVICE BASED IN CHINA
4/23: OBAMA CHASTISES WALL ST. IN CALL TO STIFFEN RULES
6/9: INCUMBENT HOLDS HER SENATE SEAT IN ARKANSAS RACE [Blanche Lincoln's Democratic primary]
6/16: PRESIDENT CALLS FOR A NEW FOCUS ON ENERGY POLICY [Oval Office address, with an accompanying Peter Baker news analysis, "On 56th Day, Call to Arms"]
7/16: CONGRESS PASSES MAJOR OVERHAUL OF FINANCE RULES [Next to it, in column 5, "S.E.C. Settling Its Complaints With Goldman"]
8/14 [col. 4, at fold]: Obama Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site
8/16: GENERAL OPPOSES A RAPID PULLOUT IN AFGHANISTAN [Petraeus interview]

–A few notable Sunday enterprise packages, not displayed as traditional leads:
3/21: The Long Road Back: Tactics, Perseverance and Luck Resurrected a Bill [health reform tick-tock]
5/23: Signs of Cover-Up After Killings in Haiti Prison: In Wake of Quake, Uprising Led to Shooting of Unarmed Inmates [Deborah Sontag and Walt Bogdanich]
6/6: At Issue in Gulf: Who Was in Charge? Hodgepodge of Oversight for Rig Helped Set Stage for Disaster
7/25: The Most Conservative Court in Decades Under Roberts, Center of Gravity Has Edged to the Right, Analyses Show
8/29: A Wartime Chief’s Steep Learning Curve [Peter Baker: "A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior."]

–3/9, off-lead (cols. 1, 2): Obama Turns Up the Volume In Bid for His Health Measure (Challenge to Democrats: ‘If Not Us, Who?’) [Philadelphia dateline, Arcadia University]

–7/22, Editorial, A26: Faster Than a Speeding Blog [Shirley Sherrod dismissal]

–7/22, Business Day p. 3: Obama Signs Contentious Overhaul of the Financial System (B1 refer: “A DODD-FRANK BILL BECOMES LAW: Senator Christopher Dodd, left, and Representative Barney Frank led committees that helped shape a bill overhauling how to respond to financial excesses.”)

–10/11, p. A11: Kidnapped Scottish Aid Worker in Afghanistan Is Killed During Rescue Raid [dateline: Kabul]

–10/13, 4 columns through top middle of page: Trapped 68 Days, First Chilean Miners Taste Freedom. [1-col. lead was: U.S. JUDGE HALTS 'DON'T ASK' LAW FOR THE MILITARY.]

–11/10, p. A14: Obama, in Indonesia, Pledges Expanded Ties With Muslim Nations.

There is not a single climate story on the list and only one on energy.

I asked Brulle for a comment on the above headlines.  Since the choice of headlines and location for the story is a decision the editors make, he directed his comments to them:

Apparently, the editorial board of the NY Times has yet to fully grasp the importance of global climate change to our collective survival.  As the science becomes stronger and more dire, the editors of the NY Times bury their head deeper into the sand.

It is appearing more and more likely that this report was true:  Science Times stunner: “”¦ a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.”

Shame on the media for this truly unforgivable noncoverage and miscoverage.

Masters: “The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability”

Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”

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45 Responses to Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The situation is precisely the same in Australia. Climate scientists are almost entirely absent from the media, except to be misrepresented and ruthlessly pilloried. The most deranged denialists are promoted relentlessly. The Comments blogs are either heavily censored, or the rational fraction has given up in disgust and despair. Murdoch’s Empire has declared open war on environmentalists and the Green Party. They have, of course, always been at war with them, but they now bray it from their editorials and all their paid propagandists have taken up the cudgels with that well-trained flair that is their trade-mark. If I might bore you with one example of the baseness of the intellect that is evidenced. The ABC, the nominally Government-owned media network, which was, in recent years, stacked with Murdochites on the governing Board, and fellow-thinkers in the ranks, by George Bush’s little mate, John Howard, has a 24 hr news network, ABC News Radio. A couple of days ago they had a piece on the Queensland floods. An expert, previously unheard of, but no doubt recommended by some denialists, opined that the floods were nothing unusual, and their cause was the current La Nina. He made the amazing assertion that Australian weather was almost entirely controlled by the oscillation between El Nino and La Nina conditions. The radio host then asked him, and I must paraphrase because the transcript has not appeared, ‘But what about this idea that has got about, that carbon dioxide levels have something to do with the weather?’
    Needless to say I was even more than normally stupefied by it all. Today, in 2011, with climate and weather disasters across the planet, with near total scientific consensus as to the anthropogenic contribution, after decades of research by tens of thousands of scientists, it has all been reduced, according to the apparatchiki who infest the media, to ‘..this idea that has got around..’. Need I add that the tame ‘expert’ rejected any role for CO2, almost entirely. Water vapour levels in the atmosphere were never mentioned at all, as they have not been mentioned in any mainstream media here, that I have seen. If you want an explanation for why we are marching like lemmings towards the precipice, just look to the media, whose role has been, in my opinion, wicked, base and cynically hypocritical in the extreme, but has, no doubt, pleased their masters in Big Business greatly.

