Last month, 350.org founder Bill McKibben published a must-read op-ed about the failure of the media and others to connect any dots between recent extreme weather events and climate change. Stephen Thomson of Plomomedia has combined McKibben’s words with striking images.
Underscoring McKibben’s point is an uber-lame New York Times story today, “As Arizona Fire Rages, Officials Seek Its Cause,” which, you guessed it, is dot free. Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters wrote Friday, “The return of critical fire conditions this weekend means that the Wallow fire will likely become Arizona’s largest wildfire in history.”
Before taking on the NYT piece, let’s look at the video:
McKibben’s piece is a nice work of rhetoric. After April saw records set for most tornadoes in a month and in 24 hours, I examined the climate-tornado link in great detail here, looking at the data, the literature, and expert analysis. That piece concluded:
- When discussing extreme weather and climate, tornadoes should not be conflated with the other extreme weather events for which the connection is considerably more straightforward and better documented, including deluges, droughts, and heat waves.
- Just because the tornado-warming link is more tenuous doesn’t mean that the subject of global warming should be avoided entirely when talking about tornadoes.
The NY Times has been doing some very good science reporting recently (see NY Times Bombshell: “The latest scientific research suggests” climate change is “helping to destabilize the food system”). But their overall reporting team is not connecting the dots (see, for instance, my May piece “New York Times blows the Dust Bowl story“).
The NYT had promised two years ago to do more coherent reporting, as the Columbia Journalism Review noted at the time:
Environmental S.W.A.T. Team
On Thursday, The New York Times will launch a new, crack environmental reporting unit that will pull in eight specialized reporters from the Science, National, Metro, Foreign, and Business desks in a bid for richer, more prominent coverage.
The more prominent coverage simply never happened, as I detailed in the second half of my January piece, Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010, which shows that in all of 2010 none of “the largest lead headlines” in the paper dealt with climate. As professor Robert Brulle, an expert on environmental communications, wrote me at the time:
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.
Today’s Arizona story is a case in point. Now I don’t necessarily think that every single story written on the record Arizona wildfires must focus on or even mention climate change. But the NYT story is quite specifically on the “cause” of the fires. Worse, the newspaper has no difficulty repeating dubious right-wing myths as to the cause of the fires
Many wildfires are caused by humans — and investigators say this one may have been started by two unattended campfires — distinguishing them from hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes….
Residents heaped plenty of blame on Mother Nature as harsh winds spread the flames and low humidity left the forest full of fuel. But residents and experts also pointed their fingers at a variety of policies that they said had contributed to wildfires that seem to have grown in intensity over the years.
Some complained that it was environmentalists who had caused the forests to become tinderboxes by preventing the thinning of trees as they sought to protect wildlife. Others, like William Wallace Covington, a forestry expert at Northern Arizona University, countered that the leading factor was the grazing of forest grass for generations. The government’s longstanding practice of quickly extinguishing forest fires was also seen as adding to the thick clusters of highly combustible trees.
You would never know from the NYT that this standard right-wing talking point has actually been examined in the scientific literature and found wanting. Back in 2006, Science magazine published a major article analyzing whether the recent soaring wildfire trend was due to a change in forest management practices or to climate change. The study, led by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, concluded:
Robust statistical associations between wildfire and hydroclimate in western forests indicate that increased wildfire activity over recent decades reflects sub-regional responses to changes in climate. Historical wildfire observations exhibit an abrupt transition in the mid-1980s from a regime of infrequent large wildfires of short (average of 1 week) duration to one with much more frequent and longer burning (5 weeks) fires. This transition was marked by a shift toward unusually warm springs, longer summer dry seasons, drier vegetation (which provoked more and longer burning large wildfires), and longer fire seasons. Reduced winter precipitation and an early spring snowmelt played a role in this shift.
That 2006 study noted global warming (from human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide) will further accelerate all of these trends during this century.
Again, this isn’t to say that forest management practices played no role whatsoever in a specific fire — only that if the New York Times is going to publish an article on the “cause” of this massive wildfire, and push this dubious talking point with the wishy-washy attribution “some complained,” then at the very least they have to put forward the far better documented science that human-caused climate change is creating ideal fire conditions in the West.
As meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters explained last week, whatever the triggering cause was (i.e. “unattended campfires”), this record-setting wildfire season as a pretty straightforward underlying cause:
Extreme to exceptional drought conditions over most of Texas, New Mexico, and Eastern Arizona are largely responsible for the record fire season.
