Second of a two-part series

Media Opinion Pages Take Pulse of Nation’s 2012 Summer Anomalies

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Part II on editorials and opinion columns on 2012 weather anomalies covers media in the South, the Great Lakes and Midwest regions, and the West.

Record-breaking drought and wildfires, coupled with numerous media reports on likely impacts on food supplies and costs, made for an extended “teachable moment” for reporters and columnists across the U.S. South, Midwest, and West. Did they draw connections to long-range climate and global warming issues? And if so … how?

A broad sample of editorials from media across those regions, coupled with an earlier Part I post in this series addressing the East and Mid-Atlantic regions, provides a sense of where opinion “influencers” are falling on the issue.

As in the first part, many of the editorials here argue that overall warming of the planet is intensifying drought, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. Others express doubt of a connection between human-caused climate change and these events.

The South

The Anniston Star (Anniston, AL), July 17

Climate change isn’t merely about unbearably hot weather. It’s about weather patterns, winter and summer, that stray from the recorded past. It’s about unusually deep extremes in cold and hot temperatures, in summer and winter storms. (A few days of 100-degree weather in the South isn’t an indicator of global warming.) Significantly, NOAA data now show that a majority of Americans now see man-made climate change as the concern that it is.

Times Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Aug 2

The world’s foremost scientists — including many from Louisiana — say a key to stopping our march to a watery grave is reducing global warming. But our delegation in Washington and our governor oppose those regulations. Why? They say it would be too harmful to the industries that line their campaign pockets — oil, gas, power generation and petro-chemical. Or, they claim to be smarter than the world’s brightest scientists. … In a very real sense, each vote against carbon regulation is a vote against the future of our coast. (Opinion Piece by Bob Marshall, Outdoors Editor)

Miami Herald (FL), July 5

Scientists’ predictions about how quickly temperatures would rise — and how rapidly assorted phenomena, such as melting polar ice and rising sea levels, would proceed — have turned out, thus far, to be conservative. There comes a point where anomalies can start looking like a trend. What much of the country has seen the past few days is no ordinary heat wave. Temperatures reached 105 in Raleigh, 106 in Atlanta and 108 in Columbia, S.C., and Macon, Ga., 109 in Nashville — all-time highs.

Meanwhile, the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history were destroying hundreds of homes — a legacy of drought that left forests as dry as tinder. Changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns in the West cannot, of course, be blamed on climate change with any certainty. But they are consistent with scientists’ predictions. It becomes harder to ignore those predictions when a toppled tree is blocking your driveway and the power is out. (Opinion Piece by Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post)

Times Picayune (New Orleans, LA), June 13

(Hurricanes) destroy 2 to 4 percent of platforms in their paths and damage 3 to 6 percent more, according to recent studies. But that risk is likely to increase as warmer water temperatures spawn more intense storms. … global warming also has a profound effect on marine species. Increased carbon dioxide from industrialization has made oceans, including the Gulf of Mexico, more acidic. That threatens oysters. Warmer water temperatures also could mean the arrival of invasive species. … Industries that are affected by climate change aren’t the only ones that need to take steps now for a warmer future. So do government agencies.

Great Lakes and the Midwest

Journal Star (Lincoln, NE), Aug. 30

In Nebraska the obvious worry is that the impact of a warming globe might be less rainfall for the state. The worst drought in generations continues. Weekend rains improved conditions in only three counties, and they improved only from extreme drought to severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. … Prominent skeptics of global warming still are being heard. Columnist George Will earlier this summer had this to say: “How do we explain the heat? One word: summer.” It’s always useful to remember that one heat wave is not evidence of global warming. Weather is short-term. Climate is long-term. In the summer of 2012, however, the short-term evidence of a warming world was difficult to ignore.

