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Media Malpractice or Enviro Tantrum?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFebruary 25, 2009 1:06 PM


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This absurd post by Joseph Romm, in which he accuses TheNew York Times of "media malpractice" due to supposed errant climate change coverage in several recent stories, reveals a doctrinaire mindset on the relationship between global warming and natural disasters that is becoming all too common in environmentalists. Romm is ticked off because, among other things, this front-page Times piece on California's drought didn't mention human-induced climate change as a "likely" factor and that another Times piece on Australia's catastrophic fires ("Australia Police Confirm Arson Role in Wildfires") was improperly headlined. Regarding the latter, let's remember that straight news coverage of major disasters tend to highlight the newsiest developments of the moment. To Romm, though, the Times headline was a missed opportunity:

Apparently, the editors believe that blaming individual bad guys is the best way to frame the story, not blaming us all for all our contribution to human-caused global warming.

So let me get this straight: Australia's tragic fires shouldn't be pinned on arson, or bad fire managment, or recent settlement patterns, or least of all, parched conditions resulting from cyclical drought, but rather all of humanity? Romm is particularly histrionic over the Caifornia drought story ("Severe Drought Adds to Hardships in California") that appeared on Monday. The Times reporter, Jesse McKinley, writes that:

The country's biggest agricultural engine, California's sprawling Central Valley, is being battered by the recession like farmland most everywhere. But in an unlucky strike of nature, the downturn is being deepened by a severe drought that threatens to drive up joblessness, increase food prices and cripple farms and towns.

To Romm, there is nothing "unlucky" about this drought. As he rightly points out, California is experiencing a record drop in snowpack and rainfall. But it is also true that California has a long history of severe, periodic droughts, some of which McKinley informs readers of later in his piece. Romm never acknowledges this larger perspective in his post. Instead, he claims there is "abundant science" that shows the currently reduced snowpack and rainfall to be "precisely what we would expect from human-caused climate change..." Not exactly. There is good science and legitimate concern that climate change will exacerbate Western droughts this century--but no smoking gun for this particular drought. That's not to say McKinley's story couldn't have been leavened with a forward-looking graph on climate change and projected linkages to future California droughts. Somehow, though, I doubt this would have satisfied Romm, who lately sees climate change behind every wildfire, drought and heat wave. In his latest rant, Romm seems to argue that any story on extreme weather should amount to a story on climate change:

In the past, I think the media and scientists felt they had to bend over backwards not to attribute any single weather event 100 percent to human-caused global warming -- but today there is no excuse whatsoever for a senior reporter at a major newspaper not reporting that what is occurring now is precisely what climate science has been predicting would happen.

Better yet, Romm advises, why even bother with mainstream newspaper reporters, when

if you want to find the best journalism now on climate -- the most science-based, the most fact-based, the most integrated and comprehensive, the most relevant to your lives and the lives of your children and the people you care about and indeed all of humanity -- you must go to the web, specifically the blogosphere.

I'm down with that. I just wouldn't advise anyone to seek out Joe Romm as your fact-based, truth-seeking guide.

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