Thursday, August 5, 2010

Climate, Weather and the Media

There is an excellent blog post on the Economist's 'Democracy in America' blog about the media's handling of two weather events of the last year: the snowstorms and the Russian fires.  He presents an analogy of coverage of weather as part of climate change to coverage of the WWII on the Eastern Front: a small German victory in 1943 shouldn't have been mistaken as anything other than the exception to the rule of "the Red Army advancing implacably across western Russia in 1943-44." 

I've written two posts in the last two days about Russia's heat, so I don't have much more to say on that.  In the western media, M.S. is right that there has been vanishingly little efforts to link the fires and drought to climate change, but the Russian media has not had such a problem: in fact, one commentator went so far as to blame the drought on the US military's 'climate change weapons'.  I should also note that other countries similarly have no problem calling a single event evidence of climate change: Pakistan's Environment Minister recently said that global climate change is to blame for this year's flooding and heavy rains.  Likewise, Nigeria's Environment Minister said “The effects of climate change have been wide spread in Nigeria."

Perhaps it is because of the tradition of presenting both sides in a news article that our media is reluctant to cover it in this way - but I think that is a false balance.  As M.S. said, if something is part of a larger trend (as these droughts are) then it should be presented in that way.  

In addition, there are new studies showing that abnormally cold weather in the northern hemisphere (as we had last winter) may actually be a factor of an abnormally warm arctic.  If that turns out to be the case, last winter wasn't actually an exception, it was just another example of the trend: global warming is happening at an accelerated rate, and we should not expect the weather of the future to be analogous to the weather of the past.

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