Chicago Sun-Times (IL), Aug. 25

Everywhere President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney campaign across this drought-stricken land, there is evidence of the coming devastation of global warming, yet they seldom utter a word about it. … So much for the notion that global warming is a matter of stranded polar bears on shrinking ice bergs, far away and unconnected to our lives. More than 80 percent of the United States is suffering from drought conditions, trying to cope with 100-degree-plus heat, drying lakes and burnt pastures.

The Toledo Blade (OH), Aug. 20

This year’s drought has encompassed nearly two-thirds of the continental United States. Many scientists consider it a likely expression of climate change. The drought was worsened by the hottest July on record, dating to 1895. A decreased corn yield this summer is leading to higher crop, meat, and fuel prices. Parched land affects water supplies; large numbers of fish are dying in some coastal areas where saltwater has seeped in. … Even if … the 2012 drought fail to persuade skeptics that more must be done to respond to man-made climate change, the Great Lakes region still has to become more proactive about committing to a clean economy. It won’t happen overnight, but it needs to happen.

World-Herald (Omaha, NE), Aug. 20

Climate change: Genuine threat? Mostly hype? It seems that almost every day, a new study raises concerns about climate change, only to be followed by someone saying “not so fast.” This much is certain, however: The summer of 2012 has been hot and dry. … A recent USDA forecast showed the damage done by the weather: The U.S. corn drop would be 13 percent smaller than 2011′s harvest and the smallest since 2006. The soybean crop would be 12 percent less than last year. Nearly 23 percent of Nebraska is classified as being in exceptional drought, and all of the state is in some level of drought.

Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI), July 21

It’s possible that this summer is just a fluke; that the heat waves and drought that are wreaking havoc for farmers and others are an anomaly, and that the weather will return to “normal” next summer or maybe the summer after that. That it’s just summer and it’s hot, and that this really isn’t part of a trend that climate scientists have been predicting. But that’s not the way to bet. The science says climate change is happening now, not just in computer models or overactive imaginations but in the real world. From rising sea levels to droughts to tornadoes and wildfires, there is a growing list of anomalous events that indicate climate change is already upon us. And the safe bet is to start acting now to mitigate the human effect on climate change at the international, national and local levels.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 18

Study after study is attempting to quantify the impact of man-made global warming on extreme weather events. A certain percentage of the American public will ignore these findings, but the reality is that this summer is a preview of things to come. The short answer to the question, “So is this summer’s heat about global warming or what?” is “probably.” … Greenhouse gases are to the climate as steroids are to baseball. … There is strong to very strong evidence that severe droughts, extreme rain and snow events and coastal warming are more likely because of climate change. The strongest causal evidence is for heat waves.

The Toledo Blade (OH), July 4

Searing heat, violent thunderstorms, wildfires, smog, power blackouts, crop losses. These things aren’t new, yet their recent magnitude raises new questions about human influence on climate. Climate change is real, despite the stubbornness of a denial movement that shrugs off both the problem and the science that documents it. … Recent heat waves, in Ohio and Michigan and elsewhere, point to greater warming of the Earth. As this part of the country basked in an unusually warm March, northern Michigan’s cherry crop was devastated by early growth followed by frost. Now comes word that 90 percent of that state’s apple crop is destroyed. … Ozone-induced smog, allergies, and diseases transmitted by mosquitoes also drive up costs. Much of northwest Ohio remains abnormally dry or in a drought, even after hail and heavy thunderstorms swept across the region this week. … There never will be a moment of instant epiphany, of universal agreement that the science behind climate change is legitimate, even if it is reflected in a catastrophic flood from rising sea levels. The prudent, even conservative, thing to do is to take precautions now.

