If the U.S. media refuse to make the connection between record breaking wildfire, drought, and heat waves and human-caused global warming, why would anyone be surprised if the U.S. public doesn’t put it as a higher priority or make the connection itself (see here)?
Australia knows it’s facing climate-driven impacts that threaten it with complete collapse (see here). AFP (French international media) get this: “Australian wildfire ferocity linked to climate change: experts.” So does Reuter’s climate change correspondent in Asia: “Australia fires a climate wake-up call: experts.”
I saw the CNN and ABC stories, and you can read the AP’s stories, which have been published in the Washington Post and NY Times (though the NYT redeemed itself, see below). The media love a good calamity of Biblical proportion:
“Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters as he toured the fire zone on Sunday.
But for the vast majority of the U.S. media, you won’t find any mention of global warming driven heat wave or drought as the underlying cause of this calamity. ABC’s Charles Gibson said “the worst wildfires in Australian history” were “part natural disaster” and “part man-made crime” because arson is suspected in some of the fires. No, Charlie, the natural disaster is not entirely natural, so this is mostly a man-made crime.
The AP story in the Washington Post ends lamely:
Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Government research shows about half of the roughly 60,000 fires each year are deliberately lit or suspicious. Lightning and people using machinery near dry brush are other causes.
Contrast that to AFP, which leads their story with:
Australia is naturally the most fire-prone continent on earth but climate change appears to be making the wildfires that regularly sweep across the country more ferocious, scientists said Monday.
The story also contains the warning:
Research by the Bureau of Meteorology and the government science organisation CSIRO predicts the number of days when bushfires pose an extreme risk in southeastern Australia could almost double by 2050 under a worst-case climate change scenario.
The Reuters Asia story notes:
Some analysts say the fires were predictable and that climate scientists have been warning for years about Australia’s vulnerability to rising temperatures and declining rainfall across much of the nation’s south.
“I would compare this current bushfire event to one of the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol that visits Scrooge and showed him what his future would be like if he didn’t change his ways,” said professor Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide.
Hmm. Maybe Prof. Brook reads ClimateProgress (see here). I’ll have to track down his email address and send him a query.
As an aside, while one part of Australia is burning like “Hell in all its fury,” some readers note the incredible flooding in Queensland: “60 percent of the state is under water!”
WATER water everywhere … gigalitres of water gush over the Burdekin Falls Dam spillway as rain relentlessly falls on far north Queensland.
See, for instance, the story, “Far north Queensland in chaos after heavy flooding.”
So, yes, the point of this semi-digression is that Australia is simultaneously experiencing hell and high water.
The New York Times ran a much better story today than their earlier AP-inspired stories, no doubt because “Andrew C. Revkin contributed reporting from New York.” The story noted:
The firestorms and heat in the south revived discussions in Australia of whether human-caused global warming was contributing to the continent’s climate woes of late — including recent prolonged drought in some places and severe flooding last week in Queensland, in the northeast.
Climate scientists say that no single rare event like the deadly heat wave or fires can be attributed to global warming, but the chances of experiencing such conditions are rising along with the temperature. In 2007, Australia’s national science agency published a 147-page report on projected climate changes, concluding, among other things, that “high-fire-danger weather is likely to increase in the southeast.”
The flooding in the northeast and the combustible conditions in the south were consistent with what is forecast as a result of recent shifts in climate patterns linked to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research.
So kudos to the NYT for a much more complete story then most everyone else in the U.S. media. Too bad the story is on page A9, the paragraphs cited are at the very end, and the headline is “Australia Police Confirm Arson Role in Wildfires.”