It’s a sad commentary on affairs when a video of an op-ed is more informative than a major article in the most important newspaper in the country.
- Joplin disaster spurs media whirlwind on link between climate change, extreme weather, and tornadoes
Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:
There is no silver bullet to fix the crisis.
We running out of chances, to prevent the crisis. Basically it must be clear to people that you cannot sit this out or settle somewhere else, because climate change affects the entire global spectrum.
We have to accelerate evolution in prospect of our environment, in order to prevent the worst case scenarios. That means we have to evolve to a sustainable way of living. To transition to a low carbon economy – society. This for example means to fight poverty, because poorer people tend to have more offspring and are less likely to have the education for a more sustainable living. One way to do this is to provide cheap reliable energy. Hence why projects like Desertec are so important. i.e. http://www.desertec-southamerica.org/ , because they help to prevent climate refugees and fight the problems at it#s root.
Projects for fossil energy generation must be stopped!
I saw this video at 350.org- it was very good- and yes, connected the dots for climate change.
Just a few observations – the weather/climate is changing, but thus far internationally there has been far more recognition that the changes are connected to C02 emissions.
In the USA there has been hardly any movement to a consensus media wise, or politically that a problem exists. This is very troubling to say the least. Americans for too long, and throughout history have isolated themselves from external conflicts. They have remained comfortable on their continent within North America, that all will be fine. With AGW, this same cultural mindset remains.
I do not see any change for decades- perhaps by 2030- when the extreme conditions we all know here happening now become hard to ignore, with a public suffering continually from heat waves, floods, fires, droughts and rising food prices make it impossible to ignore.
The science is all too clear -too few see changes thus far that they perceive as a threat to their lives and safety. When those events begin to happen= nothing will change.
If it’s land use , and “Smoky Bear Syndrome ” , why is Siberia burning in May?
Sun May 22, 2011 5:15am EDT.
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Fires are spreading fast across vast Siberian forests in a reminder of last year’s worst drought on record which killed dozens of people and forced Russia to suspend grain exports.
3 weeks later -
(CNN) — Russia sent emergency fire-fighting aircraft over Siberia’s Taiga forests and residential areas to battle 200 new wildfires raging over the past 24 hours, the Emergency Ministry said Saturday.
Twenty-two major ones have been reported, officials said. Since summer began, there have more than 5,500 forest fire outbreaks in Siberia, the government agency reported, with 210,000 hectares (518,921 acres) ablaze, three times more than in 2010.
Russian President Medvedev: “What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.”
So i wonder what he will say or better what action russia might be adopt – this year …
June 12 at 12:28pm
Every record extreme is something we havent experienced before. When there is a trend what more can one concluded.
The fact that ghg emissions are a record for as far back as we can perceive means we are in big trouble.
I think we are not only looking at civilization collapse, but very likely species (meaning us) survival.
And this is all going to start steam rolling before the end of the century.
Isn’t anyone gong to declare a state of emergency?
Or are we actually going to destroy the biosphere with out reacting.
June 12 at 4:52pm
“And this is all going to start steam rolling before the end of the century.”
Totally agree but …faster, much faster, the global food network will crash way before end of century.
Any one that survives that nightmare will then have to deal with the inherent inertia of the climate system as you say “steam rolling” everything in it’s path.
June 13 at 11:20am
Wildfires are driven by more than just climate change:
(BONUS! A song in honor of Joe!)
The MODIS page shows smoke , and lots of clouds.
The World Is Burning, And The New York Times Fiddles Inhofe’s Tune.
As nation, Russia, and world swelter under record-smashing heat waves, The New York Times sets one-day record for most unilluminating stories.
If it’s land use , and “Smoky Bear Syndrome ” , why is Canada burning in May?
Smoke hangs over a large wildfire burning in the northeast corner of Alberta, Canada in this natural color image taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on June 8, 2011. Red outlines actively burning areas.
The fire has been burning for three weeks and has consumed a staggering 416,000 hectares (1,028,000 acres or 1,600 square miles), reported CBC News on June 9, making it the largest fire to start in Alberta since 1919.
The fire ignited in mid-May, at the same time that multiple fires started in Alberta under high winds and low humidity, including the Slave Lake fire, which destroyed 30 percent of that town on May 15.
If it’s land use , and “Smoky Bear Syndrome ” , why is Britain burning in April?
Firefighters tackle Dorset heathland fires.
