First of a two-part series

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

Editorial and opinion writers in news media throughout the northeastern U.S. and the Mid-Atlantic region used the 2012 spring and summer months — and the wildfires and heat waves that characterized them — to express a range of views on a climate/weather connection.

Drought and wildfire across the U.S. in 2012, amplified by this summer’s brutal summer heat, prompted many people to draw connections between extreme weather and climate change. Was the globe’s rising average temperature making weather and its consequences — drought, wildfire, floods — worse?

A broad sample of editorials from media around the country provide a sense of where opinion “influencers” are falling on the issue. Those editorial perspectives are compiled and linked in this two-part series by region, showing below each Web link some key passages. The opinion pieces (most of them are editorials, as opposed to opinion pieces by the paper’s columnists) are organized by region, from the most recent to those published late in 2011. Part I, posted here, comprises perspectives from media in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions; Part II, to be posted during the week of September 24-28, providing the perspective of print media in the rest of the country.

While many of the editorials here argue that overall warming of the planet is intensifying drought, heat waves, and other extreme weather events, some are doubtfull of a connection between human-caused climate change and these events.

Here’s the take from media in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic:

The Northeast

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ), Aug. 15

Scientists specializing in climatology don’t know to what extent global warming is attributable to human activity and to what extent to natural causes. Nor do they have any economically feasible plan for curtailing warming. There were warming periods hundreds of years ago, before, say, China became industrialized and the leading global producer of greenhouse emissions.

Staten Island Advocate (NY), Aug. 11

Extreme weather of all sorts has become more noticeable across the United States — from high temperatures, to drought, to violent storms, to heavy rains. On Staten Island, there was the rare landfall late last summer by Hurricane Irene. This was followed by snow on Halloween, but hardly any during the winter. Since spring, we’ve been hit repeatedly by strong thunderstorms. … The scientific community has overwhelmingly found that global warming is not only real, but man-made. … Global warming isn’t science fiction; it’s science fact.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), Aug. 5

Forget the Olympics. Want to watch records being broken? Turn on the weather report. … Granted, no single weather event is proof of climate change. A week of 90-degree days doesn’t prove global warming any more than a week below freezing proves Al Gore was wrong. … Climate experts have agreed for decades that Earth’s temperature is rising and that mankind is responsible — mostly by burning fossil fuels for energy, factories and transportation. And while no hurricane or heat wave is direct proof of warming, the worldwide pattern of record-breaking weather extremes most certainly is.

The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), July 29

The evidence:

  • Central New York has had an unusually large number of 90-degree-plus days this summer, including a 101-degree sizzler July 17.
  • A mild spring followed a mild winter with just 50.2 inches of snow instead of the normal 124.5 inches.
  • Lack of precipitation is producing brown lawns and parched farms in Central New York. Farmer Jason Turek in King Ferry, Cayuga County, told staff writer Debra Groom this month his first bean harvest was about one-quarter of the normal yield. The weather is affecting potatoes, onions, feed crops and other produce.

… this year is hardly an aberration: 13 of the warmest years on the planet have occurred since 1998. If humans do play a role in global warming, this year is just a foretaste, since it reflects behavior that occurred decades ago. … Whether or not you are convinced by the evidence that climate change is happening and humans are at least partly responsible, do you really want to do nothing and run the risk that you’re wrong?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA), July 12

This should be the summer of our discontent, with heat waves, drought and other troublesome weather affecting large parts of the nation. … Pittsburgh, which has been in the grip of furnace-like heat, has recorded the warmest first half of the year since records began in 1948. From January to June, the average temperature has been 51.3 degrees, 4.7 degrees above average. Slightly less than 56 percent of the country is in a drought. Nobody can say with certainty that this or that day is the result of global warming (the inexact term for climate change, which includes other types of severe weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, even snowstorms). But the trends will tell the tale, and it seems the predictions for climate change are being fulfilled.

The New York Times, July 10

The recent heat wave that has fried much of the country, ruined crops and led to heat-related deaths has again raised the question of whether this and other extreme weather events can be attributed to human-induced climate change. The answer, increasingly, is a qualified yes. … History is full of sad stories of humanity’s inability to see the writing on the wall — overplowing that helped produce the Dust Bowl, overfishing that has depopulated the oceans. The heat wave is merely the latest of many weather-related messages that should be easy to read.