The West

The Orange County Register (CA), Sept. 11

Climate alarmism relies on connecting disparate and often-unrelated dots in a hypothetical chain of cause and effect that is far from proven. When climate alarmists declare the Earth is experiencing unprecedented horrific weather because of global warming and man-made greenhouse gases, it’s just so much hot air. … Droughts, floods, storms and wildfires are not occurring at unprecedented, or even unusual, rates. They are well within natural variations. As is the global temperature. The crucial dots that need connecting to justify government’s war on climate change begin with a presumption that manmade greenhouse gas emissions increase temperatures. But as carbon dioxide emissions soared worldwide during the past 15 years, global temperatures remained essentially flat, if not declining. Worse yet for alarmists, for centuries CO2 levels appear to have increased after global temperatures rose, which turns the cause-and-effect theory on its head.

The Denver Post (CO), Sept. 3

Recent news about climate change has been all bad and devastatingly so. The Arctic ice cap is retreating at record rates. We had the hottest July on record. And one expert after another is blaming increasing temperatures on human-caused global warming. Yet, despite the red flags, our political conversations during this presidential election year have largely skirted this important issue. … Earlier this month, a study co-authored by NASA climate scientist James Hansen concluded that a jump in the number of very hot summers can only be attributable to human-caused global warming. Hansen linked several severe heat waves and droughts to global warming via statistical analysis.

The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), Aug. 17

It’s getting harder and harder to be a climate-change denier. July was the hottest month on record in the continental U.S. — the previous record was in July 1936 at the height of the Dust Bowl disaster — and much of the country is experiencing the worst drought in memory. It won’t stop some from insisting that nature, not man, is to blame for hotter temperatures. But climate experts increasingly are coming to believe that although some droughts are part of natural cycles, the hotter temperatures are largely human-caused — and they’re making the droughts worse than they otherwise would be.

Sacramento Bee (CA), July 31

This summer offers a sense of the consequences of inaction. We’ve seen massive drought, Colorado on fire, and Atlanta recording its hottest day in history. While it’s impossible to tie specific events to climate change, these are the kinds of extremes we will increasingly see unless emissions are brought under control.

The Salt Lake Tribune (UT), July 7

Are the sizzling heat and unheard-of storms Americans are suffering through this summer the result of long-term climate change? Probably. Should Utahns expect the horrific wildfires and drought to continue unabated next summer because the warnings about climate change have gone unheeded? It’s likely.

It is more than mere coincidence that scientists for decades have been predicting growing numbers of devastating wildfires, hotter summers, shorter winters and decreasing snowfall in the American West — and now it’s happening. The warnings of climate scientists that global warming — caused, at least in part, by greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels — have not resulted in the kind of cutbacks on carbon emissions that might have curbed the warming trend.

… make no mistake, the trend since the beginning of the industrial revolution and its accompanying increase in burning of coal and other fossil fuels has been warmer temperatures, and that trend is expected to continue. Ice caps are melting and oceans are warming, causing more severe weather. And policy makers must shoulder the blame.

The Appeal Democrat (Marysville, CA) June 17

Real life is foiling climate alarmists’ schemes to transform the world into a green Utopia. About 130 world leaders will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this week to establish more rules, regulations and transfers of wealth, ostensibly to eradicate poverty and protect the environment. This is yet another U.N. attempt to advance its war against what first was demonized as “global warming,” then “climate change” — when temperatures flattened out. The movement now frames its mission as “sustainable development.” Make no mistake, what they hope to sustain is the same tired attempt to move mountains of wealth from nations that create it to nations that don’t, along the way enriching government budgets and lining pockets of facilitators, opportunists and cronies. Think Solyndra.

The Salt Lake Tribune (UT), April 10

The Natural Resources Defense Council charges that Utah is behind the curve in planning for drought due to climate change. State water officials say that’s baloney. We believe the truth lies somewhere in between. Utah has done some good planning and is pushing water conservation. But it could do more, and it would help if extremists in the Legislature would quit passing resolutions that climate change is a scientific hoax. It’s not.

