USA Today series on Global Warming

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Michael Tobis

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May 30, 2006, 12:12:25 PM5/30/06
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A weeklong feature on global warming starts today in USA Today.

A front page article "Alaska the Poster State for Climate Concerns"
by Elizabeth Weise and a secondary feature "A warmer world may, or may
not, be wetter' by Patrtick O'Driscoll.

Overall I have mixed feelings about the effort.

The good news is that the space given to the denialists is almost as
small as they deserve. However, there are many problems with the
presentation.

Probably the most irritating paragraph is the first one in O'Drficoll
the article about precipitation: "As Earth warms, melting glaciers and
polar ice release more water. Thus, a wetter world for everyone,
right?"

Well, it's an interesting beginner's idea, but the article takes no
trouble to explain why this mechanism is essentially non-existent. So
the article on whether or not things will get wetter, whose conclusion
is basically "we don't know, but probably not in the Amercan West", is
off

The more troubling aspect is Weise's more prominent article's litany
of environmental damage from warming. The trouble is that they pay
very little attention to ecological succession, and don't explain why
rapid change, in general, is problematic. This failure to focus on the
real problem will engender skepticism, as it is plainly obvious to the
casual observer that all else equal, warmer environments are richer in
diversity and biomass.

Finally, being USA Today, Wese ends on a somewhat incongruous
optimistic note. "This country is at its best when it has a grand
challenge, whether it's World War II or going to the moon," [U. NH.
Professor Cameron] Wake says. "This is the next grand challenge."

I have two problems with this observation, at least in the context in
which it was presented. One is that ,given the shallowness of the
information that contemporary Americans are used to (for which we may
thank, in part, USA Today) it's not remotely clear that the historical
creativity and technological competence of American civilization is
still in place.

More to the point, I would suggest this is a problem where whether
America rises to the occasion or not is only a small part of the
situation. It's not "American Warming" after all, and it's the whole
globe that needs to rise to the occasion collectively. We are not
without models for how to do this sort of thing (the ban on CFCs, the
GATT) but if we manage to avoid very serious problems it seems sure
to be a very subtle and tricky business.

mt

Michael Tobis

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May 30, 2006, 12:18:29 PM5/30/06
to globalchange
"So
the article on whether or not things will get wetter, whose conclusion
is basically "we don't know, but probably not in the Amercan West", is
off "

should read

"... is off to a weak start".

mt

Coby Beck

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May 30, 2006, 5:47:46 PM5/30/06
to globalchange
Michael Tobis wrote:
> A weeklong feature on global warming starts today in USA Today.
>
> A front page article "Alaska the Poster State for Climate Concerns"
> by Elizabeth Weise and a secondary feature "A warmer world may, or may
> not, be wetter' by Patrtick O'Driscoll.
>
> Overall I have mixed feelings about the effort.
>
> The good news is that the space given to the denialists is almost as
> small as they deserve. However, there are many problems with the
> presentation.

I'm still in a mood to look only at the bright side of the recent shift
in the mainstream view of this issue. But it is prudent to stay on
guard...

> Probably the most irritating paragraph is the first one in O'Drficoll
> the article about precipitation: "As Earth warms, melting glaciers and
> polar ice release more water. Thus, a wetter world for everyone,
> right?"
>
> Well, it's an interesting beginner's idea, but the article takes no
> trouble to explain why this mechanism is essentially non-existent. So

There are many scientific issues where the complexity makes it
questionable if it's worth explaining properly in journalism, but I
agree this is rather lame.

> Finally, being USA Today, Wese ends on a somewhat incongruous
> optimistic note. "This country is at its best when it has a grand
> challenge, whether it's World War II or going to the moon," [U. NH.
> Professor Cameron] Wake says. "This is the next grand challenge."
>
> I have two problems with this observation, at least in the context in
> which it was presented. One is that ,given the shallowness of the
> information that contemporary Americans are used to (for which we may
> thank, in part, USA Today) it's not remotely clear that the historical
> creativity and technological competence of American civilization is
> still in place.
>
> More to the point, I would suggest this is a problem where whether
> America rises to the occasion or not is only a small part of the
> situation. It's not "American Warming" after all, and it's the whole
> globe that needs to rise to the occasion collectively. We are not

I worry about this kind of arrogance too. Years later they finally
wake up and then will want the world to thank them for every attention
to the problem. That deal breaking attitude came up in another thread
with someone saying it doesn't matter what is fair, it only matters
what the US will accept.

