In the Wednesday December 5th, 2007 issue of the New York Times appeared a story by Felicity Barringer titled “Precipitation Across U.S. Intensifies Over 50 Years.” In it, Ms. Barringer reports on a new study released by an organization called Environment America that she described as “a national group that advocates new laws and policies to mitigate the effects of climate change.” The focus of the Environment America report was on the results of an analysis they performed examining trends in “extreme” precipitation frequency across the United States (apparently Environment America has spread these results to their arms in individual states, Environment Colorado, Environment California… you get the idea). The research was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. As Ms. Barringer reported, Environment America concluded that “Across the United States, the number of severe rainfalls and heavy snows has grown significantly in the last half-century, with the greatest increases in New England and the Middle Atlantic region” and, of course, that this was just as predicted to occur from global warming. Lest you think that more precipitation is a good thing, Environment America is quick to warn that “An increase in the frequency of storms delivering large amounts of rain or snow does not necessarily mean more water will be available” and that “[w]hile it may seem like a paradox, scientists expect that extreme downpours will be punctuated by longer periods of relative dryness, increasing the risk of drought.”
That the New York Times chose to highlight the Environment America report is interesting for a number of reasons, among them: 1) the report did not appear in the scientific literature (rather it was released by an environmental organization), 2) a day prior to the Times article, a paper was published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature which concluded that “extreme” precipitation was increasing across the United States (but no mention of it was made by Ms. Barringer), and 3) a paper published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature back in 2004, also described increases in “extreme” precipitation events across the United States, but also cautioned that based upon the nature of precipitation, increases in precipitation amounts are virtually always accompanied by apparent increases in “extreme” precipitation events and thus singling out “extreme” precipitation events without discussing overall precipitation trends is alarmist by its very nature. Oh, we forgot to mention, that the two papers in the scientific literature that found increases in extreme precipitation across the U.S. included among their co-authors some folks often deemed industry-funded global warming skeptics (Brommer, Cerveny, Balling, 2007; Michaels, Knappenberger, Frauenfeld, Davis, 2004). Perhaps our papers didn’t warrant coverage in the Times because we failed to include breathless prose about how global warming was to blame, or perhaps because we failed to outline steps that should be taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, or maybe we didn’t time the release of our papers to coincide with a major international meeting on climate change (although one of them was published by chance this week). Or maybe, it was that pointing out that the basic findings by some global warming “skeptics” closely matched that from “concerned” environmental organizations would take all the fun out of vilifying the skeptics, so it was best to simply ignore them to avoid the awkwardness altogether.
A closer look at the Environment America paper clearly shows it to be the inferior of the three papers—at least if scientific significance is the standard by which it is judged. If global warming alarmism is deemed the most important attribute, well, then there is no contest.