  2. PurpleOzone says:

    I haven’t seen one news story suggesting that Australia’s ‘biblical’ flooding is a possible! consequence of global warming. Nor anything to explain the January tornados hitting the U.S. midwest beyond ‘unusual warm, moist air’ meeting cold air.

  3. P. G. Dudda says:

    One of my local newspapers (the Minneapolis Star Tribune) reported that every ten years, the National Climate Data Center recalculates a 30-year average to determine what is considered “normal climate” for a region. According to the article, the new ‘normal’ for Minnesota includes a 2.7°F (1.5°C) increase in temperature over the normal established in 2000.

  4. David Smith says:

    Everyone involved in The struggle to return the planet to climate stabibility needs to take a couple of deep breaths, step back and take a look around. The part that involves the public is obviously in a state of failure. Keeping doing what we are doing and expecting different results foolhardy and dangerous.

  5. Peter M says:

    The climate is showing increasing signs of instability. Its just a question of time before the media is going to have to report what is happening- and tie it to climate change.

    Summer 2012- and endless drought and heat wave stretches from Illinois west to the great plains. This lasts three months- fires, cattle dying, crops decimated, stagnant air, water shortages. A hellish look at the future.

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    Perhaps our NYT is simply responding to an extremely successful campaign by our plutocracy: a combination of advertising dollars, think tanks, campaign contributions, lobbying, astroturfing (including floods of anti-science blog comments, letters, calls, etc.) as well as the private conversations that we will never hear.

    Our plutocracy knows how to steer the press, how to steer legislatures, how to steer the courts, how to steer public opinion. They know PR, influence peddling, and lobbying; and they can do it for pennies. They have been honing these skills for the entire post-war period.

    We have lots of work to do.

  7. catman306 says:

    I’ve noticed this dramatic decrease in stories about extreme weather and climate in my local paper since about October. Whenever a story appears about these issues, I will immediately comment to the online version explaining that climate change is real and it’s now and it’s caused by human activities.

    I suggest that you do the same wherever you can.

    Just WHO is controlling the American media? They are destroying the world through their focus on continuing to maintain the fossil fuel status quo.

    Mark, does the plutocracy know how to live on a planet with 900 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere?

  8. Michael Tucker says:

    Weather disasters are quickly forgotten by press and public. What of the Tennessee deluge? Happened May 1-2, 2010…Nashville got about 13.5 inches in two days! Joe called it Nashville’s Katrina bWeather disasters are quickly forgotten by press and public. What of the Tennessee deluge? Happened May 1-2, 2010…Nashville got about 13.5 inches in two days! Joe called it Nashville’s Katrina. But many have forgotten about Katrina and most do not even remember Nashville had a flood (something about oil in the Gulf distracted the media coverage) and most do not want to say any weather event was caused by global climate disruption.

    You wouldn’t know this past year was the hottest on record and you would have no idea what is happening in the Arctic and Antarctic if you relied on popular media. Not much is even said on MSNBC – on anyone’s show including Ms Maddow.
    ut many have forgotten about Katrina and most do not even remember Nashville had a flood (something about oil in the Gulf distracted the media coverage) and most do not want to say any weather event was caused by global climate disruption.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    Our mainstream media is clearly hopeless. As strange as it sounds, the New York Times is not as bad as the TV networks or newspapers and magazines. Even a formerly reputable magazine like The Atlantic gave military reporter James Fallows the lead story featuring the unbelievable “coal is the solution” cover. And let’s not even talk about Fox, the new CNN, CBS, and the rest of them.

    This tells me that for whatever reasons- mostly money, of course- our major media outlets are staffed by hopeless whores, beyond contempt and incapable of communicating facts that are central to the public interest. Reporters’ protestations along the lines of “most people are just worried about the rent money” don’t ring true for me. The American people have slipped, but we do not deserve that kind of disrespect.