The Day (New London, CT), July 8

This is what climate change looks like — drought, unprecedented wildfires, freak storms and severe heat.

The evidence continues to mount that the strange and extreme weather the nation and world is encountering in this second decade of the 21st century is not just some quirky deviation from the norm. Rather it is a signal that global warming is now generating substantial weather pattern changes and could be accelerating.

The Barre Montpelier Times Argus (VT), July 2

There are still politicians who view the entire topic with either suspicion (they don’t trust the scientists) or cynicism (it’s an issue too dear to the hearts of their ideological opponents). Last week the CBS Evening News reported that unless something is done soon, the eastern shore from North Carolina to Massachusetts will in time be swamped by rising tides. But the program did not mention the political opposition — or the public’s seeming indifference — to any proposals to prevent such a catastrophe. … Americans, collectively, need to wake up. Global warming shouldn’t be a political issue.

Patriot News-Herald (Central PA), April 22

Continued global warming will threaten food production in some parts of the world, contributing to hunger and malnutrition. Floods and droughts will become more common. Infectious diseases are expected to become more common in less developed countries.

The New York Times, Dec. 31, 2011

A typical year in the United States features three or four weather disasters costing more than $1 billion. In 2009 there were nine. Last year brought a dozen, at a cost of $52 billion, making it the most extreme year for weather since accurate record keeping began in the 19th century. … Climate researchers have been cautious about linking individual events to rising global temperatures. Yet the evidence tells us the earth is warming, largely as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity. And many of last year’s extreme weather events were consistent with the effects of climate change. A warming atmosphere will hold more water, supplying the fuel for storms; steadily rising temperatures are likely to promote droughts.

The Day (New London, CT), Dec. 12, 2011

Climate variability is not the sole reason for these shattered records. At some point, disbelievers are going to have to acknowledge that human activity is playing a role in global warming and our changing weather. … Warming global temperatures are altering traditional weather patterns, making it warmer and dryer in some places and, counterintuitively, sometimes colder and snowier than normal in others.

Mid-Atlantic

The Charleston Gazette (WV), Sept. 4

How many more deaths and gigantic property losses will it take before America sees that global warming isn’t merely a topic for political debate — it’s an expensive curse upon humanity? During the Republican convention, Mitt Romney scoffed that President Obama “promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet.” The GOP crowd laughed. But billion-dollar losses and thousands of deaths really isn’t funny.

The Charleston Gazette (WV), Aug. 17

More violent storms inflict billions in damage. Rising sea levels menace coastal zones. Tropical diseases spread northward, hurting people, livestock, forests and crops. The expense of global warming is colossal. Practical common sense requires steps to reduce this loss. … The coal industry and many West Virginia politicians will brush off all new evidence — as they’ve done with previous findings — but millions of Americans are watching wild weather extremes and deciding it’s time to get serious about global warming.

Kentucky Herald-Leader, Aug. 10

Last month was the hottest in the continental U.S. since record-keeping began in 1895. The sizzling days and hot nights are part of a longer-term warming trend, said Jake Crouch, a climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Climate scientists remain divided over whether this summer’s heat and storms are direct results of human-caused global warming. They are united in saying extreme weather, including famine-inducing droughts, will become the norm if we fail to reduce heat-trapping emissions.

The lesson of the U.N. fiasco is not that trying to curb global warming is an inevitable boondoggle. The lesson is that elaborate credit-trading programs are not the best approach. The surest way to reduce emissions is to tax them.

The Gazette (Gaithersburg, MD), July 20

If this summer’s oppressive heat waves aren’t enough of a clarion call, scary developments such as the buckling of road surface on busy U.S. 50 and a warped rail that caused a Metro train derailment should be.

More extreme weather events such as the June 29 derecho that caused massive power outages, tree destruction and other damage are likely to increase in frequency, said Zoe Johnson of the state’s Office for a Sustainable Future. Fires, such as recent wildfires in Colorado, and droughts, such as the one gripping the Midwest, could become more common in the state. Currently, the Eastern Shore and a good portion of central Maryland are under a drought watch.

