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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The global warming Hot List for 2014

A look through The Daily Climate's archives offers a peak at the trends likely to influence climate coverage and politics in the year ahead.

By Peter Dykstra, The Daily Climate

Coal-summit-520Last year was one for trend-setters and trend-buckers in climate news. Tracking the year through the Daily Climate archives, it's easy to spot 2013's winners and losers – climate change's version of nerds and prom kings, arena acts and wedding singers. These are the people and issues who will – and will not – be driving the news in 2014. This is not peer-reviewed. 

Hot: Government anti-science

Did you hear the one about the Polish government hosting a pro-coal conference and a climate change summit at the same time? At the United Nations' Warsaw meeting, Japan announced that it would jettison its carbon reduction goals, blaming the post-Fukushima loss of nuclear power. 

Australia's new Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who once called climate change "absolute crap," is working at top speed to dismantle climate change and clean energy programs as his nation set new temperature records and his top business advisor went medieval on climate science

His Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, continued his purge of Canadian government science and his pursuit of Alberta's oil sands, casting an image of Canada as OPEC's future perennial hockey champions. 

In the United States Texas Republican Lamar Smith took the reins of the House Science Committee, where 17 of its 22 Republican members do not believe in man-made climate change.


Not: Trolls

In 2013, several organizations put Internet trolls in time-out for childish and non-fact-based behavior in comment strings and published content.

The Los Angeles Times letters editor imposed a journalistically reasonable policy of making sure that published letters are factual. He singled out climate change as an issue where this often doesn't happen. The Sydney Morning Herald soon followed suit. The venerable Popular Science did away with web comments almost entirely. And one of the content moderators for reddit.com's science forum said the site will crack down on uncivil behavior and unsupported climate claims. 

Referring to both climate skeptics and advocates for climate action, reddit moderator Nathan Allen said it all: "No topic consistently evokes such rude, uninformed, and outspoken opinions as climate change."

Hot: Trains

BNSF-450A booming oil industry, bottled up by safety concerns and opposition to new pipelines, took to the rails to ship its product. But they didn't always stay on the rails, as fiery wrecks plagued rail lines in Alabama, North Dakota and, in deadly fashion, at Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec. 

Rail lines also hope to help a struggling coal industry. As domestic coal use wanes, Big Coal sees opportunity in exports to China and other coal-hungry nations. Proposals to sharply increase coal-train traffic and build massive export terminals in the Pacific Northwest have spawned significant opposition, but the industry has huge support on Wall Street, where U.S. andCanadian rail stocks are cleaning up.

Not: Nuclear

Wall Street is holding its nose on nuclear power. A mix of safety concerns and cheap gas prices prompted earlier-than-expected closures of reactors across the United States, while problems and cost overruns accrued at the few newly-planned units in the Southeast. 

Florida's Crystal River nuke plant is among the casualties. The plant was built for $400 million and functioned for 36 years. Its shutdown and cleanup will cost $1.18 billion and take 60 years. 

Hot: Labels

The Daily Climate archives tallied 105 mentions of "deniers" in news stories or opinion pieces in 2011. It jumped to 181 in 2013, a 76 percent rise. On the other side of the spectrum, we found 44 pieces using the "alarmist" label in 2011; it jumped to 56 last year, a 27 percent jump.

Not: The Three Horsemen of There-Won't-Be-a-Climate-Apocalypse

gaga-200Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, gone from his perch as a leader of the Senate Environment Committee, stands his ground in describing climate change as a "hoax," but without a platform, he's fading. From a high of 60 news mentions in 2011, the Senator showed up 19 times this past year, a 68 percent drop.

Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish economist who acknowledges man-made climate change but revels in finding reasons not to worry about it, rallied a bit in 2013 news mentions, but fell 41 percent short of his peak year in 2010.
Lord Monckton, the theatrical British peer and emphatic denier, also hibernated in 2013, sinking to six mentions. Of added concern to His Lordship is that another peer, Lady Gaga, was only two mentions behind in 2013. 

Hot: Non-profit climate journalism

In addition to the Pulitzer won by Inside Climate News, not-for-profit climate journalism flourished in places like Climate Desk, the collaboration of Mother Jones, the Guardian and six other publishers. 

Likewise in the biggest, oldest news nonprofit, the Associated Press. AP has seen opportunity in the demise of beat reporting at so many of its newspaper members. Case in point is Beth Daley, the Boston Globe veteran who jumped to the nonprofit New England Center for Investigative Reporting

And on a purely self-serving note, visits to The Daily Climate were up 81 percent last year.

Not: Climate journalism on TV

A study by the liberal watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting displayed a disconnect between TV's fascination with extreme weather and their temerity about asking whether climate change is a factor. Six percent of extreme weather stories dared mention the climate amidst a wealth of weather disasters.

By this point it goes without saying that Fox News remains a hotbed of climate denial, despite past statements by owner Rupert Murdoch and no-spin icon Bill O'Reilly that climate change is both real and worrisome. Meanwhile, CNN's Piers Morgan continues to cast the existence of climate change as utterly debatable, bringing on uber-denier Marc Morano at least four times since December 2012. 

By way of full disclosure, I should mention that I used to work for CNN. But if this keeps up, I'll have to start denying that I ever did.

Peter Dykstra is publisher of the Daily Climate and its sister publication, EHN.org. You can contact or follow him on Twitter at @pdykstra. 

Photos, from top: Protesters at the World Coal Summit in Warsaw, courtesy Greenpeace International. BNSF coal train heading out of Saginaw, Texas, courtesy Roy Luck/flickr. Lady Gaga courtesy Lady Gaga.


The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service that covers climate change. Find us on Twitter @TheDailyClimate or email editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org.