Coby

Michael Tobis

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Jun 1, 2006, 3:02:57 PM6/1/06
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Second day of the weeklong USA Today series on Global Warming.

Four articles, none on the front page, but a prominent above-the-fold
blurb linking to them.

Unifying theme: sea level rise. Two headlines use "sea change".

Summary: lots of anecdotes, a few maps, some even containing
nontrivial information, few diagrams or charts of other kinds. No
explanation of why greenhouse gases warm the planet, or how we expect
things to respond. So far, almost nothing about policy. Little
distinction between fact and opinion. Little indication of where the
public discourse might go.

Two articles mention the Christmas '04 tsunami, neither making it
clear that aside from analogy, there is no significant linkage between
that event and climate change.

Article in the Sports section seemed particularly silly.

===

NEWS "Worry flows from Arctic ice to tropical waters" -Paul Wiseman
and Cesar Soriano

Sea level rise and tropical islands, erosion and ice loss in the
Arctic, analogies between the Maldives and the Inuit.

Opening 'graph: "HONG KONG - When a tsunami rolled over the Maldives
on Dec. 26 2004, the tiny island nation didn't just experience a freak
of nature; it got a glimpse of the future"

Closing: "Last august, a regional organization, the Secretariat of the
Pacific Regional Environment Progam, relocated more than 100 Lateu
[Vanuatu] villagers to a new community a half mile inland. The United
Nations Environent Program beleives they may be just the first of a
new class of 'climate change refugees'."

Highlights: reference to David King's infamous "bigger global threat
than terrorism" comment. Anecdotes about experienced Inuit falling
through weak ice.

Problems: No distinction between sea ice and land ice. Sea ice gone
this century, Greenland around for a millenium. No mention of thermal
expansion component of sea level rise.

Interesting: Not a word about greenhouse gases.

====

SPORTS: "Sea changes come to sports" by Sal Ruibal

Yes, this is the lead article in the sports section. Tsunamis,
hurricanes and beach erosion.

Lead: "If you are among the estimated 86 million people who will visit
a US beach this summer, the impact of climate change on sports and
recreation is becoming very apparent.

[seems both gramatically and factually weak to me]

Conclusion: "So start riding your mountain bike now -- your health and
that of future generations depends on it" - Michael Browne, editor of
Dirt Rag, a bike enthusiast magazine

Notable: "It is the health off the sea that determines the well-being
of the land. Man has created the means to damage the sea, so man must
make it right". -competitive sailor Sebastien Josse

"The global implications for life -- and sport -- beyond the beach are
just as serious.

Problems: numerous. More tsunami nonsense."International Panel on
Climate Change"[sic],
quote from Robert Balling, though not given much chance to really work
up a head of steam, misrepresents the state of knowledge on tropical
storms.

====

LIFE "Sea change coming for everglades" - Dan Vergano

The most serious article of the bunch, also about sea level rise. Also
imho the best so far.

Uses sea level rise as a jumping-off point; broad ranging. However,
stiill almost nothing about the nature of the system or the source of
the predictions, and almost nothing about policy. Nice US-centric
climate prediction maps (very high info content for a USA-today
graphic) but quantitative reasoning avoided like the plague.

Lead: "The road to Paradise Prairie, site of a grand plan to develop
cheap land in a drained Everglades, was supposed top go through this
former fishing village. That plan went bust decades ago, and the
future looks very, very soggy."

