On New IPCC Report, WSJ Views Differ Greatly from Those of Other Dailies

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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.

LogoThe 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.

LogoSimilarly, 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.

Logo“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.”

LogoThe 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.”

LogoThe 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.

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6 Responses to On New IPCC Report, WSJ Views Differ Greatly from Those of Other Dailies

  1. Peter Capen says:

    Continually denying a problem exists will not make the need of a solution go away. All it does is make the problem more intractable and costly to solve with each day that passes and nothing is done. It is a wonder that people continue to read the Wall Street Journal editorials on global warming.

    • Nullius in Verba says:

      “Continually denying a problem exists will not make the need of a solution go away.”

      True. But likewise, continually asserting a problem that doesn’t exist will not make the proposed solutions needed. The problem is that different people hold different opinions on the matter, and different newspapers cater to their respective audiences. It’s not a surprise that people still read the WSJ – they’re the ones who don’t think there is a problem.

      Both sides are equally convinced that their own opinions are based on solid science, and that the other side’s are not. The vast majority on both sides would struggle themselves to actually set out that science – the detailed physics and equations and data sets. Most people on both sides accept the word of trusted ‘experts’ on the matter without question, although differing obviously in who they regard as an expert. For most people, even many scientists, it’s a matter of blind faith.

      Until we all recognize the real problem – the fundamental symmetry at work here – solutions will elude us. However, the problem itself prevents us recognizing it: upon being told, everybody always says: “But it’s not like that! We’re right and they’re wrong!” Which is of course exactly what the theory predicted you would say.

      • @Nullius in Verba …. Even Exxon-Mobil acknowledges there is a problem, and that the global surface temperature average will top and increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, because people will not stop using fossil fuels.

        Indeed, they wrote:

        Creating a reasonable chance that the rise in temperatures stayed below 2C would mean cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent by 2050, and putting a price on carbon far in excess of levels now prevailing in the EU’s emissions trading scheme, costing the average US household thousands of dollars per year….

        • Nullius in Verba says:

          Why do you say “Even Exxon-Mobil”? Are they global warming experts? What do they have to do with anything?

          There are a lot of people who don’t think the climate is as sensitive as the models indicate, and the net economic effect of warming is likely beneficial up to 2 C above present day. The economic models indicate that even for higher temperatures where there is a cost, this is minor compared to the general rate of economic progress, and it will be cheaper to adapt.

          Humanity has always had to deal with weather disasters, and always will. Economic prosperity allows us to use technology to mitigate these risks far better than we used to, and the problem is shrinking far faster than climate change can increase it.

          It’s not a serious problem – not when considered in the context of all the other problems we have yet to address. It might – if the climate models are right – be a small additional cost. And we already know the models are not right about many other things.

          There are a lot of educated and serious thinkers who regard it in the same way as the over-population scare of the 1960s, when it was predicted that civilisation would collapse in famine, war, resource exhaustion, and ecological catastrophe before the year 2000.

          You might not agree with them – and it would be a more boring world if we all agreed with one another all the time – but there are a lot of people around who think you are wrong yet again. The end of the world is not nigh, and we’ll likely deal with any changes without even noticing we’re doing so. Plenty of people believe this, and so they read papers like the WSJ.

          Both sides think they’re right and the other side is wrong. Both sides regard their own views as backed by the more solid science. Both sides use science to make their arguments.

          Until you become aware of this, and take it into account in your communication efforts, you’ll miss every time. The sceptics are not stupid or unscientific, and they certainly pay no attention whatsoever to what Exxon-Mobil say (that’s just a silly conspiracy theory) – they just interpret and weight the scientific evidence differently. More and more people don’t care about climate change.

          Just as happened with over-population, and all the other officially sanctioned end-of-the-world scare scenarios that have been and gone over the past few decades, climate change will be forgotten in a decade or two. But these things recur – humanity doesn’t change. And it will continue to be a science communication issue. Figuring out how to deal with that would be useful.

  2. As I have noted elsewhere, fewer and fewer people are denying human-caused climate change is real, but some, including those who benefit the most, deny the profligate lifestyles of some who contribute the most greenhouse gases should in the least bit change.

    While there may have been a time in the past when mitigation of climate disruption by reducing greenhouse gas emissions might have had but a ripple upon economies, to avoid serious disruption, there is no longer any doubt adjustment to a post-fossil fuel world will have economic consequences, from reduction in jobs to greater costs. This is bad. But, in my view, and I think it has legs, this will happen anyway. Eventually, should we delay, the need for rapid reduction in consumption to abruptly decrease fossil fuel emissions will be obvious. But, on top on that, there’ll be direct damage to assets and infrastructure and energy supplies. Contrary the the WSJ’s opinion, it is not clear at all that the poorest of the world have a monopoly on the “cross sectional exposure” to this damage. It is compelling, to my mind, that enterprises, organizations, and people having lifestyles dependent upon intricate and coupled support networks also have a large cross section. This may not include the richest of the rich, but it certainly will include a big chunk of the Western upper middle class, especially those living in suburbs.

    On top of all those costs, it is possible that conditions will get so bad that it may be technically necessary to restore the atmospheric commons to something more like it is today, or was a decade ago. That cost, to establish, is estimated to exceed the one year combined of the OECD countries, with a recurring cost which is 10% of their annual combined GDP. Talk about carrying a debt!

    People can choose to go whichever way they like. I have no doubt they will eventually pay for greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a question of when.

  3. AL Hopfer says:

    The one thing that everyone can agree, is that the only people who get their articles published online to the common reader; are those who support AGW.

    The media just does not allow skeptics toward AGW have their voice heard; several articles every day.