Los Angeles Times (CA), Dec. 9, 2011

Climate change is no longer a theoretical concept to be debated at symposiums by science nerds. It is happening right here, right now. Thirteen of the warmest years on record worldwide have happened in the past 15 years. In the U.S., 12 weather-related disasters this year have caused in excess of $1 billion in damage each, a record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Although many expected the global economic downturn to slow the output of greenhouse gases, emissions actually have been accelerating at an alarming rate, growing 5.9% in 2010 — the biggest jump since 2003. The American response? Fiddling around.

… At last year’s climate conference in Cancun, the world agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial norm. Yet that goal can’t be met under the current global pledges of voluntary reductions, leading to predictions of up to 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century. That would mean catastrophic sea-level rise, drought, famine and weather-related carnage. Fortunately, we’ll all be dead by then. But our progeny will not thank us.

Other National Papers & Wires

USA Today, Aug. 1

Evidence continues to mount that the warming goes beyond what could be expected by natural variability and the urban “heat island” effect. July was the 329th consecutive month in which the global temperature exceeded the 20th century average. High temperature records continue to outpace low temperature records by ratios of more than 2-to-1. Arctic sea ice continues to track at levels far below average.

Virtually all climate scientists agree that global warming is real and is very likely caused primarily by human activity. … Lawmakers who dwell on the cost of acting seem not to notice that excessive heat carries its own costs: huge air conditioning bills, parched crops and rising food prices. This year’s record warmth could well be a preview of the new normal for future generations.

Bloomberg News, April 18

The House members worry that a dedicated office might reinforce a reality they don’t recognize: that greenhouse-gas emissions are changing Earth’s climate. But the need to focus directly on how climate change affects all our lives is growing and, along with it, fortunately, scientists’ ability to discern what’s happening. In the past, when asked whether a flood or drought or a rash of hurricanes could be attributed to climate change, they would merely note that such extreme weather is what we might expect warming to cause. Lately, though, scientists have been able to work out more specific odds. … researchers can say with confidence that human-induced climate change has at least doubled the chance the month we’re in now will be unusually warm. And their best estimate — in other words, a prediction they can make with less than full confidence — is that the chance of a warm April is about eight times higher than it would have been without the level of greenhouse gases now in the air.

Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman is a freelance writer covering science and environmental topics. He has more than 20 years experience in the news business. (E-mail: bruce@yaleclimateconnections.org, Twitter: @brucelieberman1)
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2 Responses to Media Opinion Pages Take Pulse of Nation’s 2012 Summer Anomalies

  1. John Garrett says:

    Scientists are in broad agreement that the earth has been slowly warming for about three centuries. We don’t know why, which should give us a clue about the depth of our understanding of the climate.

    More to the point, there is no agreement about such basic, rudimentary, fundamental, all-important questions as the sign and size of the cloud feedbacks. A change of 2% in cloud cover would wipe out any CO2 effect. Since we don’t understand the clouds, that most basic and critically important part of climate science, the idea that we understand why the earth is currently warming, or the idea that we can forecast climate a hundred years in advance, is hubris of the first order. We don’t know why it warmed in Medieval times. We don’t know why it warmed in Roman times. We don’t know why it has warmed since the “Little Ice Age”. We don’t understand the climate, and you folks’ claims that you do understand it well enough to make century-long forecasts just makes rational, reasonable people point and laugh.

    -Willis Eschenbach

    • Dan Rogers says:

      I believe I am both rational and reasonable, and yet I do NOT “point and laugh” at the AGW people. I cringe.

      For many years I worked as an environmental lawyer, and during that time I encountered some “green” ideas that turned out to be wrong-headed and that eventually gained sufficient credence to cost society a great deal of wasted time and money. So far, the AGW campaign has not come even close to equaling the worst of these past-and-continuing boondoggles, but it has the potential to out-boondoggle even the worst of them.

      So let’s not laugh at the AGW crusade. Maybe someday we will be able to look back on it and chuckle — let’s hope so — but for now it poses a right nasty threat to both common sense environmentalism and practical energy policy throughout the world. It is no laughing matter.