New York Times Op-Ed ‘The Dustbowl Returns’ Never Mentions Climate Change

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

In yet another example of how the New York Times is mis-covering the story of the century, it published an entire op-ed on the return of the Dust Bowl with no mention whatsoever of climate change.

Nature-Dust-BowlIt stands in sharp contrast to the coverage of the connection between climate change and extreme weather other leading news outlets and science journals. Consider the BBC’s Sunday article on the epic deluges hitting the UK, “Met Office: Evidence ‘suggests climate change link to storms’.” Consider the journal Nature, which back in 2011 asked me to write an article on the link between climate change and “Dust-bowlification” (the photo is by Dorothea Lange).

As James Hansen told me two weeks ago, “Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.”

Climate change’s impact on Western drought has three components:

1) Higher temperatures, which worsen any drought
2) Declining snowpack, which reduces the summer dry season’s key reservoir
3) Reduced precipitation in the region

The first two are clearcut scientifically and the third is a long-standing prediction of climate scientists that appears to be coming true. Bizarrely, the NYT piece doesn’t ignore the fact that the temperatures have been incredibly warm, it just ignores any possible role of global warming in the “anomalous weather”:

Normal winters here in Fresno, in the heart of California’s Central Valley, bring average highs in the 50s….

But not this year. Instead, early 2014 gave us cloudless skies and midday temperatures in the 70s. By the end of January, it seemed like April, with spring trees in full bloom.

We fretted over the anomalous weather, to be sure.

Fretted over the anomalous weather, to be sure sure, but tried to explain it — not so much. As climatologist Kevin Trenberth told me, “The extra heat from the increase in heat trapping gases in the atmosphere over six months is equivalent to running a small microwave oven at full power for about half an hour over every square foot of the land under the drought.” Seems worth a mention, no?

Even more bizarrely, the NYT piece doesn’t ignore the decline in snowpack, once again it just ignores any role global warming might have played:

Most Californians depend on the Sierra Nevada for their water supply, but the snowpack there was just 15 percent of normal in early February.

This climate silence is particularly strange and disappointing since two days earlier, the Times posted a big piece on how climate change was warming the West and reducing snowpack. Heck, it was even headlined “The End of Snow?

Do the daily editors at the Times have no idea what the Sunday editors are doing — and no idea what carbon pollution is doing? Here is what the NY Times understood in the snow piece:

The planet has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1800s, and as a result, snow is melting. In the last 47 years, a million square miles of spring snow cover has disappeared from the Northern Hemisphere….

The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter. Snow melts above 32 degrees Fahrenheit…. Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years … and this winter is already looking to be one of the driest on record — with California at just 12 percent of its average snowpack in January.

D’oh! Or, perhaps, Duh! The facts are indeed straightforward.

If this weren’t the story of the century, then this might be an amusing screwup. But, thanks to global warming, California could lose most if not all of its snowpack by century’s end, with temperatures soaring 10°F in the Central Valley. Worse, thanks to climate change, “The U.S. may never again return to the relatively wet conditions experienced from 1977 to 1999,” as a leading drought researcher reiterated last month.

You simply can’t ignore those projections, particularly in a piece on Dust-Bowlification in California. Unless you are the New York Times.