This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.
Journalism is usually at its best in the wake of disaster.
The tragic scenes we are seeing on the airwaves and in the newspapers in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy are a bitter testament to that. Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors.
At its best, the media also excels in helping explain the causes of a disaster in the days and weeks that follow. Good journalists help us answer the question that’s always the same: Why?
Bloomberg Businessweek does it the best in its latest edition, with its simple but painfully poignant cover story, "It’s Global Warming, Stupid."
"Yes, yes, it's unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change," writes Paul M. Barrett, assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. "Men and women in white lab coats tell us -- and they're right -- that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.
"Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater."
In the New York Times, from the heart of our latest weather disaster, Pulitzer-prize winning author Nicolas Kristof explains it further after interviewing climate scientists.
Climate change is warming our oceans, altering our weather patterns and causing sea levels to rise, as Kristof explains. Those conditions, in turn, add fuel and energy to storms – super-charging monster storms like Sandy while simultaneously increasing the chances of flooding.
(According to NOAA, ocean temperatures in September tied with 1997 as the second highest for September for as long as records have been kept. Off the Northeast United States, ocean temperatures are about five degrees above average. Sea level rise from Boston to Norfolk, Va., meanwhile is rising four times faster than the global average).
On television, NBC’s Chuck Todd -- echoing statements from New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, put it point-blank:
"Let's not bury our heads in the sand when it comes to -- something has changed in the Atlantic,” Todd said. “The climate has changed. It's called climate change, folks.”
NBC science correspondent Robert Bazell, meanwhile, points out how storms like Sandy could be the new normal.
Of course, some media outlets more concerned with stirring up dissent and controversy that with reporting the truth went the other direction.
On Fox News, Stuart Varney and friends irresponsibly continue to report that there is no consensus among climate scientists that humans are helping causing climate change. Fox’s stocks editor even suggests climate change could be caused by “solar flares” or “Mars wobbles.”
Varney, whom I once respected as a business journalist back when I was a business journalist myself, goes on to make Sandy and its devastation a political issue. “Democrats are already blaming it on -- climate change,” he says.
Fittingly, Frontline, the PBS news program that is considered a hallmark of good journalism, recently aired an illuminating piece, "Climate of Doubt" that explores the disinformation campaign surrounding climate change. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t.
Here’s the bottom line.
Some people – including some in the media -- can continue to deny climate change and deny its role in intensifying weather disasters such as freak storms like Sandy; unprecedented droughts and heat waves; monster tsunamis or abnormal snowfall.
But thankfully, responsible media outlets are doing their job. They show us the scenes of devastation and despair caused by extreme weather disasters. They chronicle the undeniable trends in global warming. They explain the facts.
And along the way, they show us what we all know is true:
This is what climate change looks like.