WSJ somewhat commends latest IPCC report on climate change impacts, but reads the report far differently from four other major daily newspapers finding the report far more concerning than comforting.
Five national or major regional newspapers whose news reports were reviewed in a recent Yale Forum posting on coverage of the IPCC’s Working Group II impacts assessment have editorialized on the report since providing their initial news coverage of it.
Perhaps to the surprise of few who have followed coverage of climate change, the editorial views of four of the dailies differ substantially, in tone and in substance, from those of The Wall Street Journal. So much so that one might be excused for wondering if all five were actually reacting to the same report.
The New York Times’ editorial board wondered if those it labeled as “deniers” now will “cease their attacks on the science.” The Times editorial called the new report IPCC’s “most powerful and sobering assessment so far.” Combined with a report two weeks earlier from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, the Times editorial wondered if the combined momentum from the two “could build public support for President Obama’s efforts to use his executive authority to limit greenhouse gases.” It pointed to “virtually no disagreement” among scientists on whether Earth’s atmosphere is warming.
Similarly, The Washington Post editorial on the latest IPCC report found that “It isn’t encouraging.”
The Post pointed to the need for “a more rational Washington” and pointed also to “the country’s dysfunctional debate on global warming — primarily the fault of Republican cynicism and senselessness.” It sited some potentially beneficial impacts of a warming climate but said those “shouldn’t be comforting,” and it said that experts “leave little doubt” about the need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
“Adapt and Mitigate” captures the editorial response of USA Today. The paper opined that the report itself is “no John Grisham page-turner,” and it lamented “the turgid prose, excessive acronyms, and bewildering flow charts.” At the same time, the daily’s editorial board characterized the new report as “an important contribution, most notably with its new emphasis on adaptation,” and it said the “the threat [posed by climate change] isn’t just distant and theoretical” but rather quotes the report’s language that those threats are occurring “from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.”
The paper also backed moving away from “the tired debate about the science” and said “every day spent on arguments about whether man-made climate change is real is a day better spent on mitigation and adaptation.”
The Los Angeles Times found “a new tone” in the IPCC report and particularly the report’s “pointing out alarming signs of what is happening already.” While reasonably debating details about impacts is fine, “the time for debating whether it will have a serious impact is long past,” the L.A. Times editorialized. Much smarter, it said, to dialog on how best to reduce the severity of impacts by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and examining “which steps we should take first to reduce the effects that we are already too late to stop.”
Wall Street Journal editorial writers, unlike those of the four dailies mentioned above, took a distinctly different tack. The Journal said the new report “marks an improvement” over IPCC’s 2007 report, but added: “That may not be saying much, but on climate change intellectual progress of any sort is worth commending.”
The paper said “the usual scare headlines” on the report are “partly a function of what the IPCC frontloads into the 28-page ‘summary for policymakers,’ the only portion of the report that most politicians or journalists ever bother reading, and that is sexed up for mass media consumption.”
The Journal editorial board reported finding “a much more cautious picture” in the rest of the voluminous report, and found it “more cautious about temperature predictions.” It found the new report vindicating its 2007 objections to “claims that the science of global warming is settled,” and said IPCC is at last, in its view, “toning down the end-is-nigh rhetoric” of its previous reports.
The paper did, however, claim that IPCC “turns out to have an agenda that’s less about climate change than income inequality and redistribution.” Panning the IPCC’s call for more funding for adaptation, especially in developing countries, the Journal editorial wrote: “If one Solyndra wasn’t enough, try underwriting thousands of them. Preferably in third-world countries.”
“The best environmental policy is economic growth,” the Journal argued. “The richer you are, the more insurance you have,” and wealth pays for prudent environmental regulations.
Despite its concerns with the IPCC report as its editorial writers saw it, the paper concluded by writing: “After this report, we’ll at least treat [IPCC's] views on climate science with a bit more respect.”
Whether that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of “respect” is mutual appears problematic, given the long-standing ill-regard for WSJ climate change editorials among many in the climate science field. As one example, Climate Nexus, in New York, posted a commentary pretty much dismissing the paper’s editorial out of hand. The climate communications organization wrote that the Journal editorial “distorts and cherry-picks” the IPCC report in an effort to say it “walks back on climate alarm.” Far from it, Climate Nexus wrote.