'Nobody is Immune'

Major News Outlets: Somber Reporting on ‘Bleak’ IPCC Study

IPCC report cover

The nation’s largest and most influential daily news outlets give voice to increasingly troubling assessments from world’s leading group of climate scientists. Some say the general ‘tone’ of the climate discussion is changing.

“The world has never been spoken to quite this way.”

It’s the opening sentence NBC News anchor Brian Williams used in kicking-off his top-ranked prime-time evening news show on March 31.

“Bleak” is the term NBC used to point readers of its web site to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

Williams also invoked the “clear and present danger” term in his on-air lead-in to environmental correspondent Anne Thompson. He said “so many countries” are now convinced, in his words, that “unless the world changes course quickly and dramatically, the fundamental systems that support civilization are at risk.” (The next day, the network’s website posted a piece asking if the IPCC report is “too apocalyptic” … and giving mixed-message responses.)

In terms of boldness, Williams’ evening news coverage stood out from that of his ABC and NBC network competitors, but all three gave substantial attention, by their standards, to the latest IPCC report, not all using it to lead-off their programming that day of its official release. In the days and weeks leading up to the official March 31 release, they and others had reported also on early leaks.  (The Climate Progress website, headed by Joe Romm, on April 2 had an interesting post showing IPCC report coverage and lack of adequate coverage on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.)

IPCC report cover

For several large daily metropolitan newspapers considered as either national outlets or at least as leading regional papers, the IPCC report, the second of four comprising the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, clearly qualified as a big story  It came on the very day U.S. media were juggling major stories involving the last 2014 sign-up day under the new health care law; continuing wall-to-wall coverage of the missing Malaysian Flight 370; a fatal mudslide outside of Seattle; and continuing tensions in Ukraine and Crimea also in the Korean peninsula.

One element that somewhat distinguishes coverage of this IPCC report from those that came before it, and indeed distinguishes the report itself from its predecessors, is an increased focus on risk management as an approach for managing challenges of a warming climate. The report and much coverage of it also addressed a need for more adaptation and mitigation efforts, with both key to managing excessive risks.

Those are among factors a number of climate communications practitioners are saying they think…and hope…the overall tone of the climate dialogue is beginning to shift from the raucous and often nonsensical “is it happening” and “are humans responsible?” focus dominating the past several decades in the U.S. Those thinking and hoping that is the case are pointing to a number of important climate communications efforts — including more reports from IPCC, the upcoming National Climate Assessment, and the Showtime “Years of Living Dangerously” series (see related story).

Leading Newspapers’ Coverage of New IPCC Report

For The New York Times, Justin Gillis described the study as “among the most sobering yet issued by the scientific panel.” The Times played the report as its page-one lead story.

So too did The Washington Post. The paper reported the scientists’ advice that policymakers and business leaders “must invest more to cope with climate change’s immediate effects and hedge against its most dire potential,” while working still to slow emissions of greenhouse gases.

USA Today, headlining that effects of climate change now are “seen everywhere,”* but opened its coverage with a sentence cautioning that “the gap between the latest science on climatic change and government action to cut greenhouse gas emissions remains large.” The paper also highlighted a theme repeated in numerous other media reports: effects are showing up in “all parts of the globe” and additional adaptation efforts must take proceed even while efforts to mitigate emissions merely inch forward.

From The Los Angeles Times, readers learned from a page-one, below-the-fold story that climate change impacts are being “felt globally and risks are rising … already affecting every continent and ocean, posing immediate and growing risks to people,” to food and water supplies, and to security and economic growth. Impacts also included, the paper reported, worsening prospects for “hunger, drought, flooding, wildfires, poverty, and war.”

The Wall Street Journal’s October 31 coverage, beginning below the fold on page one, reported that IPCC found impacts on humans and natural systems to be “world-wide,” with the extent of those impacts to be determined by efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The paper reported the IPCC concern that “without action, hundreds of millions of people could be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss” by 2100.

Excerpts from the papers’ leading news stories, along with links, follow. In addition, excerpts from two March 31 Associated Press reports filed by Seth Borenstein from Yokahama also are included, as most newspapers rely on the wire service rather than their own correspondents for coverage of such news.

