Major TV news networks are derelict in their duty to provide vital climate change context on U.S. heat waves

By Tom Yulsman | July 13, 2018 6:10 pm
The Sun has burned down with unusual intensity during recent heat waves along Colorado's Front Range. I shot this image with my iPhone in June during a particularly hot run. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

The Sun has burned down with unusual intensity during recent heat waves along Colorado’s Front Range. I shot this image with my iPhone in June during a particularly hot run. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

It has been an unpleasant few weeks here in Colorado.

Brutal heat and air pollution have made many of my daily runs along trails like the one above challenging — to put it mildly. Recurrent poor air quality has taken a particular toll.

Yours truly, during a particularly hot run near Niwot, CO in late June.

Yours truly, during a particularly hot run near Niwot, CO in late June.

Smoke from eight major wildfires burning in Colorado — more than anywhere else in the contiguous United States right now — has mixed with urban air pollutants and been cooked by the unrelenting sun into a nasty, stagnant atmospheric stew.

That sound you hear while you’re reading this is me coughing.

I am, of course, not alone in my misery. Not by a long shot. Large swaths of the United States and Canada too have been beset with heat wave conditions over the past few weeks. All-time high temperature records have been tumbling, and unfortunately, people have been dying.

Science has shown pretty conclusively that human-caused climate change has made heat-waves like these more frequent, intense and long-lasting. Yet the response from major broadcast news networks has been, well, crickets.

More specifically, a survey by Media Matters for America shows that while ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat waves, only one (on CBS This Morning) mentioned climate change.

As a journalist who covers climate change, and an educator who teaches budding journalists how to do it (I direct the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado), I think these news networks are failing egregiously.

Daily departures of maximum temperature from normal, June 23-July 10, 2018. (Note: Some days are missing. Source: NOAA NCEI) June 10 - July 10, 2018

Daily departures of maximum temperature from normal, June 23-July 10, 2018. (Note: Some days are missing. Images: NOAA NCEI. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Research has shown that heat domes, areas of high atmospheric pressure that send the mercury soaring, have become stronger in recent decades. For example, a 2016 study by meteorologists at the National Weather Service and Pennsylvania State University found that the Northern Hemisphere had experienced an increase in the intensity of summertime heat domes between 1979 and 2010.

In a July 9 story, the Washington Post’s Jason Samenow reports on an analysis showing that heat domes surpassing a particularly high threshold of intensity have grown much more common since the 1950s. The analysis reveals that nearly all of the heat domes exceeding that threshold in the Western United States “have occurred since 1983 — with the overwhelming majority forming since 1990,” Samenow writes. (Please see his excellent story for the details.)

Observed changes in the occurrence of record-setting daily temperatures in the contiguous United States. Red bars indicate a year with more daily record highs than daily record lows, while blue bars indicate a year with more record lows than highs. The height of the bar indicates the ratio of record highs to lows in red, and of record lows to highs in blue (Source: NOAA/NCEI)

Observed changes in the occurrence of record-setting daily temperatures in the contiguous United States. Red bars indicate a year with more daily record highs than daily record lows, while blue bars indicate a year with more record lows than highs. The height of the bar indicates the ratio of record highs to lows in red, and of record lows to highs in blue. (Source: NOAA/NCEI)

Similarly, a major report released in 2017 as part of the U.S. National Climate Change Assessment reached this conclusion — with very high confidence:

There have been marked changes in temperature extremes across the contiguous United States. The frequency of cold waves has decreased since the early 1900s, and the frequency of heat waves has increased since the mid-1960s. The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s remains the peak period for extreme heat. The number of high temperature records set in the past two decades far exceeds the number of low temperature records.

This context is essential if you want to fully understand the heat waves that have baked so much of North America this summer. Yet the analysis by Media Matters shows that the national broadcast news programs are not providing it. And that means a huge number of Americans are being under-informed, if not outright misinformed.

Some 26 percent of U.S. adults often went to these networks for news in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. The year prior, nearly 37 million Americans watched those shows.

Overall, though, the national broadcast news shows of ABC, CBS and NBC have been losing viewers. I wonder whether this is in part because many people realize that they are not getting the full story on issues like climate change and are turning to other sources of news as a result.

Full disclosure: I’ve given up on watching network TV news (broadcast and cable) because I prefer full, contextual reporting to the happy-talk mumbo jumbo of morning so-called “news” shows, the endless blather of talking heads on cable, and the constricted views of issues presented on broadcast evening news programs.

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  • Mike Richardson

    If network reporting is bad, the local news affiliates are even worse at it, particularly in Southern states like my own. Even when reporting the most extreme weather events, they very rarely mention the likelihood that these occurrences are influenced by global warming. I was pleasantly surprised when the local NPR affiliate was doing a report on climate change and the impact on New Orleans’ crumbling infrastructure this week. But commercial network news and its local affiliates may tend to avoid reporting on news which could offend corporate sponsors. Many of our local newscasts, for instance, are supported by petrochemical companies operating in this state.

  • pseudo-intellectual

    Overall, though, the national broadcast news shows of ABC, CBS and NBC have been losing viewers. I wonder whether this is in part because many people realize that they are not getting the full story on issues like climate change and are turning to other sources of news as a result.

    Haha

    Scientists can “prove” anything if there is enough money in it.

