Media Slammed For ‘Surprisingly Limited Analysis’ Of Major Report On Climate Change’s ‘New Normal’

The Columbia Journalism Review has criticized the NY Times and other major media outlets for inadequate coverage of NOAA’s annual State of the Climate report. In its critique, CJR points out “Considering the importance of the information, the mainstream press provided surprisingly limited analysis.”

The report is a “a hefty, 258-page document” that is “used to set and influence domestic climate policy and distributes statistics that form the baseline for discussions of climate change.” Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said of the report:

“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate — carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place. This annual report is well-researched, well-respected, and well-used; it is a superb example of the timely, actionable climate information that people need from NOAA to help prepare for extremes in our ever-changing environment.”

Yet as Media Matters reported, The New York Times failed to cover this story as well as the new American Geophysical Union (AGU) climate statement, “Human-induced climate change requires urgent action,” which states bluntly, “Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years.”


Media Matters concluded, “a failure to report on major developments like these calls into doubt the extent to which the paper can be trusted to maintain strong attention to environmental issues in the face of recent organizational changes.” The Times told CJR, “I think it would be a stretch to assume that if we didn’t cover this one report from one organization that would be some indication of our cutting environmental coverage.”

Certainly if this were the only failure of coverage at the Times, it wouldn’t suggest a long-term trend. But this year already the NY Times shut down its Green Blog after dismantling its environment desk.

This suggests there may be a “new normal” at the Times, a long-term trend of a cooler reception by senior editors toward climate coverage. And this trend is human-caused. John Horgan, a former Scientific American staff writer, reported three years ago: “Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.”

To stretch the metaphor, like a baseball player who stopped taking steroids, the Times now seems to be hitting a lot more long foul balls than home runs — see my June post, “Climate Scientists Ring Alarm Bell, NY Times Hits Snooze Button.”


But it was precisely because major media outlets like the Times have been scaling back their coverage that Climate Progress expanded ours. For those who missed our piece on the NOAA report last week, here are some of the key findings:

— 2012 was the warmest year on record for the U.S., and all of North America was marked by “unusual warmth.” Globally, 2012 ranked either as the 8th or 9th warmest year ever recorded, depending on what dataset was used.

— Sea level rise reached a record high in 2012, an increase largely driven by ice melt — the report’s authors noted during the press conference that over the past two years, ice melt has contributed twice as much to sea level rise as thermal expansion has.

— Ocean heat content in the upper 2,300 feet of the ocean remained near record high levels in 2012, and average sea surface temperatures were among the 11 warmest on record. The ocean’s absorption of heat has been pointed to as one possible reason why global average surface temperatures have remained relatively stable for the past decade.

— The temperatures of permafrost in northern Alaska reached record highs in 2012 — a fact that’s particularly troubling, given the vast amounts of methane and CO2 stored in permafrost.

— The world emitted a record 9.7 pentagrams — about 9.7 quadrillion grams — of carbon pollution in 2012. And in May, the world reached a dreaded milestone, recording 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Observatory.

— Summer Arctic sea ice reached a record low — 18 percent lower than the previous record — in 2012, due in part to the Arctic continuing to warm at about twice the rate of other areas.