Thursday, July 15, 2010

Some days, you get the bear

This past Saturday was a nice day when reading through the Herald. There were two news stories pertaining to weather, particularly specific instances of warmth, and both matter-of-factly mentioned their relationship with climate change. It was so nice to see just the facts and neither any sort of contrived controversy nor hat tips to fringe elements who do not want to believe the facts.

The first article started below the fold on page 1. It was a small, actually rather non-"newsy" piece from AP science writer Randolph Schmid. Mostly it just noted some of the observed weather extremes across the US in June. But early in the article it said,
Nationally averaged, June was warmer than normal, a pattern that has been continuing in recent years as greenhouse warming caused by industrial and other emissions increases.

Exactly! Emissions are driving warming and a hotter than average month is obviously completely consistent with this. No need to add in qualifiers or hedges as so often seen, such as 'emissions that some scientists say may contribute to possible warming', just like there is no need to mention gravity with qualifiers like 'a force that some scientists suggest may play a role in keeping people from floating off the surface of the earth'.

The other article was more in-depth. It was another AP piece, this time on the unusual warmth of Lake Superior this summer. It basically reported on researchers efforts in monitoring the Lake's temperatures. That there is global warming occurring is simply taken as a given by the researchers, which is quite sensible since all the evidence points that way.

It is noted how the researchers have found Lake Superior water temperatures have gone up at twice the rate of air temperatures over recent decades. The researchers said that it had been thought that there was no sort of "memory" in those water temperatures from the previous year, but the evidence said otherwise. The article describes the positive feedback mechanism,
They say there's a self-perpetuating correlation: The warmer the air and water, the less ice forms. The less ice, the warmer the water gets. Then less ice forms next winter.

Nice! It is a very small scale study, yet still people could accidentally learn some science if they were not careful reading that article.

Overall the media do a poor job conveying accurate information about climate change, and the Herald is quite typical in this regard. Even if there is not anything unseemingly driving purposeful poor or misleading coverage, start with perhaps poor communication from scientists and add journalists who are not knowledgeable on the subject and thus try to achieve some sort of balance that does not exist, and the result is writing that often fails to accurately portray the science.

But days like one noted give me hope the trend in the media (including in the Herald) is in the right direction. Just like the temperature trend, though continuing upward in the long-term, will have short-term slips and downswings, I know the coverage and op-ed pages (including in the Herald) will have their mealy-mouthed confusion and gibberish. Maybe though such instances will become rarer and the quality of climate information will gradually improve so that people will become better-informed, whether they like the facts or not.

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