For Former NYT Environmental Reporter, It's Apocalypse Now for the Climate

An essay in Tuesday's Science Times by retired Times environmental reporter William Stevens doesn't show much journalistic skepticism regarding global warming ("On the Climate Change Beat, Doubt Gives Way to Certainty").

Stevens, who retired from the Times in 2000, is convinced: "Back then I wrote that one day, if mainstream scientists were right about what was going on with the earth's climate, it would become so obvious that human activity was responsible for a continuing rise in average global temperature that no other explanation would be plausible.

"That day may have arrived.

"Similarly, it was said in the 1990s that while the available evidence of a serious human impact on the earth's climate might be preponderant enough to meet the legal test for liability in a civil suit, it fell short of the more stringent 'beyond a reasonable doubt' test of guilt in a criminal case.

"Now it seems that the steadily strengthening body of evidence about the human connection with global warming is at least approaching the higher standard and may already have satisfied it.

"The second element of the sea change, if such it is, consists of a demonstrably heightened awareness and concern among Americans about global warming. The awakening has been energized largely by dramatic reports on the melting Arctic and by fear - generated by the spectacular horror of Hurricane Katrina - that a warmer ocean is making hurricanes more intense."

Is Stevens implying that the "spectacular horror" of Katrina could have been due to global warming? It was not that particularly strong a hurricane (a Category 3, out of 5) and only local inaction regarding neglected levees (which can't be blamed on climate change) turned it intoa tragedy.

"In several respects, the panel's conclusions have gotten progressively stronger in one direction over almost two decades, even as many of its hundreds of key members have left the group and new ones have joined. Many if not most of the major objections of contrarians have evaporated as science works its will, although the contrarians still make themselves heard."

Just not in the New York Times.

Stevens clutched at anecdotal evidence, suggesting any strange future weather event is a possible sign of global warming: "There have been widespread increases in the frequency of 'heavy precipitation events,' even in areas where overall precipitation has gone down. What this means is that in many places, it rains and snows less often but harder - well-documented characteristics of a warming atmosphere. Remember this in the future, when the news media report heavy, sometimes catastrophic one-day rainfalls - four, six, eight inches - as has often happened in the United States in recent years. Each one is a data point in an trend toward more extreme downpours and the floods that result.

Stevens concluded on an apocalyptic note: "It has been pointed out many times, including by me, that we are engaged in a titanic global experiment. The further it proceeds, the clearer the picture should become. At age 71, I'm unlikely to be around when it resolves to everyone's satisfaction - or dissatisfaction. Many of you may be, and a lot of your descendants undoubtedly will be.

"Good luck to you and to them."