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The World Is Burning, And The New York Times Fiddles Inhofe’s Tune

By Brad Johnson on August 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

"The World Is Burning, And The New York Times Fiddles Inhofe’s Tune"

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Putin visits fire siteThis week, New York Times reporters noticed that the world is hot, but they keep their readers in the dark about the real story, a sad example of the decline of its climate coverage from earlier days. Even in stories about the increasingly catastrophic impacts of global warming, they ignore the scientific understanding of our climate system and the deadly influence of fossil fuel pollution. In Thursday’s “From Fires to Fish, Heat Wave Batters Russia,” investigative reporter Clifford Levy describes the devastation of a superheated Russia:

Much of Russia has been reeling. Forest fires have erupted. Drought has ruined millions of acres of wheat. More than 2,000 people have died from drowning in rivers, reservoirs and elsewhere in July and June, often after seeking relief from the heat while intoxicated. In Moscow alone, the number of such deaths has tripled in comparison with last year, officials said.

In “Fires and Storms Kill at Least 28 in Russia,” Russian correspondent Andrew Kramer at least notes that the record heat in the largest country on earth is part of an even larger geographic trend: “Russia, like much of the Northern Hemisphere, has been baking in a heat wave this summer.” Other stories about record-breaking climate disasters abound: “Floods in Pakistan Kill at Least 1,000,” write Salman Masood and Adam B. Ellick, caused by “record-breaking rainfall.” “Iowa Dam Ruptures Under Torrential Rain,” Christina Cappecchi files. In “Water Vendors Profit From the Heat,” Sam Dolnick describes “July’s historic heat wave” in New York. At no point do any of the writers mention the existence of global warming, or that it is caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

In the case of the Russian heat wave, we’re talking about a record, destructive, continent-wide climate event within the context of record destructive heat waves across the northern hemisphere — in North America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe — within the context of global warming during a solar minimum. And we’re not just seeing heat waves, but the full suite of climatic changes linked to the increase of heat trapped in the climate system, as the other stories demonstrate — more extreme precipitation, intensified droughts, shifts in seasons, fiercer storms, more frequent extreme floods.

But these are just reports on the ground — not mentioning the context of global warming is merely a sin of omission. The toxic reporting this week is from New York Times green editor Tom Zeller Jr, who kills the nation’s collective brain cells in the Week in Review piece, “Is It Hot in Here? Must Be Global Warming.”

In the article, Zeller accuses yours truly of the “absurd” crime of “invoking the local weather” to declare the “debate over climate change” over, comparing my mention of the record-breaking “global heat wave” as the Senate gave up on climate reform to Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) warming-denial igloo, constructed during a record-breaking snow storm in Washington, D.C. this past winter.

Zeller’s comparison is based on the fatuously false premise that there is a legitimate “debate about climate change.” Inhofe tried to overturn a decades-long mountain of scientific understanding with an event entirely consistent with climate change — as I pointed out in this blog at the time. Zeller buries the truth in the sixteenth paragraph:

There is a not-insignificant caveat: Those pointing to hot weather as evidence of global warming are, in the broadest sense, more likely to be right.

If Zeller had wanted to enlighten his readership instead of feeding them manure, he could have written that scientists cannot explain the global accumulation of heat waves and changes in weather patterns that the planet is seeing without the man-made accumulation of greenhouse gases. As the years go by, we live in an increasingly manufactured climate. At first our suicidal path was unintentional, but now it’s by choice. The scientific understanding that fossil-fuel burning would change the climate has been well established for decades now — the real reason people like me are “more likely to be right.”

Update

Brad DeLong comments:

As I have said many times: the root problem is that the idea that his stories should inform rather than misinform readers about the world is simply not on Tom Zeller’s checklist of things that it should accomplish–or on the checklist of his editors.

Which is why the sooner that he leaves journalism the better, and we hope to see him replaced by people who think their job is to tell people the truth–so that they can truthfully sum up: and that’s the way it is.

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