Conclusion: "Once climate change gets moving, there's always a lag.
It's like leaving the fridge door open -- things don't melt right
away. But we're doing things now that will affect us the rest of the
century and beyond." - Gabriele Hegerl of Duke U

Highlight: Gavin Schmidt interviewed. Notable line "Climate affects
everything. There will be tremendous dislocations".

Notable: Jae Edmonds of Joint Global Change Research Instututes
advocates biofuels, says US can be the "Saudi Arabia of sawgrass'.
James Kunstler briefly allowed to proclaim we are doomed.

====

LIFE - "Animals scramble as the climate warms" - Patrick O'Driscoll

Brief article more or less arbitrarily choosing some endangered
species with climate stress. The inevitable polar bears are given
prominent play. Accompanied by a completely pointless map, more in
the tradition of USA Today (and the Onion).

====

mt

Michael Tobis

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Jun 1, 2006, 7:17:05 PM6/1/06
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Well, I've gotten this far. might as well keep going for posterity's
sake.

Two articles today.

The one in the LIFE section, "One family takes on carbon dioxide" by
Tom Kenworthy is hardly worthy of comment. An upper middle class
environmental professional in Boulder CO has managed to reduce his
family's emissions substantially. They own an old 40 MPG Honda Civiv
and drive only 5000 miles/year, mostly biking to work.

Let's all do that.

The article in the MONEY section, though, is noteworthy.

"Corporate America warms to fight against global warming" by David J
Lynch

subtitle "Corporations see prospect of fat profits from new products
friendly to environment"

see
http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/2006-05-31-business-globalwarming_x.htm

This is the only article in the series so far that I think would be
worth reading for most readers who already have a serious interest in
the topic.

===

"Corporate leaders don't normally invite the federal government to
raise their taxes. But that's exactly what Paul Anderson is doing.

Anderson, the chairman of Charlotte-based Duke Energy, wants the
federal government to fight global warming by taxing companies based on
the "greenhouse gases" they pump into the atmosphere - just the sort
of big-government remedy the Bush administration says would hobble the
economy.

For his efforts, Anderson has been excoriated by conservative talk
radio host Rush Limbaugh and threatened with an "exorcism" by an
industry peer.

But Anderson, 61, is no closet left-winger. He's a registered
Republican, Bush backer and member of the president's Council of
Advisors on Science and Technology. That such a Big Business stalwart
is demanding federal action on climate change illustrates an
unmistakable evolution in corporate thinking...

...

Corporate America, which once regarded cries of "global warming" about
as favorably as The Communist Manifesto, increasingly is embracing the
need for reducing human contributions to the planet's rising
temperatures. Forty companies - including Boeing, IBM, John Hancock
and Whirlpool - have publicly endorsed the notion that climate change
is real by joining a business council organized by the Pew Center on
Global Climate Change.

Conclusion:

"If we get out and shape it, we can craft a result that works for us
and moderates the (economic) impact," says Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E.
"One can always say, 'We won't do it until everybody does it.' But
leadership isn't about waiting for everybody to agree. ... Leadership
is about doing the right thing and doing it early."

===

This really is something different than we've seen before. Not that the
facts of the matter are new, but the spin in the mass media is novel..

There is still a rather irritating obsession with anecdote, and still
an abdication of responsibility in promoting sound debate, but at least
the composition of the article is coherent. I can;t really say that
this represents the sort of journalism I'd like to see. Still, I didn't
see any obvious explanatory pitfalls or errors.

If there's anything to critique in this article it's the complete
absence of any mention of the Exxon/Mobil position.

The most interesting thing, I think, is that it seems the herd
mentality in the corporate sector is coming around. Can the Wall Street
Journal be far behind?

mt

James Annan

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Jun 1, 2006, 9:30:44 PM6/1/06
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Michael Tobis wrote:

> Well, I've gotten this far. might as well keep going for posterity's
> sake.
>
> Two articles today.
>
> The one in the LIFE section, "One family takes on carbon dioxide" by
> Tom Kenworthy is hardly worthy of comment. An upper middle class
> environmental professional in Boulder CO has managed to reduce his
> family's emissions substantially. They own an old 40 MPG Honda Civiv
> and drive only 5000 miles/year, mostly biking to work.
>
> Let's all do that.