    This means that new media outlets are required, in spite of the large investments and the difficulty in overcoming audience inertia. The ideal location would be a cable TV station, which would be converted into an entertaining and factual presentation of all things climate. Part of the mission statement should be willingness to criticize competitors (as Maddow did so brilliantly in her piece about the Bachmann episode on Fox recently). Unfortunately, Maddow and Olbermann rarely delve into science much themselves, something charlatans like Anthony Watts and Pat Michaels are not reluctant to do on Fox.

    The price tag for a well staffed cable channel would probably contain nine zeros, but there are a few enlightened people who have that kind of money. This station could even make a profit, since brilliant and riveting scientists would have an audience beyond the 20 second rebuttals to people like Watts and Lindzen that they currently have to suffer through. Carryover effects could be imitation- and hopefully, fear- on the part of existing outlets that continue to either twist or ignore something that is far beyond the category of being a “subject”.

    The reason that the message will resonate is not the potential catastrophes that await. More powerful is the human story of almost unbelievable human greed and deception. There are enough shocks that we know about already- such as heel clicking salutes to the oil companies by an entire US political party- to know that there are many, many more. The reporters who finally, relentlessly get the story out- and thanks, Robert Brulle, for helping show the way- could be all that’s left to save us.

  10. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The public are going to be so surprised when the inevitable happens. So many expect today’s prices to continue indefinitely, yet so much of what we consume is destined to be in short supply in the near future.

    When gas hits $5 gal, that massive SUV is not going to look so good. If you could suck every drop of Arctic oil, the world would use it all within a year (If 4 billion barrels is correct).

    World wide our food production was hammered last year. Much of the expected Australian bumper harvests have been waterloged. Some areas had already harvested and will have done OK, others not so good.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    News writers who refuse to mention climate change within record breaking weather events, are to blame. Not reporting about climate change is a threat to the survival of the species, a crime.

    Exclusive interview: NCAR’s Trenberth on the link between global warming and extreme deluges
    New England, Tennessee, Oklahoma…. Who’s next?

    there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.
    http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/14/ncar-trenberth-global-warming-extreme-weather-rain-deluge/

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    For those bemused as to how the pathological ruling plutocrats control the ‘news’, Chomsky and Herman’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’ remains a grand resource. The ‘news’ is what the Masters want us to hear, and once the message was clear that anthropogenic climate change was a matter of intense interest to the Right, the stooges who misname themselves ‘journalists’ got the point, just as Dr Pavlov could have predicted that they would.

  13. The media reality Joe so clearly portrays is what I face as freelance enviro jurno. In response I started Community Supported Environmental Journalism to enable people to support enviro journalism that serves the public interest. Just posted on this:

    “Jon Stewart, Me and Community Supported Journalism”
    http://stephenleahy.net/2011/01/03/jon-stewart-me-and-community-supported-journalism/

    I got the idea over a year ago I when I was covering a major conservation conference where virtually all journalists there were told ‘no interest – no money’ by all the media they wrote for. That literally meant hardly anyone in the world would know that some of the world’s leading conservation experts had announced the need to put 50% of the planet into some form of protection in order to sustain the planet’s ecosystems.

  14. monkey says:

    I hope unlike my rebuttal to another post which got deleted, this gets posted. The reality is the news is about appealing to what the audience wants to hear. The scare stories of the armaggeddon in climate change sound like a broken record and those on the outside are tuning out. If you want to win this, you had better change your tactics or more and more will tune out. For one the scare stories of extreme global warming have been going on for more than a decade, yet for most of us the climate is much the same as it was when we were children. Sure extreme events have happened, but they will happen no matter what. Floods, heat waves, tornados, droughts, and hurricanes have been happening as long as man has been around and probably long before. Also volcanoes and earthquakes happen too which are totally unrelated to climate change. This idea of the climate always following the norm is just plain silly. In the tropics and maritime climates temperatures usually aren’t that far off the average, but in continental climates, most of the time they are way off thus the average is really just all the temperatures added together divided by the time period, but in reality it is almost never actually average on any given day. In a city like Miami, Honolulu, San Francisco, or Seattle usually temperatures are close to the average, but in cities like St. Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Omaha, and Indianapolis its almost never an average day, the average is just the mean number.

  15. Peter M says:

    Monkey

    no offense- however everything you are saying has been found to be untrue by the NOAA, The American National Academy of Sciences and the IPCC.

