Don’t get me wrong. There’s a tremendous inertia, so it’s very hard to know when that will happen. I can imagine some kind of action within the next year. I can also imagine it taking another ten years. But what I think people keep forgetting is that when you look at all the pieces together, the idea that the United States is not moving forward on this issue at all is wrong. Starting under Bush and continuing under Obama, we’ve put in place a fairly strong policy regarding efficiency of automobiles and trucks. If you remember, that had been frozen in place for 25 years essentially, and it has moved a long, long way in just the last few years. There is also the limit on carbon emissions from power plants that is coming into effect, assuming the administration can manage to defend it. Half the states now have mandates of one kind or another promoting renewable energy.
To me, it seems pretty clear which way the current is flowing, with the caveat that it’s important to bear in mind that the hour is late here. To head off the worst consequences of global warming, we needed to get started 20 years ago and we did not. So this will now be a pretty heavy lift to get to very low emissions by 2050. If we started today it would be hard, and we’re not starting today.
What’s next for the Temperature Rising series and where do the media, writ large, need to go next with the climate-change story?
I’m reluctant to give away my story ideas, but some of the questions are obvious. What is happening now and what is going to happen with plant and animal life on this planet as climate change proceeds? I haven’t done any real big take on that. There’s the obvious question of whether the change is going to be slow and incremental or abrupt, and are there any monsters hiding in the closet in that sense. That’s just a couple examples of possible targets that we have not really settled on. I tend to do stories one at a time and then say, “Okay, that’s in the paper, what’s next?” It’s not quite as mapped out of an agenda as you might imagine, but there’s a working list of ideas.
One thing I’m seeing—and I see it in our own paper as well as many other news outlets—is that people are covering the crazy weather we’re having and, more often than not, dodging the subject of whether there’s any relationship to climate change. TV weathermen are dodging that subject. Print reporters are dodging the subject. And it’s not so easy to cover because science does not have particularly good answers for us. The concept that I wrote about last week—that we’re in the middle of a sort of weather “weirding”—isn’t really a scientific concept for which you can build a weird index and figure out where we are on that index, but there are some things that scientists can say about weather extremes. Some of the extremes are very consistent with what is expected and what has long been predicted, and we’re seeing very clear trends in certain extremes like heat waves and heavy precipitation events. Reporters are not going to be able to be definitive, in real time, about whether this particular event was or wasn’t connected to climate change, but it’s a bit of a scandal that there’s not enough connecting the dots for people.
More broadly, I would say that if you look at the peak in climate coverage around the time of the Copenhagen summit and where it is now, it’s really dropped off the media radar screen, and it needs to move back on given it’s importance. Copenhagen may have been a disappointment, but the issue hasn’t gone away.