Two heath fires in a part of Dorset may have been ignited by smouldering peat.
Man… that Smoky Bear dude really gets around!
June 12 at 2:40pm
If we only complain to each other about poor reporting, we won’t change anything. Looks like the NYT reporter, Marc Lacy, doesn’t have much background in climate or environment, though as we know, every reporter really should, because climate has an impact on every topic. Go here and click “send an e-mail to this reporter” to write him a note making the points Joe made above: http://nyti.ms/ieERBm.
Then copy the same e-mail to the Times’ public editor (email@example.com) and managing editor (firstname.lastname@example.org). Reader response matters to them.
Then go join my Facebook group to do something about media irresponsibility on climate! http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_351728604633
An excellent review of the causes and effects of global warming –it connects the dots between CO2 and the record heat, rain falls, floods, and recond snow falls.
The notion that fires are caused by environmentalists opposing thinning is pure timber industry PR. In reality, tree farms, or “managed” forests, are much more prone to fire here in the West, according to innumerable scientific studies.
Native forests rarely have fires that destroy all of the trees, since they have cooler and wetter microclimates, and the thick bark helps fire resistance as well.
The Forest Service and even many in the timber industry have figured out that we cannot continue to bring in the firefighters and helicopters every time a forest fire gets going. It is generally better to let them burn. The quandary we face now is that we do not have the resources to either stop them or care for forests by retiring logging road access and allowing our logging caused moth eaten national forests to regenerate.
The largest fire in Ga. history was in the spring of 2007 , in the largest swamp in Ga. As I said at the time to people that made the “Smoky Bear Syndrome ” case …………
“It’s a swamp burning folks”.
June 12 at 2:56pm
The largest fire in Utah history , Milford Flat in 2007 burnt 100,000 acres in a day, most of it large sage. July 2007 saw the warmest month on record at Salt Lake City.
June 12 at 3:05pm
Thanks to an extreme drought. Otherwise, It would seem to be hard to believe a normally very wet swamp burned up. www.wildfirelessons.net/documents/Historic_2007_GA_Wildfires.pdf
June 12 at 3:15pm
The largest fire in Alaska in 2007 was the tundra. Which also became the the largest fire in the area in the last 5,000 years -
The Tundra is on Fire
June 12 at 3:23pm
It’s not as if “unattended campfires” are a new phenomenon. Indeed, there’s prob more care taken to extinguish fires than ever before, and yet a couple of embers can spark fires that burn millions of acres. That’s like saying someone died because their heart stopped. Well, DUH! But what was the cause of the heart stopping? Similarly, why is the forest not able to self-regulate situations like this anymore?
June 12 at 9:10pm
wow – nice video.
MUST SEE VIDEO FOR ANYONE CONCERNED WITH CLIMATE CHANGE!
Thank you. Sharing. At last a piece that doesn’t judge the victims or dismiss the obvious.
here’s more examples where the video is allowed to tell the story without giving analysis or context.A variation of “if it bleeds it leads” climate style.
Flash Floods Wreak Havoc in Romania.
Torrential rains and flooding damage houses and rip down power lines, forcing more than 250 people to evacuate in Sibiu County, Romania. Raw video.
Arizona Wildfire Chars 400,000 Acres.
Winds and dry weather blamed for steep increase in the size of one of the state’s biggest fires in history.
Another huge band of rain yesterday fell north of the Ohio River with big rain totals..
4.32 in At Cincinnati , the monthly average for there in June is 4.42 inches.
White Hall , Ill. – 3.02 in.
Peru, Ind. – 2.53 in.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – 1.92 in.
Cincinnati got over 20 inches in April and May ,
All of it headed into the Ohio River.
Nice. (The only thing that makes me nervous about “connect the dots” approach is that someone from an opposite persuasion can cherry pick evidence, string them together and make an emotional case. This is how conspiracy theories get started. I’m torn on the methodology. I’m torn between the rhetorician and the scientist in me.) At least, the video does a nice job in raising the question.
Off topic, but are the links in this article to other Climate Progress articles working for anybody? When I click on them, or try to open them in another tab, or paste the URL into another browser even, they just end up back on this page. Apologies if this is a known issue.
The AP now has the death toll in Russia last year down to 55 people.
” In 2010, an unprecedented heat wave triggered fires that killed 55 people, destroyed thousands of houses and torched 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of forests — an area slightly larger than Oregon.”
One must be burnt to a crisp , dying in a flat because the air is poisoned does count on the fire tab.