    The current floods, heat waves, blizzards- are fitting exactly into the predictions made by the climate models.

    The IPCC made a huge mistake in the progress of the melting of the Polar Ice cap- its happening far quicker.

    I did study climatology in college- your ‘average temperatures’ for the cities listed seems confusing. San Francisco and Honolulu are vastly different climates– why compare them also to Seattle and Miami?

    The other cities you mentioned- all humid continental ‘never have an average day’– they have average temperatures throughout any given month in any season. For instance the average temperature at my location today is a hi of 37, and a low of 20. (A coastal modified humid continental climate)

    The average hi temperature today for San Francisco (A cool water coast dry subtropical climate…..’Mediterranean’) is around 58 degrees with a low average of 42. So whats your point?

  16. Monkey 13. Not sure if you really understand climate change or representing a particular POV. What you call scare stories are about what may happen if changes are not made based on the current evidence. As for extremes, again you miss the point: there are more and they are more extreme due to the extra heat energy trapped in the climate system. I think many people have begun to notice that reality.

    I don’t understand what pt you are trying to make regarding avg and mean temp. And I have no idea what you mean by “This idea of the climate always following the norm…”

  17. George says:

    There once was a long running bit on Saturday Night Live:

    “This just in: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”

    I wonder if this isn’t how most news editors see the whole climate change ‘story’:

    “This just in: environmental scientists announce that climate change is still happening; disaster is still imminent. Panic at your leisure, cause this story ain’t going away! And now to Bill Jones with the latest sports news.”

  18. Doug in MN says:

    I chart monthly home energy use and use Heating Degree Days to compare heating seasons. The normal hdd for Minneapolis/St.Paul is 7,876, 2010 had 6,994 hdd.

  19. Thanks Joe for posting this important message.

    Obviously most mass media serves a different master.

    Like any addiction, the denial permits continued misbehavior.

  20. Paulm says:

    #5 Peter m, climate instability…..Yes the elephant in the room has started to sit on people, especially those down under.

    Here a good article…

    “Two degrees Celsius is guaranteed disaster,” says Hansen scornfully. “It is equivalent to the early Pliocene epoch [between 5.5 and 2.5 million years ago] when the sea level was 25m higher. What we don’t know is how long it takes ice sheets to disintegrate, but we know we’d be starting a process which then is going to be out of control.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/tax-on-carbon-the-only-way-to-save-our-planet-2175130.html

  21. Sou says:

    The Australian Broadcasting Corporation hasn’t been brilliant at reporting climate change (though quite a bit better than some), but it does have a journalist, Karen Barlow, travelling with scientists to Antarctica. They are going to study the Mertz Glacier in eastern Antarctica, with an emphasis on examining the effects of climate change in Australia’s Antarctic waters:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/01/04/3106172.htm

    You can follow Karen Barlow’s blog here:
    http://blogs.abc.net.au/news/breaking-the-ice/

  22. Barry says:

    My experience is that the public is behaving the same way as the press: sticking their head in the sand at the first hint of climate discussion heading their way.

    I think this is because in the past “climate change” was an interesting but distant novelty devoid of real threat to daily life. Like a scary movie. So it was easy to join in the discussion about it because it was toothless and futuristic.

    Now it is becoming a serious nasty reality. It is happening far faster than anyone thought. The instability of the weather grows freakish.

    There is no guarantee that humans will behave rationally as threat and fear grows. Think how often societies have turned on scapegoats.

    I think it is essential to present the case that solutions are known and doable and will have many other benefits. Joe does a great job of this. We must provide bright and safe paths for people to follow to get us out of the increasing threat and fear…or the reactions could get even more unpredictable than the weather.

  23. Sorry US media: two great news organizations are showing the world how responsible journalism should handle the story

    Just two examples:

    AlJazeera English http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abU02rmVsKA very recent
    and BBC last month http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKyRHDFKEXQ

    Just simple telling – nothing shrill, with pictures, simple statements.

  24. Sou says:

    The situation in Australia is getting worse as this poll on climate change on the ABC website indicates:

    http://www.abc.net.au/thedrum/polls/

    So far, fewer than half the readers of the ABC connect the dots between the increasing occurrence of extreme and record weather events and a changing climate.

    I hope the journalists recognise their part in not reporting the situation properly. However, I think it’s more like those Victorians who refused to believe the dire warnings of fire danger in February 2009, and didn’t recognise that tinder dry conditions plus two weeks of over 40C temps plus extreme winds plus 10 years of drought means catastrophic fire conditions, and subsequently blamed those who gave the warnings for not shouting louder. (As if they could have, having given frequent warnings on radio, television and sending text messages to everyone’s cell phone).