An upcoming piece will review the same news outlets’ editorial reactions to the new IPCC report.

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Climate Change Already Exacts Extensive Toll, U.N. Panel Says
by Justin Gillis (March 31, 2014)
Page 1, Above the fold, left column

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty.

In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday presenting the report.

The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the scientific panel. The group, along with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released in Berlin in April, leaked in the last few months.

THE WASHINGTON POST
U.N. climate panel: Governments, businesses
need to take action now against growing risks

By Steven Mufson (March 30, 2014)
Page 1, Above the fold

The world’s leading environmental scientists told policymakers and business leaders Sunday that they must invest more to cope with climate change’s immediate effects and hedge against its most dire potential, even as they work to slow the emissions fueling global warming.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that climate change is already hurting the poor, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure of coastal cities, lowering crop yields, endangering various plant and animal species, and forcing many marine organisms to flee hundreds of miles to cooler waters.

But the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group said that climate change’s effects will grow more severe and that spending and planning are needed to guard against future costs, much as people insure themselves against possible accidents or health problems.

The report said that damage from climate change and the costs of adapting to it could cause the loss of several percentage points of gross domestic product in low-lying developing countries and island states. It added that climate change could “indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence” by “amplifying” poverty and economic shocks.

The summary of the report, ratified at a five-day meeting in Yokohama, Japan, avoided specific forecasts or timetables or cost estimates, but it described a range of likelihoods and outcomes in an attempt to give decision-makers the tools to set priorities to combat those effects.

USA TODAY
Report: Effects of climate change seen everywhere
Doyle Rice (March 31, 2014)

Climate change is affecting all parts of the globe, and the gap between the latest science on climatic change and government action to cut greenhouse emissions remains large, according to a sweeping U.N. report out today.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts … on all continents and across the oceans,” according to a landmark report released early Monday in Yokohama, Japan, by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s most comprehensive climate change report ever created.

The devastating effects of recent extreme events and extreme weather disasters also prove that our ability to adapt to a changing climate is low, according to the report.

If left unchecked, the report finds that climate-change risks include:
* Coastal flooding, which will devastate areas near the shore.
* Widespread hunger due to warming, drought and severe downpours.
* Damage to big cities because of inland flooding.
* Extreme weather and storms, damaging some of the things we take for granted, like electricity, running water and emergency services.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, co-chair of the group that prepared the report. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face.”

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
Climate change is felt globally and risks are rising, U.N. panel says
The effects will be more severe and widespread if greenhouse gas emissions
aren’t cut, the report by scientists from 70 nations warns

By Tony Barboza (March 31, 2014)
Page 1, Below the fold, headline only

Climate change is already affecting every continent and ocean, posing immediate and growing risks to people, an international panel of scientists warned Monday.

The longer society delays steps to cut the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases, the more severe and widespread the harm will be, said the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report, which collects and summarizes thousands of scientific studies, is the panel’s starkest yet in laying out the risks facing nature and society.

Global warming threatens food and water supplies, security and economic growth, and will worsen many existing problems, including hunger, drought, flooding, wildfires, poverty and war, says the report by hundreds of scientists from 70 countries.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” panel Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at a news conference in Yokohama, Japan, where the 2,500-page assessment was presented.

As the Earth warms, snow and ice are melting, rainfall is shifting, heat waves are growing more intense and water supplies are being strained. Plants and animals are moving to cooler areas, and in a few cases, have gone extinct because of climate change, the report says.

Oceans are rising and growing more acidic, hurting marine life and threatening coastal residents with more destructive storms. By century’s end, climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people and cause trillions of dollars in damage to the world economy, the scientists say.

One of the panel’s most striking new conclusions is that rising temperatures are already depressing crop yields, including those of corn and wheat. In the coming decades, farmers may not be able to grow enough food to meet the demands of the world’s growing population, it warns.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Climate Change Impact Is Wide, U.N. Says
Scientists Call for Swift Action on Greenhouse Gas Emissions
by Alexander Martin (March 31, 2014)
Page 1, Headline only, Below the fold

TOKYO — Global warming is having an impact on human and natural systems world-wide, scientists warned in a report Monday, calling for swift action to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

The report, released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the second portion of a four-part report, and follows the September release of the first portion, which focused on scientific evidence for global warming.