Washington Post, July 17

Anyone who, in the midst of a hurricane here or a heat wave there, simplistically blames greenhouse gas emissions is wrong. But it’s also wrong to blame all extreme events on forces beyond human control. … natural variability doesn’t mean human activity hasn’t been playing an increasing role in the formation of extreme events, or in the scale of the resulting damage. Most obviously, more people are living in environmentally precarious zones. Stripping land or degrading wetlands can leave humans more vulnerable to floods, as in Thailand, or hurricanes, as in New Orleans.

And the planet is certainly warming. Humans releasing heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere are almost certainly responsible for much, if not all, of that warming; the particular patterns of warming, comparison to the historical record, and the basic precepts of physics all indicate this. On average, more energy in the system probably increases the intensity or frequency of certain extreme weather events, such as very high temperatures, across the planet. Patterns emerge. In recent years, there have been more record-breaking heat events and fewer record-breaking cold ones. Scientists are also beginning — but only beginning — to assess how much particular incidents can be attributed to climate change in anything like real time.

So, while the science of attribution improves, what can you say the next time you’re suffering through a sustained heat wave? That this is the sort of thing will get more common across a warming world. That should be more than enough to spur Americans to demand action from their leaders.

The Charleston Gazette (WV), July 4

For scientists like this West Virginia native (Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University), there’s no debate over whether global warming is real. It is evident. Last week’s mammoth “derecho” storm that walloped the Mountain State and adjoining regions triggered a flood of observations about climate change. An Associated Press analysis began: “If you want a glimpse of some of the worst of global warming, scientists suggest taking a look at U.S. weather in recent weeks: Horrendous wildfires. Oppressive heat waves. Devastating droughts. Flooding from giant deluges. And a powerful freak windstorm called a derecho.” … Coal, oil and gas industry chiefs — and politicians allied to them — still deny that global warming is real, or that it is caused by greenhouse gases from fossil fuel fumes. But Americans in general are beginning to listen to scientists like West Virginia native Thompson. Like Dr. Thompson’s glaciers, public doubt of climate change is melting away.

Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), July 1

As the state recovers from the extreme Friday night blast, it’s a good occasion to ask again whether violent storms are linked to global warming. All scientists agree that hotter air holds more moisture, breeding more severe weather. Thousands of scientists say man-made air pollution from fossil fuels has created a “greenhouse” layer in the sky, trapping heat near the planet’s surface, melting polar ice, raising sea levels, triggering worse tornados and hurricanes, causing horrific floods — and oddly causing droughts in some regions. (But the coal, oil and gas industries, plus many industry-beholden politicians, deny it.) … As West Virginia copes with this latest weather nightmare, people should give intelligent consideration to all evidence related to climate change.

The Charleston Gazette (WV), May 20

Last year, America suffered historic weather calamities: disastrous tornadoes, severe floods, extended drought, record-breaking snowfall, raging wildfires, etc. … This year brought the warmest March ever known, breaking about 15,000 local U.S. heat records. Early tornadoes again left wreckage and death. … Conservatives doubt that climate change is real, or that fossil fumes cause it. Republicans in some state legislatures are passing laws to let public school science teachers dispute both evolution and global warming. They are leading people down a wrong and dangerous road. The evidence shows that greenhouse gases are linked to the rise of billion-dollar weather disasters, and these disasters are just the beginning.

Washington Times (DC), April 2, 2012

News reports often recite conventional wisdom that such catastrophes are becoming more frequent and severe because of industry-emitted carbon dioxide — the same gas that makes all animal and plant life possible. The same substance is vilified as a “greenhouse gas” that purportedly traps heat, warms the planet and provokes killer tempests. However, climatologists who stick to facts say otherwise. Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, notes that globally, hurricane wind speed — an indicator for the amount of energy in the atmosphere — has remained steady for the past 15 years. Accordingly, there is no evidence that weather extremes are on the rise globally, much less that they’re increasing because of human activity.

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

  1. Excellent report, thank you so much for the samples.

    I would only ask that we note the advertister revenue from some of these papers…i.e. the Washington Post’s opinion seems to reflect a bias born of heavy oil industry advertising and a city bias. They seemed to be saying everything and nothing.

  2. Paul Quigg says:

    Three months of weather on 4 percent or less of the earths surface is not climate, it is weather.