    Seems that everyone wants to keep their head well and truly buried in the sand. “It can’t happen to me!” they rationalise.

  25. Richard Brenne says:

    Last night (Monday, January 3), NBC News Anchor Brian Williams was on David Lettermen with two unusually funny and occasionally (very slightly) informative segments.

    At the end of the second segment, Letterman said that the floods in Australia, Midwest tornadoes and Arkansas fish and bird kills were all related to global warming.

    Brian Williams said he “refused to take sides” and then continued “What have I done to deserve this?”

    While funny, Letterman was semi-serious. I just wish he hadn’t tied in the Arkansas fish and bird events, where the causes of maybe 100,000 fish deaths and a thousand to several thousand bird deaths (possibly due to lightning or a funnel cloud) are unknown at present.

    Tom Karl, head of NOAA’s NCDC, told me in a phone interview he felt the greater energy in the system due to warming is creating greater cyclonic winds of all kinds, including tornadoes (although the scientific literature about this doesn’t seem as certain to date), so Letterman was right about the tornadoes – the likelihood of such hot and humid air that met a more typical cold front to create the devastating and deadly tornadoes on New Year’s Eve has increased with global warming.

    Letterman was especially right about the Australian flooding, as Joe’s post below and many comments including my own at #51 there relate.

    If Letterman had limited his comment to Australia as he should have, if Brian Williams, who I otherwise admire, was a real journalist who could put stories in their proper context (something that in the area of climate change, as Joe points out, happens less often than 500 year floods), he would’ve discussed this intelligently instead of making the lamest of jokes about this, as if science was another “He said, she said” story instead of “Leading scientists say” as it should be.

    So when clips like that are played for whatever audiences remain 50 or 100 years from now, Williams will not be seen as any kind of serious journalist, but as someone wearing a red tennis ball-sized nose, 3 foot long squirting lapel flower, and bright yellow size 47 shoes.

  26. Lore says:

    Take heart, although the media has fallen off the cliff in reporting climate change, climate change has not forgotten us.

  27. pete best says:

    Since when did the public ask for coal, gas, hydro, oil and nuclear power and energy sources. They did not – it just happened and hence so can the infrastructure changes that are needed. We have such a huge job to do that we ought to tackle the low hanging fruit first which is well documented and well understood. There is enough base load alternatives to coal that we should target coal first.

    Gas and coal can be tackled next or in tandem. If Antartica formed at 450-500 ppmv then some of it is going to disappear along with some of the northern hemisphere and that is something we will have to adapt to.

    The fossil fuel beast is such a huge intertial both politically and economically that targeting coal first makes sense as we have well established replacements that can generate jobs and provide investment across the globe.

  28. Steve H says:

    While we all had a good laugh at the time, the ‘truth’ of the matter is that Mr. Bush’s adviser was correct, we liberals are living in a reality based world, and everyone else is living in the Official Narrative world. There used to be a saying that hope is all we have. No more, the science is all we have. Hope is long gone, or, at least, that is what I feel like this week. Perhaps is was the lady in a SUV at the veterinarians office, parked in the handicap spot, engine running, sunroof open, playing on an iphone, vehicle emblazoned with the bumper stickers of the CSA and tea party (one the same no less) and obligatory parody of Obama’s O. Or perhaps the annual mailing from my congress critter, taking credit for budget cuts he voted against, insulting 45% of his constituency.

  29. The media herd’s coverage of population issues have not yet gotten “on the map” due to the conscious silence of the masters of the universe.

    “Talk of the Nation Special on Population January 6”

    What an opportunity!

    It is the willful and pernicious silence of so many experts as well as broadcasts of ideological idiocy by clever sychophants and duplicitous minions of the wealthy and powerful for the past 60 years that make the mere chance for an intellectually honest and morally courageous conversation on “Talk of the Nation” so potentially valuable now here. Opportunities like this one have been occurring for many years but were routinely missed. A catastrophic failure of nerve by many too many of ‘the brightest and best’ among us who chose, instead of presenting scientific research as was their duty, to foster belief in erroneous preternatural theories; to say whatsoever was politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; to go along with global gag rules as well as ignore and censor exchanges of sound perspectives regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth. This failure could be one of the great mistakes in human history. I fear our children will come to see it in just that way.

