Objective Journalism or Pro-Environmentalist PR?

"The Cost of an Overheated Planet" dominates the front page of the Tuesday Business section, accompanied by a cliched graphic of a Planet Earth with a giant thermometer stuck into it.

Reporter Steve Lohr is no less certain that global warming exists, as he celebrates the head of an energy company who favors federal regulations on carbon dioxide emissions.

"The iconic culprit in global warming is the coal-fired power plant. It burns the dirtiest, most carbon-laden of fuels, and its smokestacks belch millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.

"So it is something of a surprise that James E. Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, a coal-burning utility in the Midwest and the Southeast, has emerged as an unexpected advocate of federal regulation that would for the first time impose a cost for emitting carbon dioxide. But he has his reasons.

"'Climate change is real, and we clearly believe we are on a route to mandatory controls on carbon dioxide,' Mr. Rogers said. 'And we need to start now because the longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive this is going to be.'

Lohr sees a dispute only on one side of the story - the side that assumes as fact that global warming is a dangerous, man-made phenomenon.

He throws in some excited speculation. "But how would those goals be achieved? Global warming can be seen as a classic 'market failure,' and many economists, environmental experts and policy makers agree that the single largest cause of that failure is that in most of the world, there is no price placed on spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

"Yet it is increasingly clear that there is a considerable cost to carbon dioxide emissions, especially to future generations, as climate specialists warn of declines in farm output in poor tropical countries, fiercer hurricanes and coastal floods that could make many people refugees."

Lohr goes so far as to posit global warming as a national security issue: "Some academics see an analogy between a global warming policy and the pursuit of national security in the cold war. In the late 1950s, American military spending reached as high as 10 percent of the gross domestic product and averaged about 4 percent, far higher than in any previous peacetime era. A Soviet nuclear attack was a danger but hardly a certainty, just as the predicted catastrophes from global warming are threats but not certainties."

As Lohr doesn't quote a single dissenting voice, his story becomes a debate between those who favor government regulating emission levels and those who prefer the government tax companies that exceed a certain level.

As the Business and Media Institute's Ken Shepherd puts it,at the Times "balanced reporting on global warming is just a matter of how better to run up your cost of living: higher taxes or more regulation."

Also on Tuesday, Jeffrey Gettleman brought a global warming tidbit from Africa: "Ethiopia alone has lost approximately 500 people to the rains. Many climatologists blame global warming for the erratic weather, which brought drought last year and left the earth as hard as concrete - and as impervious." Last month Gettleman placed part of the blame on global warming for the fighting in Darfur.

Not only is the Times covering environmental issues on a slant - it's even getting involved in the campaigns themselves, doing public relations work for environmentalists. In the Sunday Week in Review, Jeremy Peters wonders why no public service campaigns about energy conservation, then proposes some.

"ENERGY conservation has been linked with more than its fair share of ambitious causes: preserving American liberty and saving humanity, for starters.

"If ever an issue was ripe for one of those ubiquitous, can't-get-it-out-of-your-head public service slogans, one would think that this is it.

"But advertisers and the federal government aren't rushing to produce a public service campaign along the lines of 'Only you can prevent forest fires' and 'This is your brain on drugs,' which have become part of the national consciousness. The New York Times enlisted three advertising agencies known for their creative flair to take a shot.

"The assignment was to imagine that the Ad Council, the nonprofit organization behind some of the most memorable public service announcements, has asked them to create the definitive campaign to promote energy conservation."

Finally, on Wednesday science reporter Andrew Revkin files an alarmist pieceon climate change, based on a study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The headline: "By 2040, Greenhouse Gases Could Lead to an Open Arctic Sea in Summers."

Revkin's lead sentence: "New studies project that the Arctic Ocean could be mostly open water in summer by 2040 - several decades earlier than previously expected - partly as a result of global warming caused by emissions of greenhouse gases."

In contrast, a Nexis search indicates the Times has yet to weigh in on a less alarmist draft report this week from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In it, the panel reduces its overall estimate of the human impact on global warming by one-fourth, and halves its prediction for rises in sea levelsby the year 2100.

Perhaps such an ambivalent study just doesn't fit into the dramatic narrative the Times wants to promote: A dangerously warming planet.