June 12 at 10:24pm
The Hot Summer of 2010: Redrawing the Temperature Record Map of Europe.
The Russia Death toll -
Moscow July August 2010 — 10,900 extra deaths.
ALL of Russia – July August 2010 — 55,800 extra deaths over the same period in 2009.
There are many factors contributing to such a big fire. One is fire suppression. Instead of more dense villages like those in the Alps, Americans have wanted to own their slice of the wilderness and that means more fire suppression to protect randomly scattered homes, vacation homes, resorts and other buildings.
Another is drought. Another is a heat wave. Another is high winds. Climate change is at least a factor in all three.
Pine beetle kill is another factor, and the causes of that include lack of cold snaps to kill them off during winters, drought and ozone stressing trees and not allowing them to fight off the pine beetles as they had in the past, and logging and previous fires then creating a monoculture of same-age pines when they grow back. Pine beetles prefer adult trees, and such a monoculture allows them to move more easily from one to another than a naturally diverse forest of more tree species would allow. Longer summers might be leading to an increase in two annual breeding cycles instead of one.
Then there are cigarettes, campfires, motor vehicle sparks and arson.
Welcome to some of the many symptoms of Anthro-Earth. The Lamestream Media, to quote the beyond-eloquent Sarah Palin, is so myopic it’s as if every case of pneumonia killing what should be healthy young people in the early 1980s is unrelated, with no attempt to understand or report on the AIDS epidemic. The epidemic of such sheer stupidity will ultimately be far more tragic still.
doppler radar shows 6 to 8 inches of rain falling west of Bismark tonight.
By Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press – 15 hours ago.
WINNIPEG — After four soggy years of flooded pastures and ruined crops, the Manitoba government is looking at how to help frustrated farmers cope with climate change in the province’s Interlake region.
The province has quietly issued a request for proposals for a study on how to deal with “excess moisture on agricultural lands” in the area sandwiched between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, north of the provincial capital. The study is to include a look at drainage policy, crop insurance and best practices by affected farmers.
Many frustrated farmers say the proposed study is too little, too late, but the province says it’s an important part of coming up with a strategy to help beleaguered producers.
Tony Szumigalski, a policy analyst with the Agriculture Ministry, said climate change appears to be causing greater extremes on the Prairies — from drought in Alberta to chronic flooding in Manitoba.
“The Interlake has been under water for the last three or four years,” he said. “It’s been very difficult, especially for a lot of the livestock producers. Their hay fields have been flooded out so there have been issues getting enough hay. There have also been issues related to crops as well.”
A better article here on the water and snowpack situation in the west.
Ignorance is bliss.
Comment on an article in Grist Magazine with title: Science connects climate change and wild fires. Why wouldn’t the media?
The reason the media doesn’t do anything, is because, like so many, journalists only report and do not understand the different impacts of human behavior on our environment, especially not those that are causing pollution. The environmental focus has been solely on the nuisance pollution is causing, while public health and the disturbance of an ecological system, has taken a backseat.
Probably the largest blunder has been the fact that a faulty applied water pollution test caused the failure of the Clean Water Act. The goal of this second largest federally funded public works program was to eliminate all water pollution by 1985, but due to this faulty applied test, EPA ignored 60% of the pollution in sewage Congress clearly intended to ‘treat’.
This faulty applied test (verified in 30 minutes of reading on www.petermaier.net) also caused the EPA to ignore all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste in sewage, while this waste, besides exerting an oxygen demand (just like fecal waste), also is a fertilizer for algae and contributes to eutrophication often resulting in dead zones, red tides and the destruction of coral reefs.
Unfortunately because nobody wants to admit that such a basic mistake was and still is made, all environmental impacts, as the result of the increased production and presences of reactive nitrogen, can not be discussed, even not the enormous increase of reactive nitrogen, due to the increased use of synthesized fertilizer. The increase is causing nutrient enrichment of our biosphere, responsible among many other phenomena, for global warming and green rain.
Green rain contains fertilizer, which during the wet weather, stimulates excessive plant growth and provides plenty of kindle wood for wild and ranch fires, during periods of dry weather. This excessive kindle wood is making forest fires and range fires also hard to fight and because the fires are now so hot, large trees also start to burn, which in turn results in land erosion and mudslides, when root systems are lost.
In spite of all this, the impact of reactive nitrogen in our biosphere is still not discussable and all that because of a faulty applied water pollution test. If this attitude is not changed this planet is doomed.