    The growth of the human species worldwide could be the proverbial “mother” of human-induced global challenges. If that is so, then failing to acknowledge this predominant challenge will render efforts of humanity to overcome other human-driven, increasingly complex challenges to human wellbeing and environmental health ultimately irrelevant, I suppose.

    Please consider that both those who believe human population numbers are exploding and those who believe human numbers are collapsing are correct. Globally, human numbers are undoubtedly increasing, but in some places on the surface of Earth human numbers can easily be seen decreasing. It depends upon your scope of observation. I am perceiving and thinking globally when I report human numbers are skyrocketing. In a similar manner, I can certainly recognize that human numbers in many places (eg, Italy) have been declining. But in order to make that report it is necessary for me to change my scope of observation.

    Imagine that a change in one’s scope of observation is like the difference between looking at the forest or the trees. Looking at the forest is like looking at absolute global human population numbers; whereas, looking at the trees is like looking at the population numbers in a place like Italy. Global human numbers can be increasing, while the human population numbers in Italy are decreasing.

    So much of the Earth’s environs are being degraded and so many of its natural resources dissipated. So many people are coming. So much time has been wasted. So many opportunities missed. Time is precious….and short. Windows of opportunity are closing, one after another at an accelerating pace. Let us agree not to let this “Talk of the Nation” opportunity be another missed opportunity like so very many others in my lifetime.

    We could begin this week by talking to all nations. After all, what are we waiting for? The clock to run out of time, so as to relieve us of human distinctly human responsibilities we can assume and duties only human beings with feet of clay can perform?

  30. Mike Roddy says:

    Mike, #17, thanks for the interesting stats about books and climate change. Unfortunately, we don’t read books anymore. A screenwriter friend once told me that more people see a movie that goes straight to video than read a book on the bestseller lists. In this country, it’s all about the visuals. That’s why I think we need a new TV channel.

    Which brings me to Richard Brenne’s interesting post about Brian Williams on Letterman. Responding to the host’s point about global warming caused weather events by insisting that he’s not going to go there comes straight from the corporate script, a memo Revkin of the Times also got. It goes like this: “Don’t you dare ever connect a single weather event with global warming!”

    In Brian Williams’ case, they knew just how to buy him off. He makes $8 million a year, and probably lives in a big New York apartment with staff and valuable art. They don’t even have to tell him what to say- Williams does his own research to make sure he pleases the bosses.

    This is complete moral cowardice, and people like Williams should be held accountable, even if the implicit instructions come from higher up.

  31. FredT34 says:

    Google Trends is also a good tool, I like to watch how some terms are searched for, as in this request. However don’t even try to compare with “Paris Hilton” or “Michael Jackson”, those are obviously Average Joe’s prime interest.

    BTW, I’ve still not understood why “climate change” reveals so many requests in Tagalog (from Philippines) – perhaps some Paid Troll Effect ??

  32. spiritkas says:

    G’day,

    I’d like to comment on the disengenous nature ‘giving the people what they want’ argumet in terms of coverage choices. I know it to be a sham argument and a straw man that can’t stand on its own.

    If the AP and Reuters and the NYT and WaPo all report the same thing, often with the exact same picture for headlines every single day, how is that catering to or in any way referenced to what people want to see? If they suddenly and violently go on a rampage of coverage about a deficite that has been there and will continue to be there during the middle of a recession for no apparent reason…citing only one very derranged economic argument…how in the world do the choices an editorial board decide relate to public interest? I am sure such endless coverage can influence and result in the public being interested and suddenly voicing opinions they didn’t know they had before 6 months ago, but a valid urning for coverage on the deficit without hardly a reference to the 3 Trillion USD+ wars causing it by the public is a falsehood.

    Every single paper, magazine, and media outlets coverage is entirely decided by the discretion of its editorial board and the executive board of the company that owns/runs that outlet. Hands down. Zero input from public interest. Did I miss the poll where we all got to vote on 1001 topics we’d like to see covered? I don’t think so. This is a simple falsehood used to fill the very limited coverage of criticism of media in the media.

    A second point

    As for the idea that climate change coverage is alaways alarmist or that coverage of an alarming event inherently wears down public interest or just isn’t appropriate to talk about…is innane. It is the same nonsensical thinking that says we shouldn’t cover the number of people killed in the war and their stories because doing so is profane (profane = anything not in the interest of the controling power). Even as lack of coverage of the war has caused it to go on longer than it had to and has results in more deaths. Life and truth itself are considered profane while distraction and pro-business arguments are considered sacred and always of ‘interest’ to the public. This is why the DOW and NASDAC are reported on everyday and the number of dead soldiers, and civilian men, women, and children are not reported on everyday in any media outlet of note.