“What happens in terms of impact of climate change in different parts of the world will be determined to a large extent [by how much] we are prepared and able to mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gasses,” IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri said.

The report said that besides an increase in global average temperature, climate change was having a widespread impact on everything from water resources to food production and weather patterns.

It said that without action to address the problem, by the year 2100, hundreds of millions of people could be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss.

“Impacts from recent extreme climatic events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires, show significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to climate variability,” the report warned.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
UN Panel: Warming Worsens Food, Hunger Problems
By Seth Borenstein (March 31, 2014)

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Global warming makes feeding the world harder and more expensive, a United Nations scientific panel said.

A warmer world will push food prices higher, trigger “hotspots of hunger” among the world’s poorest people, and put the crunch on Western delights like fine wine and robust coffee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in a 32-volume report issued Monday.

“We’re facing the specter of reduced yields in some of the key crops that feed humanity,” panel chairman Rajendra Pachauri said in press conference releasing the report.

Even though heat and carbon dioxide are often considered good for plants, the overall effect of various aspects of man-made warming is that it will reduce food production compared to a world without global warming, the report said.

The last time the panel reported on the effects of warming in 2007, it said it was too early to tell whether climate change would increase or decrease food production, and many skeptics talked of a greening world. But in the past several years the scientific literature has been overwhelming in showing that climate change hurts food production, said Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution of Science and lead author of the climate report.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Global Warming Dials Up Our Risks, UN Report Says
By Seth Borenstein (March 31, 2014)

YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — If the world doesn’t cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral “out of control,” the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

And he’s not alone. The Obama White House says it is taking this new report as a call for action, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying “the costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued the 32-volume, 2,610-page report here early Monday, told The Associated Press: “It is a call for action.” Without reductions in emissions, he said, impacts from warming “could get out of control.”

One of the study’s authors, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, “If we don’t reduce greenhouse gases soon, risks will get out of hand. And the risks have already risen.”

Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report’s authors said.

“We’re now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical,” said the overall lead author of the report, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. “We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential.”

Nobody is immune, Pachauri and other scientists said.

* Editor’s Note:  This sentence was edited to reflect the comment below from the writer of the USA Today story.

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2 Responses to Major News Outlets: Somber Reporting on ‘Bleak’ IPCC Study

  1. Doyle Rice says:

    Hi – Thanks for this article and for mentioning my USA TODAY story from March 31. It was indeed on the front page of USA TODAY that day, I can e-mail you a PDF if you want. (You said that it wasn’t, but maybe you were referring to the home page of usatoday.com?) It was likely on the home front at some point.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Doyle Rice

  2. Charles Mac Arthur says:

    this is the last month of my 85th year.
    Born in 1928, in April, when the world population was only 1.2 billion.
    When I was in the fourth grade my two brothers and I selpt out on the screened-in in side porch of our home in Dansville, New York. summertimes until snow fell. We watched for the for the Milky Way display of our gallaxy on every moonless and cloudless night, and there it was, but now very rarely.
    On th 4th of July I can remember Civil War Army Veterans riding in a open car in the town Parade. Child labor paid 10 cents an hour pulling onions. a triple dip ice cream cone was 15 cents. Captain Eddy Allen, with our help, inflated his smoke balloon down at the airport with our help, rode it up hundreds or thousands of feet hanging from a trapeze, cut loose and rode his parachute back to earth.
    During World War Two I was in High School in Leesville, Louisiana and during the summer got a job as a helper on a truck route servicing Coca-Cola machines at Camp Polk, a training camp for Armored divisions destind to fight Germany. I was 15, had just finished my sophomore year in high school. I was called in the office and offered the job, because I knew the loction of all the machines on the route, because Louisiana had no driver’s license, and probably because my skin was white.
    In 1960 we had three children, but lived in Connecticut, where “birth control” was against the law, so we drove to Bennington Vermont where Dr. Hammond performed a $65 office Vasectomy. What was the world population in th summer of 1960?
    Vasectomies are much more expensive now. and the world population has passed 7.3 billion. We have exploded over SIX times in just one lifetime.