photo: Patrick Feller/CC BY
Here at TreeHugger while we're well aware that in the moment it's difficult to ascribe how much climate change is influencing any single extreme weather event, we're also confident in making the climate connection. Not so much with mainstream media, as a new article by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) in Think Progress details.
In covering the multiple, back to back, extreme weather events, ranging from blizzards to fires to floods, droughts, and record-breaking heat waves, the US has seen in 2011, most mainstream media outlets have often missed the big picture. Instead they've focused on the immediate damage or the easy contrast of flooding in the northern Great Plains juxtaposed against nearly unprecedented drought in Texas.
The original article goes into point-by-point analysis of what was said versus what could have been said, and I encourage you to go into that level of detail, but here's the main summary of the situation:
By mid-June, more than 1,000 tornadoes had killed 536 people (NOAA, 6/13/11), nearly as many deaths as in the entire preceding decade. And it was only natural to ask: Were we seeing the effects of climate change?
Most scientists would say yes, or at least "probably." The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change [sic], a global scientific body that has been a target of conservatives despite a record of soft-pedaling its findings to avoid controversy (Extra!, 7/8/07), warned on February 2, 2007, "It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent." (In science-speak, "very likely" refers to a certainty of greater than 90 percent, and is as near as you get to a definitive conclusion.) Other forecasts (e.g., Environment America, 9/8/10) have projected that wet regions will receive record rainfall thanks to increasing evaporation, while dry ones get record drought, as climate patterns shift to accommodate the new normal.
Yet despite these dire predictions, U.S. media were hesitant to investigate the links between climate change and this spring's extreme weather. Much coverage settled for the cheap irony of contrasting extreme phenomena...