'Worst Piece' of NYTimes Climate Reporting Ever? Justin Gillis's Christmas Day Snow Job

New York Times environmental reporter Justin Gillis took the left-wing idea of extreme weather equaling harmful global warming to heart in his front-page Christmas Day “news analysis” lamenting the Republican block of measures that would document “climate change” more closely, in “Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year.” But an environmental scientist eviscerated Gillis’s article as “perhaps the worst piece of reporting I've ever seen in the Times on climate change.”

Gillis wrote on Sunday’s front page:

At the end of one of the most bizarre weather years in American history, climate research stands at a crossroads.

Scientists say they could, in theory, do a much better job of answering the question “Did global warming have anything to do with it?” after extreme weather events like the drought in Texas and the floods in New England.

But for many reasons, efforts to put out prompt reports on the causes of extreme weather are essentially languishing. Chief among the difficulties that scientists face: the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile, and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight.

And so, as the weather becomes more erratic by the year, the public is left to wonder what is going on.

When 2010 ended, it seemed as if people had lived through a startling year of weather extremes. But in the United States, if not elsewhere, 2011 has surpassed that.

A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion.
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A major question nowadays is whether the frequency of particular weather extremes is being affected by human-induced climate change.

Climate science already offers some insight. Researchers have proved that the temperature of the earth’s surface is rising, and they are virtually certain that the human release of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, is the major reason. For decades, they have predicted that this would lead to changes in the frequency of extreme weather events, and statistics show that has begun to happen.

Gillis then blamed the GOP:


This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.

Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental scientist at the University of Colorado, eviscerated Gillis’s article from several angles:

Regular readers will know that I think that the print media overall has done a pretty good job on covering the science of climate change, if not always getting the politics right....But every once in a while I see a story that is so breathtakingly bad that it is worth commenting on. Today's installment comes from Justin Gillis at the New York Times and was published on Christmas Eve. The article is so bad that it might just be the worst piece of reporting I've ever seen in the Times on climate change.

Pielke responds sharply to this Gillis claim, among others:

A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion.

Pielke pointed out:

The article does not explain that $1 billion in 2011 is about the same as $400 million in 1980 (XLS). Nor does it explain that a $50 billion total in losses for 2011 is about exactly the same as the total in 1980, after adjusting for inflation -- however, as a proportion of the overall economy those 1980 losses were 250% larger than those experienced in 2011. That is, the equivalent 1980 losses in 2011 would be $125 billion (XLS). The article completely ignores relevant peer-reviewed research on the subject.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center . Read more: http://archive.newsbusters.org/bios/clay-waters.html#ixzz3CdgxLFgQ