    In the end I think there isn’t a strong trend in history for powerful entrenched interests and politicans to do anything except twidle their thumbs in the face of disaster, perhaps the same could be said of any organization large enough where the ‘proper’ course is to take risks no one knows about or understands with our common future for a people or an employee base while steering the whole ship into the rocks. Radical coverage or radical action, even if it is needed, doesn’t exist in the fields of the media, economics, big business, or politics. They are the mainstrem and the status quo and expecting them to realize or recognize a radical change in the norm and to act on it is not in their perview.

    As Al Gore said and I’ll paraphrase here ‘What do we do when the lower limits of what is necessary far exceed the bounds of what is possible politically’? What do we do when we have to take action, but the action apparatus of the state has atrophied to such an extent that it is useless? How do we act when our mechanism for collective action is paralyzed?

    I don’t think the answer is in finding a cure for paralysis nor is it anywhere inside the mainstream establishment. I have no idea what this is going to look like. I hate it that the bare minimum of what is needed is outside the limitations of the imagination that is allowed for public thought. Let a party be atrophied and irrelvent, but how to get around the status of the business as usual controls all major thought? I know each of us have ideas about how to accomoplish that, but how to break through the barrier that separates the limits of imagination, the lack of cleverness built into the business as usual thinking that dominates the media? To think outside the boundaries they set is to to be ostracized.

    Has the progress we’ve made to turn climate change mainstream real or did we get fooled by being allowed to be a scripted fad that is now past its prime in the media world?

    Cheers,

    spiritkas

  33. Anonymous says:

    Mike Roddy @ 32 – Your point about BW & Letterman; All those people who are willing, right now to undermine their relationships with their bosses and possibly lose their jobs for efforts to curb global warming, say “Aye”.

    The moral cowardice you speak of is spread pretty well across 99.9% of working America, I think; Probably 99.9% of The global warming concerned who have regular jobs, also.

    The number of people who are willing to make significant personal sacrifices, on the scale that this problem (AGW) suggests appropriate, is excruciatingly tiny.

    I don’t have a boss. Because of one of my projects, Step One, the conversation, encouraging the public dialogue on global warming, sticker messaging, I feel pressure to be careful what I say for fear of radicalizing what is intended to be a middle of the road, baby step type effort. I sensor myself.

    What would it take for you, me, others, to be willing to make significant personal sacrifices for this cause?

    I feel your frustration.

  34. john atcheson says:

    While the MSM coverage is appalling, we bear some of the responsibility, particularly climate scientists.

    After every major weather catastrophe, we rush to say “Of course, no single event can be linked to global warming …” or something to that effect.

    We should have been saying all along, “This is exactly what the future will look like if we don’t take action now … Floods, (or heat waves, extreme rainfall/snow events etc. etc) of this magnitude will be routine in the future.

    Scientists must also attack the false balance meme — every time it appeared, newspapers and broadcasts should have been bombarded with letters from individual scientists and prestigious scientific organizations complaining about inaccuracies caused by it.

    No one knows as well as climate scientists do, how serious this issue is for the future of humanity. To sit in an ivory tower above the fray — at this point — is unconscionable.

  35. @34. Spiritas -You and anyone else can vote on what stories you want covered in 2011. I am independent enviro jurno and am asking people to send me their ideas. Can’t guarantee publication cause eventually I have to pitch an editor somewhere but if its a great story I will do my best in the interest of public service journalism.
    Just fill out this form on my website.

    “Top 10 for 2011 – What Stories do YOU Want to see in Print?”
    http://stephenleahy.net/2011/01/03/top-10-for-2011-what-stories-do-you-want-to-see-in-print/

  36. Mimikatz says:

    It is increasingly difficult for me to figure out why the non-scientific elites want to so ignore this story and so mislead the public. Cowardice, desire to continue their jobs and comfortable life, sure–but most of these people do have children. Don’t they care about them? As far as the media go, it is clearly lemming or herd behavior. But the Murdochs and Kochs and the people they are funding? Surely they have been told it is real and coming. So I repeat the question I raised a couple of days ago: Do our economic, media, and political elites really want a world with billions fewer people? Is that their real motive for downplaying this?

    As to how to counteract, I think the answer was supplied by that poor Tea Party woman who was so criticized the other day. Keep showing how people can save money and maintain independence by using less and using alternative technologies. That is a message that resonates in hard times.

