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Environment

Navigating a Climate Minefield

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Andrew Freedman of the WaPo's Capital Weather Gang nicely captures my philosophy:

I've never been a fan of absolutes. People who espouse rigid beliefs - be they about climate change, religion, or politics (or a mix of all three) - instinctively make me question their evidence. As a reporter, I tend to see things in varying shades of gray, rather than black and white, and I gravitate towards stories that are full of nuance and complexity, where absolutes are rarely, if ever, to be found.

Freedman goes on to examine the biggest minefield in climate reporting and commentary today--the one populated with nebulous linkages between extreme weather disasters and global warming. It's a tricky terrain that trips up a lot of people, he says:

Many journalists, politicians, and climate scientists have run into trouble by portraying the links between climate change and extreme weather in stark terms, rather than shades of gray.

I have a small quibble with the link he provides for "journalists," because it's to an infamous 2005 opinion piece by Ross Gelbspan, rather than an actual news story. There are always going to be advocacy journalists who would prefer to paint in black and white, which is fine, so long as a piece like that is labeled as "opinion." For the purposes of his post, it would have been more helpful if Freedman had provided examples of stories by beat reporters that ran into this "trouble" or even of those that successfully communicated the complexity of the extreme weather/global warming linkages. Fortunately, Curtis Brainard takes up the challenge in a CJR post. He found that many reporters covering two recent high-profile studies (here and here) in Nature did, in fact, include caveats that reflected the complexity of the research findings. He also offers some good advice on how to navigate this minefield:

as reporters plumb the depths of weather-climate connections, they should repeat this mantra: evidence, nuance, complexity, uncertainty; evidence, nuance, complexity, uncertainty.

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