Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | September 21, 2009

Climate week

As Jim Bruggers of The Courier-Journal in Louisville noted on his blog, it’s “climate week” in the U.S.

Meetings this week in New York and Pittsburgh are supposed to lay the groundwork for a major climate change convention in Copenhagen in December.

The “COP15” treaty is meant to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never adopted. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:

2009 is a crucial year in the international effort to address climate change. A series of UNFCCC meetings are taking place thoughout the year, designed to culminate in an ambitious and effective international response to climate change, to be agreed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen, 7-18 December.

A New York Times story last week described the climate change efforts as lacking leadership. No one wants to take the lead for fear of being criticized back home:

The negotiations for a new climate change agreement to be signed in Copenhagen in December are badly stalled. With the agreement running more than 200 pages — including what negotiators estimate are a couple of thousand brackets denoting points of differences — diplomats and negotiators fear that the document is too unwieldy to garner a consensus in the coming months.

But a Reuters story today said U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer has predicted that China will become the “world leader” on addressing climate change. Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to announce policy measures on greenhouse gas emissions at the New York meeting on Tuesday.  China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, with the United States in second place.

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | September 9, 2009

Are the media objective?

Traditionally, the mainstream media try to be objective. But what is objectivity, anyway? Especially when it comes to covering climate change?

How would you answer these questions? I’m curious.

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | August 27, 2009

Regional climate change effects examined

More and more news articles are reflecting a new wave of research about regional impacts of climate change. These articles make climate change seem like a real-time, local concern, instead of some distant threat.

One of the latest examples is a story from Reuters this week. It cites a study at the University of California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Bouts of extreme muggy heat lasting for days, once rare in California, are becoming more frequent and intense due to ocean patterns altered by climate change, scientists said in a study released on Tuesday.

The article talked about a “feedback loop” in ocean currents currents that produces higher temperatures and greater humidity. The combination of heat and humidity keeps temperatures elevated at night, instead of cooling down like they usually do.

According to the story:

The phenomenon highlights the importance of water vapor in climate
change — accounting for more than 80 percent of the atmosphere’s
heat-trapping “greenhouse” effect, compared to 12 percent for carbon
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Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | August 24, 2009

Cash for Clunkers ending; will it help the environment?

The popular Cash for Clunkers program ends today. Customers flooded auto dealers to take advantage of $4,500 rebates on older, gas-guzzling vehicles when they purchased a newer, more fuel-efficient car.

The program certainly was a boost for the ailing auto industry. But did it help the environment?

A number of journalists have taken on this question, and the answer seems to be no, not much.

NPR aired a story over the weekend casting doubt on the environmental benefit.

“The program has been wonderful for the economy, but it’s been only a middling success for greenhouse gas emissions,” Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School’s new Center for Climate Change Law tells Weekend Edition host Liane Hansen.

Gerrard said other strategies for reducing carbon emissions would have been cheaper and more effective.

Earlier, The Los Angeles Times reported that the  program is leaving some of the most polluting automobiles on the road. Cars built before 1984 are excluded from the program because of lobbying efforts by classic car interests. Madeleine Brand spoke with L.A. Times reporter Ken Bensinger about the story.

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | August 24, 2009

Back from vacation

If you’ve noticed a definite lack of posts lately, it was because I was in summer vacation mode. We were in Erie, PA on a family trip, and it was lovely.

Now I’m back and getting ready to go for the fall semester. I teach journalism at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY, and I’ll be having my students create their own blogs this semester. See you in the blogosphere!

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 24, 2009

The Drive Less Challenge this week: Bike as SUV?

Last Saturday, I took my son Alex to our wonderful farmer’s market using our bike and trailer.

The trailer has enough storage space in its rear pocket to turn my bike into a virtual SUV on two wheels. Get a load of all the stuff I was able to haul home:

  • Six ears of corn
  • One dozen eggs
  • Three tomatoes
  • Three peppers
  • Five squashes
  • Half a pound of cheese
  • Two cookies
  • A pound of coffee
  • Two pints of blackberries
  • A peck of peaches
  • One watermelon
  • AND a 25-pound baby boy!

Surprisingly, the trailer pulls like a dream. I didn’t even notice the extra weight. But I did get a good workout.

I’ve been able to do more and more errands by bike now that my wheels are outfitted for cargo. My bike has collapsible rear baskets that fold up when not in use. My bike trailer is made by Wike, a small team of folks in Canada. The company builds trailers to haul golf clubs, canoes, surf boards, cargo, even pets – so there’s no excuse to have to drive!

So, here’s the drive-less challenge for the week: Can you run ONE errand this week without using your car? Maybe go to the grocery store, the library, the hardware store? Or maybe walk or bike to the park or the gym?

