“[T]he press has accepted the basic threat of [global] warming and is now prepared to address the cost and feasibility of various solutions,” writes Curtis Brainard in a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. Apparently, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and various anchors on Fox News missed that memo; either that, or they actually believe the fact that it snowed in Las Vegas during December or that there was snow and ice on the ground in Washington, D.C., in January contradict the fact that the Earth’s climate is getting warmer. If so, they don’t know the difference between weather and climate…
I was writing about a PBS Nova documentary about California’s “Big Energy Gamble,” and the paragraph, for context, read: “Nova spends relatively little time discussing the impacts of global warming, which are presented only as contextual background. Though there remain many points of climate science that the media can and should explore, this seems a positive development because it implies that the press has accepted the basic threat of warming and is now prepared to address the cost and feasibility of various solutions.”
I don’t have any hard numbers to back it up, but I feel reasonably comfortable saying that the majority of American journalists covering climate change, energy, and environment understand that human industry is primarily responsible for global warming. Delicath (whose group describes itself as “dedicated to analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media”) makes an extremely important point, however, and I should have qualified the sentence in my column. There is a small minority of pundits—most of whom are talking heads and columnists, rather than hard news reporters—still trying to deny the well-established basics of climate science. The terrible irony is, that minority might reach more eyes and ears than all of the serious beat reporters combined. America loves its Fox News.
Attempts to argue that global warming doesn’t exist, or that humans aren’t driving it, are not the sole province of Fox News, of course. Delicath points to several culprits: Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews (not to mention countless news network anchors) have perpetuated confusion about the difference between weather and climate by questioning global warming as soon as the snow starts falling. These are misleading, but usually offhand remarks. Lou Dobbs has recently done far worse, however, consistently mistaking weather for climate and quoting unqualified sources over a series of at least three reports that he actually had the temerity to call hard news.
It’s the same the same thing in print—every few months, some columnists decide to jump into the climate conversation, peddling some recycled argument for why global warming is bunk. Take the almost unbelievable divide between The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and its news staff. Or take The Washington Post Charles Krauthammer and George Will, who continue to contradict the news and editorial departments’ otherwise solid understanding of climate science.
Will dug up some old bones on Sunday, in a column titled “Dark Green Doomsayers.” In it, he rightly criticized Energy Secretary Steven Chu for telling the Los Angeles Times that if 90 percent of the snowpack were to melt, a worst case development, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California … I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.” That is certainly an overstatement. California’s $30 billion agriculture industry is incredibly vulnerable to increased drought and decreased water supply, and severe, nearly complete melting of the Sierra snowpack is a real possibility. But even in that extreme case, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific basis for Chu’s prediction of complete agricultural and urban collapse.
Unfortunately, after making the point about Chu’s forecast, Will doesn’t meaningfully discuss the more likely impacts of global warming on California agriculture. Instead, he uses Chu as a means to dredge up the old argument that, because a few scientists and journalists predicted global cooling, we should not trust anything that they say now. The logic is utter rubbish, and what makes Will’s feeble attack all the more pathetic is that he has used it before, and was soundly rebutted then by NASA scientists.