New York Times – How many Americans are facing imminent sea level rise – right at home? Try 3.7 million (or…about 307 million are not)

Climate Central, the centrist, science-allied nonprofit that makes it its purpose to bang the drums for public attention to climate change as real and serious (see its self-description here), got a tremendous boost today. It is a New York Times front page story by seasoned climate reporter Justin Gillis. He got this out late yesterday, a slight jump on the competition in covering CC’s report, by its own people, analyzing the United States’s vulnerability to rising sea level.

I’ll get to the roundup momentarily. A few readers may sit up a bit straighter upon reaching the section in which Gillis turns for comment to the “handful of climate researchers who question the scientific consensus about global warming.” Specifically, his quotes from a prominent climate change skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute will draw attention. From this source one hears that the models behind the forecast have no forecasting ability, so we should not go spending scads of money preparing for sea level rise. Hmm. Is this an example of false balance – the habit mass media supposedly have of squaring off the opinions of a vast majority of climate specialists with those of skeptics who have little personal expertise in research or data analysis in climatology? I have long argued there is little such  false balance – in which scientists are put at the same level of credibility as people who are mainly not scientists –  practiced by experienced reporters and major news outlets. But little does not mean none.

I’d give Gillis a pass. The primary role this source plays in the story is to reveal an important consensus across a wide spectrum: The CEI’s flinty eyed man agrees with land use and coastal erosion specialists with pertinent PhDs that the government should stop bailing out people who live at low altitudes near the shore where ocean surges hit their properties. Landowners should pay full freight for private insurance, if they can get it. That would be a powerful redirection of policy, should it occur. If it has bipartisan support it belong in the piece. Personally, I’d rather have seen a hint from Gillis that his source is talking through his hat when it comes to the reasons for, and scientific study of, climate change. The man’s formal training was in economics and he is a longtime warrior and insider for such things as the 1990s western US  Wise Use movement that had (still has, I guess) more regard for near-total freedom of property owners than for just about any government conservation law. However, the zoning and insurance angle is worth having. And, we’ve saluted Gillis before for his employment of real, not false, balance.

The news itself is not so much surprising as more detailed than what has come before. The interactive tools Climate Central has developed give the public a new way to sense the hazards from rising sea levels. I have not gotten familiar with Princeton-based (the town, not the university) Climate Central other than as a refuge for a few of the journalists left adrift by recent staffing reductions at big newspapers and news magazines.  It is edifying to look at the background summary of CC’s president, Paul Hanle.

It’s been a while since very many US metro papers, other than a few bigs, bit on national science news. This one gets several takers.

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This article was originally published on New York Times – How many Americans are facing imminent sea level rise – right at home? Try 3.7 million (or…about 307 million are not)

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