NY Times Thinks (Hopes?) El Niño Floods, Landslides Will 'Re-Energize Climate Activists'

May 20th, 2014 5:57 PM

Hooray for havoc? The New York Times's new Upshot project got unusual prime print placement for its Tuesday story predicting – hoping? -- that disasters accompanying the upcoming weather event El Nino could boost prospects for climate change legislation. It will "probably increase global temperatures, perhaps to the highest levels ever...offering vindication to maligned climate models and re-energizing climate activists." Evidently floods and landslides are a small price to pay for that.

Nate Cohn's "How El Niño Might Alter the Political Climate" came complete with an online slide show and a text box: "A new wave of warming that could shape the debate for a decade, or longer."

Cohn, who previously worked for the liberal New Republic, wrote in Tuesday's page 3 story:

El Niño is coming. Above-average sea surface temperatures have developed off the west coast of South America and seem poised to grow into a full-fledged El Niño event, in which unusually warm water temperatures spread across the equatorial East Pacific. Models indicate a 75 percent chance of El Niño this fall, which could bring devastating droughts to Australia or heavy rains to the southern United States.

The debate over climate change, however, brings additional significance to this round of El Niño, which will probably increase global temperatures, perhaps to the highest levels ever. It could even inaugurate a new era of more rapid warming, offering vindication to maligned climate models and re-energizing climate activists who have struggled to break through in a polarized political environment.

He reluctantly admitted what skeptics have pointed out:

For a decade, climate scientists have battled a public-relations challenge: Even though atmospheric temperatures are higher than at any time in the past 4,000 years, surface temperature increases seem to have slowed down since 1998. The planet has gotten warmer over the last decade, but climate change skeptics have used this so-called hiatus or pause in warming to take aim at the accuracy of the climate models, which appeared to predict more significant warming than has so far happened.

Cohn saw a bright side in El Nino:

But this year’s El Niño might represent a turning point. The oscillation between El Niño and La Niña, El Niño’s cold-water cousin, is part of the reason for slower atmospheric warming. Sea surface temperatures in the Pacific rise during El Niño and ultimately heat up the atmosphere in what Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, calls a “mini” global warming event. The reverse happens during La Niña.


The return of El Niño is likely to increase global temperatures. Mr. Trenberth believes it is “reasonable” to expect that 2015 will be the warmest year on record if this fall’s El Niño event is strong and long enough.

That could make a difference in the battle for public opinion. One-third of Americans don’t trust climate scientists, according to Jon Krosnick of Stanford University, and they make their decisions about climate change “based on very recent trends in warming.” Belief in warming jumps when global temperatures hit record highs; it drops in cooler years.

He's relying on the liberal media to hype higher temperatures.

As El Niño returns heat from the oceans to the atmosphere, the ensuing spike in global surface temperatures could earn considerable news media attention, especially if record-setting global temperatures coincide with the extreme weather events typically brought by El Niño.

But El Niño has the potential to do more than offer a one-time jolt to climate activists. It could unleash a new wave of warming that could shape the debate for a decade, or longer. In this chain of events, a strong El Niño causes a shift in a longer cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which favors more frequent and intense El Niños during its “warm” or “positive” phase. The oscillation has been “negative” or “cool” since the historic El Niño of 1998.

Cohn sounded strangely eager for landslides and flooding, if it also meant a flood of votes for liberal politicians:

A sustained period of faster warming won’t convert skeptics into climate change activists. But the accompanying wave of headlines might energize climate change activists and refocus attention on climate change heading into the 2016 presidential election. Those headlines could include landslides in Southern California, or widespread floods across the South.

The timing could provide an uncomfortable backdrop for Republican presidential hopefuls who are skeptical of climate change, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who recently said he did not believe human activity was causing climate change....

The science section got into the climate change act as well, with the front of Tuesday's Science section dominated by Kenneth Chang's melodramatic piece on melting glaciers, "The Big Melt Accelerates."