Yale Climate Connections: “On New IPCC Report, Views of the WSJ Differ Greatly from Those of Other Dailies.” [General Commentary]
Summary of initial comments [updated 4/28/14]:
Dr. Andreas Schmittner: “I’ve seen worse misinformation regarding climate change coming out of WSJ than that.”
On New IPCC Report, Views of the WSJ Differ Greatly from Those of Other Dailies
Now that it has been almost 3 weeks since the release of the new IPCC report on climate impacts, a number of the editorial boards of the nation’s major daily newspapers have weighed in on the report. For a quick impression of their reactions, here’s a list of some of the headlines and first few paragraphs of the editorials:
1. Washington Post: ‘The new IPCC report shows that work to limit climate change must begin now‘
HUMANS ARE having a hard enough time coping with the natural variability in our environment, which causes disasters such as heat waves, wildfires and floods. Just wait until climate change makes all three of those problems — and many more — worse.
That was the stern warning from the world’s scientific community last week, in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The U.N.-chartered body produced its first comprehensive report since 2007 on the changes that might accompany a rising global temperature and on humanity’s potential to cope with them. It isn’t encouraging. A more rational Washington wouldn’t have needed this document to formulate a better plan for handling the many risks; that would have happened long ago. It’s a measure of the country’s dysfunctional debate on global warming — primarily the fault of Republican cynicism or senselessness — that many lawmakers want no such plan and will ignore this document, as they have many before it. …
2. Los Angeles Times: ‘Climate change is here, now. Will the world act?‘
There’s a new tone in the latest report on climate change from the United Nations‘ expert organization on the subject. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change doesn’t just forecast the usual sweeping changes that are likely to occur as the planet warms, the kinds of warnings the public has heard (and often ignored) for decades. The report released Sunday goes further by pointing out alarming signs of what is happening already. In a rational world, it would be more than enough to propel world leaders into action. …
3. Wall Street Journal: ‘Second Climate Thoughts — The latest U.N. report tones down the alarmism but ramps up the bad economics.’
The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest mammoth report last week, and the effort marks an improvement over the IPCC’s last such effort in 2007. That may not be saying much, but on climate change intellectual progress of any sort is worth commending.
The IPCC’s “Fifth Assessment Report,” or AR5, is generating the usual alarmist headlines: “Impacts on All Continents, Worse to Come” was typical. That’s 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.
So it’s worth diving deeper into the report, where a much more cautious picture of the state of climate science comes into view. Gone are some of the false alarmist claims from the last report, such as the forecast that the Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035 or that hurricanes are becoming more intense. “Current data sets,” the report admits, “indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.” Recall the false claims of climate cause and storm effect last year after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.
Absent, too, are claims such as the one made in 2005 that global warming would create 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010 (later pushed back to 2020). In its place, we have the refreshingly honest admission that “current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather events and predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.” …
4. New York Times: ‘Climate Signals, Growing Louder‘
Perhaps now the deniers will cease their attacks on the science of climate change, and the American public will, at last, fully accept that global warming is a danger now and an even graver threat to future generations.
On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that since 1990 has been issuing increasingly grim warnings about the consequences of a warming planet, released its most powerful and sobering assessment so far. Even now, it said, ice caps are melting, droughts and floods are getting worse, coral reefs are dying. And without swift and decisive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources, the world will almost surely face centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas, species loss and dwindling agricultural yields. The damage will be particularly acute in coastal communities and in low-lying poor countries — like Bangladesh — that are least able to protect themselves. …
5. USA Today: ‘As globe warms, adapt and mitigate: Our view‘
As a piece of literature, the latest report from the United Nations’ expert organization on climate change is no John Grisham page-turner. Pulled together by 309 authors and editors from 70 countries, the document released this week brings to mind the saying about a camel being a horse designed by committee.
Despite the turgid prose, excessive acronyms and bewildering flow charts, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes an important contribution, most notably with its new emphasis on adaptation.
Three key takeaways:  Global warming is here, now and, yes, global. The list of horribles likely to occur if greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked is already familiar to anyone who has been paying attention. Rising sea levels. Displacement. Disease. Food shortages. Violent confrontations over resources. …
Did you catch a deviation from the norm? This article by The Yale Forum on Climate Change Media definitely did. Here’s their write up (reprinted in full with permission by their editor):
On New IPCC Report, WSJ Views Differ Greatly from Those of Other Dailies
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.
The New York Times’ editorial board wondered if those it labeled as “deniers” now will “cease their attacks on the science.” The Timeseditorial 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.
Similarly, 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.
“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.”
The 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.”
The 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.
This article was reprinted in full with permission of Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Original article published April 8, 2014.