Opinion

Honest Journalism On Climate Change Flirts With NYT, Gets Rejected

After reporting on its uncertainty, The New York Times published a report Monday declaring as “fact” the role of global warming in transforming recent hurricanes into “superstorms.”

“[T]he fact that oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the heat is propelling storms into superstorms has become as sensitive as talking about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting” writes Lisa Friedman, reporter at the climate desk for The Times. “For scientists, drawing links between warming global temperatures and the ferocity of hurricanes is about as controversial as talking about geology after an earthquake”

Two destructive hurricanes – Harvey and Irma – produced two contradictory reports from The New York Times. One declared with utmost certainly that an increase in global temperatures is to blame for the severity of the storms. The other, was shockingly even-handed in its assertion that climate change could make storms worse, but there is little data to prove it.

“As to whether climate has somehow made this year worse, the links between climate change and hurricane activity are complex and there are still many uncertainties” reports Harvey Fountain, the climate change reporter for The Times. “Part of the problem, scientists say, is that there are just not that many storms.”

The conflicting reports both refer to “scientists,” with Fountain’s report citing Dr. Gerry Bell tasked with forecasting seasonal hurricanes at the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. Dr. Bell’s job literally entails forecasting and predicting hurricanes and their severity.

“We’re seeing the activity we predicted” Dr. Bell said, according to Henry Fountain’s report, referring to the hurricane activity in the Gulf and the Atlantic. “This is the peak” he continued. “This is when 95 percent of hurricanes and major hurricanes form.” Fountain reported that Dr. Bell and his team predicted that this hurricane season would be a “busy one, and that’s how it’s playing out.”

That didn’t stop Fountain’s colleague, Lisa Friedman, from citing two scientists in academia that “are among a group of Florida scientists who confronted Governor Rick Scott in recent years for his refusal to acknowledge that human-made greenhouse gases are driving climate change.”

Friedman’s report wouldn’t carry the stain of bias had she incorporated less politically active scientists, like those not involved in climate change advocacy. Or at the very least, contrasted their conclusions with less politically motivated scientists.

“President Trump has derided climate change as a hoax” writes Friedman after exclaiming that the same scientists that confronted Florida Gov. Rick Scott, also sent a letter to then-candidate Donald Trump to discuss the consequences of climate change. “It is critical to use the megaphone that the dual devastation of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma has provided” she continued.

Whether or not climate change actually played a role in the intensity of the storms seems to matter little to Friedman. “It’s unclear whether experiencing powerful storms will change minds” she writes, treating climate change’s impact on hurricanes that occur during hurricane season as a forgone conclusion.

Interestingly, Friedman makes no mention of Fountain’s report on Dr. Bell’s work at NOAA actually predicting these storms and their accuracy in doing so. Not only were their predictions accurate, they don’t take into account climate change in their forecasts.

“A 2015 study published in the journal Climatic Change found Americans experiencing extreme weather events are not necessarily more concerned about climate change” Friedman continued.

Perhaps that’s because there is no conclusive evidence that’s the case.

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