This week, my Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism colleagues and I will be up in New Hampshire covering the first presidential primary in the 2020 election season. And one thing we’ll be watching for is how much emphasis candidates and the media that cover them put on any discussion of global warming. Because—like over 350 fellow news outlets in the Covering Climate Now consortium, including DigBoston—we believe that human-induced climate change is the biggest threat facing the United States and the world. So any candidate who doesn’t take that crisis seriously is not a serious candidate in our estimation… and, by the same token, any news organization that attempts to minimize global warming is not a serious news organization.
Thus it was with great concern that I read an article in the Jan 30 Boston Globe— fairly similar to a New York Times article a couple of weeks previous—entitled “Not to jinx anything, but where is winter? We’re in a major warm patch.”
I was not discomfited because there was anything technically wrong with the piece. Its authors did their research and interviewed appropriate experts.
But two things bothered me about the story. First, its title and general thrust seemed positive about the idea of an unusually warm January. Which is nothing to celebrate.
Second, and more damning, there was no mention of global warming or climate change anywhere in the article. An unconscionable omission by the Globe at the start of a new geological age experts are now calling the Anthropocene—in honor of humans now being the dominant force affecting the Earth’s climate and environment—whether it was the fault of the reporters or their editors.
Naturally, I can already hear critics parroting back to me what the author of the Jan 12 New York Times piece “If the Calendar Says January, Why Does the Thermometer Say May?” managed to toss in to her conclusion in an attempt to forestall critiques like mine: “Before anybody says ‘global warming,’ though, a reminder about the difference between the climate and the weather. The world is clearly getting hotter overall, experts say, making some kinds of weather events more frequent and more severe. But there is no direct link between those long-term global trends and the short-term fluctuations we experience in the weather from day to day and season to season—not the record warmth of the past few days, and not the next arctic cold snap to sweep through, either, whenever it may come.”
Lamentably, the Times author hadn’t been keeping up with the latest science. Because just days before, the Washington Post published an article, “The signal of human-caused climate change has emerged in everyday weather, study finds,” that explained such a link has been found.
The bleeding-edge study in question was just published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Nature Climate Change and “concludes that the spatial patterns of global temperature and humidity are, in fact, distinguishable from natural variability, and have a human component to them,” according to the Post. “Going further, the study concludes that the long-term climate trend in global average temperature can be predicted if you know a single day’s weather information worldwide.”
While the new line of research still has a ways to go before being broadly accepted by the scientific community, it’s now looking like weather does indeed tell us a lot about accelerating global warming.
As such, it’s more unfortunate than it would otherwise be that the Globe, the Times, Boston Magazine, and too many other news outlets—especially TV news shows—chose to make light of an unusually warm January when humanity has just experienced the warmest decade since systematic record keeping began in the late 1800s.
A recent article by sometime Democratic Party leadership mouthpiece Media Matters for America framed the problem with such news organizations surprisingly well when it said, “By far the most important challenge for mainstream news media is overcoming their ongoing failure to produce consistent, substantive reporting connecting the science of climate change to its rapidly unfolding consequences. While 2019 marked an important shift in climate coverage, many of the largest outlets in print, broadcast, and cable news still hesitate to connect the dots between our warming world and extreme weather events, and they rarely treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves.”
That shift was only possible because hundreds of news outlets on their own or as part of initiatives like Covering Climate Now have decided that the imperative of humanity’s survival outweighs any vestigial concerns about journalists being able to maintain some kind of fantastical neutrality on matters of existential import like global warming. All of us have, therefore, committed to covering climate issues much more frequently and telegraphing an appropriate sense of alarm at the continued inaction by governments, corporations, and other major societal institutions. The better to rally the world’s population behind the dire need to stop the average global temperatures from going higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2030. And to force world leaders to act before it is too late.
A news outlet that, like the Globe, is willing to brush off the strong possibility that the warm January we just experienced is not merely a fairly normal occurrence that we’ve seen many times in the last hundred years, but is instead driven at least in part by global warming, is a news outlet that is unlikely to pressure presidential candidates to take stronger stances on said crisis.
And in an election year, the last thing we need is a supine press that refuses to take candidates to task on such an important matter.
Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2020 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.