    Also, form alliances with the businesses that know they really need to get climate right–insurance, utilities and those bright enought to see the investment opportunities. Joe’s daily climate news is the kind of thing that makes it seem that we really could reduce CO2 levels if we put our minds to it. People need to hear that.

    And fight all efforts to cut funds to emergency personnel because we are really going to need them, and people have to be reminded of that as well. Soon enough the big disaster will hit on the Eastern seaboard, in DC (Chesapeake Bay) or NYC and more people will want to listen.

  37. DavidCOG says:

    And nowhere is the failure more apparent to me than at the BBC. A supposedly impartial, credible source of information that acts as though climate change is little more than an occasional curiosity.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science_and_environment/ – their ‘Useful Science & Environment Links’ at foot of page doesn’t even mention it. The biggest existential threat to humanity and the BBC provides no specific coverage. It should be criminally negligent.

  38. Brian Williams on Letterman… Anybody found the clip? Every other part of the interview is out there… I cannot find that part.

    Williams should be ashamed to have been so easily skepticized.

    The CBS comment and request form might want to hear from us

    http://www.cbs.com/info/user_services/fb_global_form.php

    Ask for the section of the Brian WIlliams interview… toward the end where he talked of Australia floods and global warming.

    This thread is getting long, but Joe, this is a key moment. See the video of Williams.. you will be shocked.

  39. Rob C. says:

    This is a great resource you compiled here, Joe. To me it seems to indicate something I’ve suspected for a long time. No matter how liberal or aware the reporter, the editor gets to choose what stories are run and where the story runs (or is burried), and it is the C-suite that decides the career arc of said editor. You need only look to the automotive section of any paper or count how many times an “energy company” ad shows up on the Sunday talk shows to see where the pull is coming from.

    Why else would the mainstream media pass on the investigative story of the century? The disinformation campaign being run by the fossil fuel lobby and their GOP enablers makes Watergate look like a minor one-newscycle scoop by comparison. The Guardian’s George Monbiot seems to be on the right track: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/12/13/reclaim-the-cyber-commons/
    A campaign of this nature leaves fingerprints. Hopefully some enterprising soul will get out the magnifying glass.

  40. William P says:

    The media, too, are zombies when it comes to climate.

    Any Republican deviating from the political line laid down by the huge right wing media propaganda machine is immediately singled out, and flayed publicly before his/her constituents, putting their seat in serious jeopardy. This singling out can happen to media figures, too.

    We have seem public displays of obsequious apology to Rush Limbaugh for such deviations from the Party line. They bow before the Great One, kiss his ring, and wimper for forgiveness and mercy.

    But the media itself is also cowed by the thunderous, powerful right wing propaganda machine we have in America.

    The whole direction of this government and main stream media, is controlled and directed by the huge right wing media propaganda machine. We need to see that.

    The main stream media is scared to death of Fox, Limbaugh and others who are part of the propaganda machine. Look what they did to Dan Rather. Career comes before honest reporting – period!

    A effective, successful propaganda machine can take a country down to utter ruin. Just ask the Germans.

  41. William P says:

    Anonymous #35

    Good analysis. James Lovelock, in his books The Revenge of Gaia and The Vanishing Face of Gaia, writes about the constraints of answering to a university or company. He feels lucky to have made it as an independent scientist with no one telling him what to say.

    James Hansen, on the other hand, has had a lot of grief from his organization, the US government, on up to and very much including President George W. Bush. Hansen is rightfully honored for telling the truth to the public.

    Lovelock also writes interestingly about the power of “business as usual” that we all long for. Our minds tend to reject anything that threatens believing tomorrow will be much like today. This too accounts for the feeble headway made by the truth on global warming.

  42. @37 Thanks for the recommendations on what media should cover in 2011 — keep them coming

    “Top 10 for 2011 – What Stories do YOU Want to see in Print?”
    http://stephenleahy.net/ 2011/ 01/ 03/ top-10-for-2011-what-stories-do-you-want-to-see-in-print/

  43. catman306 says:

    The biggest flood in 2010 wasn’t in Queensland, Pakistan, China, or Nashville. The biggest flood in 2010 came as a deluge of Koch brothers-Exxon Mobil status-quo, fossil fuel funded, propaganda.

    Climate Progress is an ark in this age of deep, treacherous, oil flavored, extreme Kool aide. Grab an oar, it’s long way to the other side.