Annotating Bush’s Climate Speech

Dot Earth takes a novel approach to the coverage

Yesterday, President Bush called for the United States to halt the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and urged other countries to enact similar national targets.

Most of the print press covered the event’s four key points: that Bush was all about goals and light on specifics for achieving them; that his targets remain voluntary rather than mandatory and fall short of what most scientists say is necessary to mitigate global warming; that environmentalists and many foreign officials are dismissing his plan as “too little, too late”; and that Bush is likely trying to stave off a stricter form of what now seems inevitable-domestic climate legislation.

There were, however, a few outlets whose coverage stood out. The most noteworthy example comes from New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s Dot Earth blog. Revkin has been incredibly successful at encouraging copious, high-quality commenting and debate on the site. He often puts specific questions to his readers and asks them to respond in novel ways, such as by imagining the private conversation that took place between Al Gore and Bush when the former vice president visited the Oval Office after receiving a Nobel Prize for his climate work. Today, Revkin had what may be his most constructive idea yet. After a series of blog posts that were more typical reports of Bush’s Rose Garden speech, he reprinted the speech in its entirety, adding his own thoughts and context in bold after selected sentences. Furthermore, he asked that readers help him “deconstruct” the text and he footnotes their comments (which are numbered) at the end of each relevant passage. The experiment is a wonderful example dynamic, digital journalism at its most useful, and it adds a much-appreciated layer of analysis to the more traditional news accounts.

Revkin contributed to that genre as well, co-authoring an article with Sheryl Gay Stolberg for the Times’s print edition that did not differ substantially from other decent write-ups by The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal. (The Journal also carried a blog post that contrasted sharply with an editorial that was typically disparaging of global-warming mitigation efforts in its support for Bush’s plan.)

The longest and most thorough print stories came from The San Francisco Chronicle and BusinessWeek, which dug deeper into why Bush is making this rather abstruse change of political tack and how his machinations might affect the United Nations’ efforts to develop a more robust international emissions reduction treaty. Along those lines, the AP deserves credit for having a reporter in Paris, where Bush is now meeting with representatives from his “major economies” group, which includes Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the U.S. (the group, overall, is responsible for around eighty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions). The meeting represents the U.S.’s parallel, but less stringent alternative to the U.N. framework, but according to the AP and Agence France Presse, many attendees are complaining that Bush’s speech is complicating the process.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.