    No shortage of “climate change in the news” here (central Illinois)

    Maybe the public is skeptical because of 30 years of failed warmist prophesies…

    • pseudo-intellectual

      Folks would be better served by following this website (than discovermagazine)

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/07/13/why-climate-change-seems-to-have-faded-from-the-news/

      • Mike Richardson

        If they are looking for climate change misinformation and distortion of science, then yes, that would better serve them. Otherwise, not so much.

      • facepalm

        😀 “pseudo-Intellectual likes Wattsupwiththat”

        Cant make this antiscience bullshit up! 😀

      • shawkins57

        WUWT is a blog that is run by a blogger with no science degree. Try peer-reviewed evidence and credible scientific agencies.

        • pseudo-intellectual
          • Tom Yulsman

            Peer-review is certainly flawed. But the alternative seems far worse.

            Regardless of the weaknesses of peer review, there simply is no question that more than a century of science — from basic physics worked out in the mid-1980s, to literally tens of thousands of observational studies, and decades of computer modeling work, all point in the same direction. Could it all be wrong? Yes. But if you believe that it really is, I have a bridge in my home town that I’d like to sell you…

      • Tom Yulsman

        If you don’t like what I report here, please, by all means stick with WUWT. Your hardened views will never be challenged there, so I am sure it is a comfy place for you to hang out.

    • AJE

      The laws of physics and other core sciences of chemistry and mathematics CANNOT be faked and in the end the science shows the way through the process of peer-review. Go to your local accredited university or college or local library and access the bibliography index of the scientific peer-review literature. Do a search on the subject climatology…,30 years of failed warmist prophesies? Who are the warmists and what is your source?

      • pseudo-intellectual

        Reliance on the discredited peer review process is a dead giveaway of your bias.

        • facepalm

          Hell yes! Who is to trust figures like Max Planck when he can get his “information” from a failed wheatherman like Watts!!

          /s

        • AJE

          Discredited peer-review process? What is your source? Consider the following: Antarctic Journal of the US; Bioscience Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society; Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology; Journal of Atmospheric & Solar-Terrestrial Physics; Journal of Glaciology; Journal of Hydrometerology; Journal of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics; Nature (journal of); Oceanography (journal of); Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences….I could go on and on but will stop here. You make declarative statements without sources. Give the readers out there is source. Otherwise, over and out!

          • Mike Richardson

            I think “pseudo -intellectual” is a pretty accurate name in this case, and perhaps even intentional if the idea is ironically humorous trolling. At least, I hope it’s intentionally ironic.

        • Tom Yulsman

          God forbid that you ever get cancer or suffer another life-threatening medical issue (as I did recently), I hope you will have a change of heart and be thankful for the peer-reviewed science that could save you. I can say in all earnestness that without it, I myself might be dead now.

  • https://plus.google.com/111658787134687480269 Dan Pangburn

    To keep things in context, the area of the 48 contiguous states is only 1.58% of the area of the planet.

  • https://plus.google.com/111658787134687480269 Dan Pangburn

    The observation that CO2 is a ghg (greenhouse gas) is a shallow penetration of the science and means only that it has an absorb/emit band within the wavelength range of significant earth surface thermal radiation. Delving deeper, thermalization, and Quantum Mechanics calculations (Hitran does the math) demonstrate that, at low altitude, radiation absorbed by CO2 is essentially all immediately redirected to water vapor. CO2 does not now, never has, and never will have a significant effect on climate. http://globalclimatedrivers2.blogspot.com

  • Pácskaany

    To sum it up, whether it’s hot or cold, it’s because of man-made global warming.

    • Arishia

      There is more energy in the atmosphere if you sum it up over the planet, and that causes temperature swings as well as swings in other weather parameters.

      • Pácskaany

        What if I sum it up under the planet? Those naughty swingers… they’re everywhere.

  • jimgrot

    I do not get the Human caused part, I see the data on the heat but not on the reasons behind it. I think the writer has a pre-conceived anthro-centric notion about it all.

    • Damn Nitpicker

      ❝I see the data on the heat but not on the reasons behind it.❞

      There is no observational evidence that Mannkind’s emissions of CO₂ cause warming. The only such “evidence” comes from the computer models. That’s it …

      Trenberth, Fasullo, & Balmaseda 2014: ”❝Warming❞ really means heating and extra energy, and hence it can be manifested in many ways. Rising surface temperatures are just one manifestation. Melting Arctic sea ice is another.”

      Trenberth, Kevin E., John T. Fasullo, and Magdalena A. Balmaseda. 2014 “Earth’s energy imbalance.” Journal of Climate

      Shepherd, T, 2014: ”… multiple global indicators of change, including surface temperature, upper-ocean heat content, sea level, Arctic sea-ice extent, glaciers, Northern Hemisphere snow cover, large-scale precipitation patterns (especially as reflected in ocean salinity), and temperature extremes (Figure 1a,b). All these global indicators are physically linked in a direct way to the first on the list, surface temperature, …”

      Shepherd, Theodore G. 2014 “Atmospheric circulation as a source of uncertainty in climate change projections.” Nature Geoscience

  • Pácskaany

    Here’s one of the real reasons behind the cycle of changes in the climate: http://www.intelligentpeopleforum.com/threads/when-is-the-next-impact-and-whos-going-to-survive-the-following-ice-age.141/

    Seems like as long as the Jupiter is able to block out the swarms of comets/meteorites, a relatively steady warming of the Earth’s atmosphere happens… until the next impact.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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