Climate news you can’t use: NYT Magazine’s “The Low-Carbon Catalog”

One of my most tedious jobs here at Climate Progress is to read all the crap major articles published on global warming, and sort the wheat from the chaff. That was once the job of real journalists at places like, say, the New York Times. Simply providing, say, a long list of things that could conceivably reduce carbon emissions, without actually discriminating the ponies from the crap lemons, is, in fact, one of the MSM’s main critique of the Internet. [Cue laugh-track.]

Given that this is Earth-day week, where newspaper editors around the country say to their best writers (who, of course typically know very little about energy or the environment), “Give me 800 words on that global warming thing — oh, and try to find a new spin, something not so … Al Gore.” End result, lots and lots of drivel.

Case in point, “The Green Issue” of the New York Times Magazine today, titled, appropriately enough in the print edition, “The low-carbon catalog.” You can skip the whole thing (and I’m not going to provide any more links for it, since I don’t want to encourage you to waste your time). I mean, really, catalogs don’t tell you what the good stuff is — they just throw everything at you. Kind of like this issue.

For instance, on the same page is the pebble-bed nuclear reactor, which could conceivably deliver hundreds of gigawatts of zero carbon power, and Blackle Search engine, which probably accomplishes nothing whatsoever, especially if you own a flat-panel monitor like, uhh, most people who read the NYT.


As an aside, in the online edition, the subhead reads, “Some Bold Steps to Make Your Carbon Footprint Smaller,” and in the print edition, the subhead reads “any number of ways to reduce your footprint. PLUS: A defense of small, individual eco-actions.” So you probably think, given the NYT’s reputation for clarity, that this issue is going to focus on measures you yourself can take to reduce your carbon footprint, possibly small, possibly bold.

Now I knew the readership of the NYT mag was upscale, but a pebble-bed nuke is not even Tiger Woods territory. We’re talking Gates or Buffet.

And then we have a discussion of the idea by Paul Crutzen (and others) to cool the earth by injecting millions of tons of sulfur into the atmosphere. Who knew that was an individual eco-action? I guess everybody could go out and buy some sulfur and get a model rocket and shoot it off into the atmosphere. Gee, I’m going to have to write that down for my daughter’s science project when she gets a little older. Like most catalogs (though unlike most real news stories), the NYT mag does not bother to discuss the many, many well-known problems with this particular idea (see “Geo-Engineering is NOT the Answer.”

Interestingly, on the same page as the sulfur idea is a discussion of the decision by Whole Foods to ban plastic bags, which, interestingly enough, the NYT mag does discuss both sides of the issue, and, in fact, explains why the decision probably doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emission.

The article actually does have one or two nuggets of gold for the general reader (like the paper vs. plastic bag discussion), but they are impossible to find amidst the megatons of iron pyrite. Worse, much of the print issue is in small, annoying type, which seems really inane to me given that the readers of the print edition skew old. I would normally advise readers to go online, where they can make the print as big as they want with the touch of a button. But the magazine does not warrant reading at all.


Instead, read the U.S. News and World Report article on energy efficiency (here), or the Time magazine cover story (here), and, if you want the best of the green web, rather than the worst of the MSM, Time has 15 good websites to start with (here).