What, drive 5000 miles a year? Why on earth would I want to do that?

:-)

> see
> http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/2006-05-31-business-globalwarming_x.htm

> Conclusion:
>
> "If we get out and shape it, we can craft a result that works for us
> and moderates the (economic) impact," says Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E.
> "One can always say, 'We won't do it until everybody does it.' But
> leadership isn't about waiting for everybody to agree. ... Leadership
> is about doing the right thing and doing it early."
>
> ===
>
> This really is something different than we've seen before. Not that the
> facts of the matter are new, but the spin in the mass media is novel..
>
> There is still a rather irritating obsession with anecdote, and still
> an abdication of responsibility in promoting sound debate, but at least
> the composition of the article is coherent. I can;t really say that
> this represents the sort of journalism I'd like to see. Still, I didn't
> see any obvious explanatory pitfalls or errors.
>
> If there's anything to critique in this article it's the complete
> absence of any mention of the Exxon/Mobil position.
>
> The most interesting thing, I think, is that it seems the herd
> mentality in the corporate sector is coming around. Can the Wall Street
> Journal be far behind?

I like it too. It's worth bearing in mind that even (some of) the
sceptics support the most obvious "no regrets" approaches, including
energy efficiency etc.

James

Michael Tobis

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Jun 2, 2006, 4:20:57 PM6/2/06
to globalchange
> What, drive 5000 miles a year? Why on earth would I want to do that?

Good question. Historically, most of humanity probably hasn't travelled
5000 miles in their lives.

It's not that easy to avoid driving in North America.

This is one of the aspects of modern life that make me question the
whole basis for economics, by the way. Time in cars is mostly
unpleasant, yet car-dependent societies are treated by economic
measures as "wealthier".

mt

Michael Tobis

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Jun 2, 2006, 5:04:20 PM6/2/06
to globalchange
OK, final installment of my review of the four-part USA-Today serives
on global warming. This will be a short one.

LIFE section: "Celebs get the word out" by Dan Vergano.

apparently Leonardo di Caprio is very concerned, as is Brad Pitt

MONEY section: "Downhill slide ahead?" by Tom Kenworthy

Global warming is bad for ski resorts

MONEY section: "Wine regions feel the heat" by Elizabeth Weise

Global warming is bad for vintners

That's all I have to say on today's installments.

I don't believe the word "Kyoto" was mentioned all week in a dozen
articles.

Mr. Gore got mentioned in today's "celebrities" article. The IPCC was
referenced once, but they got its name wrong. The word "nuclear"
appeared exactly once. Nothing about the policy alternatves. Nothing
about the various scenarios. Nothing about international discord.
Almost nothing about science.

To be fair, the website offers this:

http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/climate/wclisci0.htm

and this:

http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/climate/climate-sci-resources.htm

Anyway, while USA Today don't seem much interested in promoting serious
conversation, to say the least, at least they finally seem to be on
board with the balance of evidence.

mt

James Annan

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Jun 4, 2006, 9:22:29 AM6/4/06
to global...@googlegroups.com
Michael Tobis wrote:

>>What, drive 5000 miles a year? Why on earth would I want to do that?
>
>
> Good question. Historically, most of humanity probably hasn't travelled
> 5000 miles in their lives.
>
> It's not that easy to avoid driving in North America.

I would have thought it was relatively straightforward in a place like
Boulder, if not everywhere.


> This is one of the aspects of modern life that make me question the
> whole basis for economics, by the way. Time in cars is mostly
> unpleasant, yet car-dependent societies are treated by economic
> measures as "wealthier".

A car demands quite a lot more than merely the time you actually spend
in it, too.

I suspect the 1600h per year mentioned here is an overestimate these
days, and of course it only applies to the owner (other family members
get the benefit for less outlay):

http://ranprieur.com/readings/illichcars.html

but it's a large part of the budget in any case.

James

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