Sunday, June 5, 2016

Environmental Science and Media Failures

Craig Ammerman, the last editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin before it died, once said, “there’s a lot not to miss about daily metropolitan journalism.”

And this was before it got really bad.

We had warnings. Years ago, the New York Times fired a good reporter, Phil Shabecoff, from the environmental beat.  Why?, I asked him.  “They said I was too pro-environment.”

The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyspon had an answer for that.  “Shouldn’t we be looking at the educational system that somehow allows people to not think about data, to not think about what is or is not true in the world?”

Too pro-environment?  Times editors, like everyone else, are entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. Shabecoff left the Times and wrote a brilliantly prescient book about the American environmental movement called “A Fierce Green Fire.”  Edward O. Wilson, himself a giant in environmental science, called it “a timely, wise and urgently up-to-date” contribution to  the literature of the field.

American journalism has a shabby record on environmental coverage.

The greatest crisis of our time, the man-wrought climate change on a rapidly-warming planet, happened while American newspapers, magazines and broadcast services were scrambling to, at worst, stifle the story at the behest of powerful corporate advertisers, or at best, present “ both sides” of a story that really had only one side.  Truth is the objective of good journalism.  Once arrived at, there is no need to solicit false prophets to say, “On the other hand . . .”

News organizations reported the recent flooding in Texas and in France and the abnormally early start of hurricanes on the American east coast as natural phenomena.  In fact, they are symptoms of global warming and climate change. Yet to even the most responsible media this truth is too “controversial” to report. 

Water vapor above the oceans has increased by 5% in the last 35 years. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas.  It reflects heat back to earth. The result is what scientists call a "water vapor feedback loop" that accelerates the rate of climate warming over time.

A new peer-reviewed study published last week in a scientific journal shows that global temperatures could rise more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2300. 

 The lead scientist for that study, Katarzyna Tokarska, of theUniversity of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, warned that, “if we continue to burn our remaining fossil fuel resources, the Earth will encounter a profound degree of global warming, of 6.4 to 9.5 degrees Celsius [about 11 to 17 degrees Fahrenheit] over 20th-century averages by 2300." 

Such an increase in warming, which the scientists called “a worst case scenario,” would be catastrophic for life on this planet.

Of course, weather and climate are different things.  But the relationships between  extreme weather events and long-term  climate change are too important to the future of mankind to be ignored.  They are, to borrow a phrase that itself has been tarnished by the irresponsible media, “an inconvenient truth.”

We need to learn how to recognize and think about “what is true in the world.”

No comments:

Post a Comment