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 18, 2009

Results are in – best climate change coverage

Thanks for all the responses to my query on who has the best climate change coverage! While it was certainly no scientific poll, I did get answers from some esteemed colleagues at the Society of Environmental Journalists through the SEJ listserv, in addition to those of you who saw my question on Twitter or here on my blog. It took me a while to post because I wanted to make sure I had permission to include everyone’s comments.

So, in no particular order, here are the shout-outs for Best Coverage of Climate Change:


  • The New York Times was a favorite; one person called its coverage “fabulous.” Andy Revkin was the top vote-getter here, while reporters John Broder and Matthew Wald were also mentioned.  (But of course there was disagreement: one person said the NYT coverage was “hit or miss.”)
  • The Associated Press reporters Dina Cappiello (policy) and Seth Borenstein (science) were faves.
  • The Wall Street Journal got a shout out for its coverage of the business perspective on climate change, particularly reporters Stephen Power and Ian Talley.
  • The Chicago Tribune’s Jim Tankersley was called “probably the strongest mainstream reporter on the beat” by one person.
  • The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s Ken Ward was mentioned as “the go-to-guy for impact on and feedback from the coal fields.”
  • Reuters got a mention for its “consistent coverage.”
  • Two UK publications were mentioned: The Guardian, self-described as “the world’s leading liberal voice” and the Financial Times


  • Darren Samuelsohn at Greenwire is “all over” climate change legislation, according to several sources. (Although the site requires a subscription, some of his stories can be found on the NY Times’ Green Inc. blog.)
  • BNA (Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.) was mentioned. Check out its page for comprehensive coverage.


As one respondent noted, “The best sources I’ve found for coverage of climate politics aren’t the mainstream media.”


  • The Daily Climate publishes links to the day’s best stories on climate change,

SPECIFIC STORIES – only two were suggested as context/explainer pieces

So — whom did we miss? Anyone who should be added to (or deleted from) this list? Any comments on coverage?

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 16, 2009

Who has the best coverage?

Climate change will continue to be in the news this fall, with the ongoing debate over President Obama’s plan in Congress, discussion in the G-8 summit, and the upcoming U.N. conference in Copenhagen.

To help me track news coverage, I’m asking for recommendations.

If you are a journalist covering these stories, or if you track them out of professional or personal interest, I’d appreciate your suggestions:

  • What journalists/ news organizations do the best job of coverage?
  • Have you seen any particularly noteworthy stories so far? I’m especially looking for explainers/context pieces.

Please post your suggestions in the comments section. Thanks!

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 13, 2009

Monday Drive-Less Challenge

I’ve decided to challenge myself and my friends to drive less one day a week.

I posted the challenge on Twitter:

“Can you park your car and ride your bike, carpool, take transit, or walk one day a week? I did!”

Today, I took my son Alex to day care using my bike with the bike trailer attached, then ran two errands before heading home. Total mileage: 8. Calories used: Let’s guesstimate 300. (Maybe enough to make up for the peach cobbler I ate last night?) Gasoline used: none. Knowing I created zero emissions and got my exercise for the day: Priceless!

According to the federal government’s Fuel Economy Web site, each gallon of gasoline you burn creates 20 pounds of CO2. Vehicles account for 51 percent of the typical household’s CO2 emissions.

Household CO2 Sources

I will repeat this challenge at least once a week. Care to join me?

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 10, 2009

Pew survey: Public, scientists disagree about climate change reality

It’s not really surprising to hear that the general public and scientists have different views of climate change. But a new Pew survey spells it out.

The recent survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. Find details here.

It found that 84 percent of scientists say that Earth’s climate is warming thanks to human activity, such as burning fossil fuels. But just 49 percent of the public surveyed agreed with that statement.

More specifically, most Americans (85%) say the Earth is warming, but a little less than half (46%) think it’s due to human activity; about a third (36%) think it’s due to natural variation; and about a tenth (11%) see no convincing evidence of global warming.

By contrast, 84% of scientists say the earth is warming because of human activity; only 10 percent say it’s due to natural changes, and just 4 percent say there’s no evidence of climate change.

According to the survey results, 70 percent of scientists regard global warming as a very serious problem, compared to 47 percent of the public.

The study also found a strong correlation between political party and views on global warming. A majority of Republicans say the warming is natural or not happening at all, whereas most Democrats say the warming is man-made. More college graduates also believed in human-caused climate change, whereas high school graduates were more divided.

Scientists weren’t terribly keen on media coverage. Most scientists said the news media did not distinguish legitimate findings from illegitimate ones, and about half said the media oversimply scientific findings.

The survey also included a 12-item quiz about general scientific knowledge. To take the quiz online, click here.

Read coverage of the survey in the New York Times here.

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