Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spectre Of Global Warming Infuses The Media

Global warming is one of the most important, intriguing stories of our time -- and it really is hardly underway. If most scientists are right, it will soon become a dominant factor affecting lives all over the planet. And the news media is not far behind in picking up on the excitement and foreboding.

Already, the major newspapers and television networks are paying far more attention to hurricanes than they once did, in part because technological advances give us a better idea how powerful a storm will be and where it is going, but, in part also because there is a widespread belief that global warming will make the storms more frequent and more severe.

Never mind that Hurricane Katrina two years ago has been followed by a comparative lull in hurricanes affecting the southeastern part of the United States. In both years since, long range weather forecasters have predicted a vigorous hurricane season, but last year it didn't materialize, and this year it hasn't yet.

Still, when a hurricane threatens, as Hurricane Dean did last week, the coverage by the cable news networks and the main networks has been massive, and the big newspapers sent correspondents to Yucatan.

It's clear, with the weather, there are anomalies, and the global warming, while winning majority acceptance, hasn't really been made manifest yet in the way most of us live. Yes, this has been a record hot summer in parts of the South and the Midwest, but it has been cooler than normal in the Northeast. It has been far wetter than usual in Texas, Oklahoma, and, more recently, the Midwest. But the thunderstorms from the monsoon that usually come into the Southwest from the Gulf of California have not been particularly impressive this year. That has contributed to the heat in Phoenix, where, as the L.A. Times reports today, a new record of 29 days has been set for temperatures 110 degrees and above.

A minority, such as the author Michael Crichton, continues to argue that global warming is not real, and this faction has been able this summer to cite calculations that, actually, 1934 was a hotter year globally than 1998. But, again, these are anomalies. A preponderant majority of scientists, armed with computer calculations, express certitude that global warming caused by human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is real. Just today, the Washington Post publishes an article reporting that the Irish Environmental Protection Agency has found that since 1980 Ireland has been warming by 0.76 degrees per decade, twice the world rate, the climate is growing wetter and floods are more likely.

Wait awhile, scientists tell us. By 2050, many say, the seas will be rising as the melting of glacial ice proceeds in Greenland, the Arctic ocean and Antarctica. Already, Alaska has seen considerable warming. Glaciers are receding all over the world, and greater and greater sections of the Arctic ocean are ice free now in the summer, endangering perhaps even the existence of the polar bear.

We are a long way from most of Florida, New York City and the South Bay area of Los Angeles being submerged by rising seas, and, in any case, scientists differ just how substantial the rise in ocean levels may be.

But there are exotic theories out there -- such as that the Gulf Stream may be weakened by the warming, and Western Europe may actually sink, for awhile at least, into a deep freeze.

If all this isn't a gigantic story, I don't know what is. And the networks, such as CNN, and newspapers, such as the New York Times that track it most carefully will surely benefit.

The New York Times has recently put a new feature on its already sophisticated and well-written weather page. This tracks five days of high and low temperatures that have occurred and the next five days that will occur in major cities across the country. Not only that, but each graph shows the record high and low temperatures for each date in each city. In recent weeks, Atlanta and Denver are among the cities where record high temperatures have consistently occurred. As I say, New York and Boston have been below normal, and, up until this week's heat wave, Los Angeles has been fairly normal.

Compare the New York Times weather page with that of the Los Angeles Times, which hasn't changed in years, and is by comparison quite unimaginative.

It would not be terribly expensive to improve the L.A. Times weather page. That should certainly be undertaken.

Actually, the L.A. Times has often been in the forefront in assessing changes that are taking place in the environment as affected by the weather. Marla Cone has done pioneer work in this regard in the Arctic, and Lee Hotz, a Pulitzer Prize finalist before he left the paper for the Wall Street Journal, undertook lengthy expeditions to Antarctica. Also, there has been the glorious work with the altered oceans by Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling, along with photographer Rick Loomis, whose team won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize in April. McFarling has gone home to raise children, but hopefully she will be back.

Yet, as I remarked in yesterday's blog, the L.A. Times science coverage has overall been allowed to wither substantially on a day to day basis. The newspaper dropped its science page soon after the conscientious and intelligent Joel Greenberg was put out to pasture by Miriam Pawel, while the New York Times weekly science section sets the pace for the whole media. Both papers, however, pay substantial attention to global warming issues on their editorial pages.

The loss of Frank Clifford as environmental editor of the L.A. Times will be felt, although I think Geoff Mohan is potentially a good replacement.

As global warming does take hold, those who provide the best coverage of the myriad of issues that arise from it will, I believe, derive great advantages with the reading public. Because of their ability to print graphics and long detailed stories, this is one area where newspapers should have it all over the Internet. The Internet too has graphic capabilities of course, but less scope to package them than the newspapers.

I confess I'm a little terrified of what might happen with the weather. It's occurred to me that it's possible the warming will be greater than many scientists now predict, even eventually threatening to turn the Earth into another Venus. And, I reflected this summer while visiting the California Redwoods, I wonder whether this fragile ecosystem will survive.

It worries me less that six of the eight Ivy League colleges, all but Cornell and Dartmouth, could be submerged in rising seas. But that''s because I went to Dartmouth. Now, my kids, Yale and Berkeley graduates, must not be so sanguine.


Noam Levey of the L.A. Times Washington bureau shows again this morning in a Page 1 feature that he is a shameless advocate of American surrender in Iraq. His coverage is never objective, and, at the moment, he has less credibility than Vice President Cheney. Journalists should be advocates, but on the editorial, not on the news, pages. In Levey's articles, there is not the least pretence of being fair or, in this case, asking reasonable questions of the former soldier he writes about.

Levey has been the primary L.A. Times writer on the efforts by some Democrats in Congress to force the beginnings of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He has never given, however, more than the pro side of this argument. It is, in its own way, as biased a coverage as we have come to expect on the other side from Fox News. The Times is being used by this reporter to fulfill his own agenda, and the editors who deal with him are being naive.



Anonymous John said...

I don't always agree with you, but I see that you are objective in your
postings. Despite the differences I still enjoy reading your posts and I
often learn even when our viewpoints are different. :-)

9/03/2007 5:59 AM  

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