Weird weather stole the headlines in Western newspapers this winter. We read about a mudslide in the Grand Canyon, Seattle’s jet stream showing up in southern Utah, and the appearance of shorts in Bozeman, Mont., in February. The weather has been downright bizarre, and the media have been there to report every dramatic detail.
But the press has made
remarkably few attempts to answer the one question on almost
everyone’s lips: Is this global warming at work?
Reporters shy away from the question for good reason. For starters,
as HCN Contributing Editor Michelle Nijhuis
reports in this issue’s cover story, there is no easy answer.
Climate scientists say with near certainty that we are warming the
planet with our cars and factories and power plants, but they
can’t pin specific storms or strange seasons on global
warming. It’s one thing to write about the weather;
it’s another thing to leap into the bigger, more complicated
story of climate.
There are also bad reasons behind the
media’s avoidance of the question. Global warming has become
a political hot potato. The Bush administration continues to wave
the final shred of scientific uncertainty about the causes of
global warming as an excuse not to worry about it. (To assuage
fears and marginalize critics, the administration has always dodged
the term "global warming" in favor of the more benign-sounding
"climate change." At a recent United Nations conference, U.S.
emissaries took it one step further, insisting on using "climate
variability.") This has driven many journalists away from the
topic, for fear of being branded as liberal Cassandras. It
doesn’t help that industry-funded think tanks and right-wing
political commentators gleefully attack those who take the issue
HCN is no stranger to this
particular spotlight, so we decided to see if we could dig up some
answers to the question that is still hanging in the air. Besides,
we thought we might jinx the situation by putting it down on paper.
In my hometown in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, locals hankering
for a big dump of snow head to the carwash en masse. Scrub the road
salt off of the old Subaru, and you’re guaranteed to be
spinning your wheels through a foot or two of the fresh stuff in a
matter of days.
So far, HCN’s
metaphorical carwash seems to be working. A week before the
publication of this story, the weather in the Northwest did an
about-face. It’s doubtful that the late-winter rally will
make a dent in the drought, but after being closed for several
weeks, some resorts in the Cascades opened for a few days of spring
Can HCN claim responsibility?
That’s tough to prove. But we like to think we’ve done