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Friday, May 25, 2012

Butterfly declared climate change 'winner'

There is some rejoicing in the global-warming-denial, anti-science camp today.  As usual, it is caused by scientific findings, but ones of which deniers happen to approve.  Today's lucky find: a formerly rare butterfly in the United Kingdom, the brown argus, whose range has rapidly expanded in recent years.

Even the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, which seems to have about the best environmental coverage of any mainstream news source in the world, had the kind of headline that the Heartland Institute (Denier Central) would love: "British butterfly defies doom prediction to thrive in changing climate."  If, of course, the Heartland Institute believed the climate were changing.  Meanwhile, one of the study's coauthors delivered another Heartland-warming sound bite: "There will be winners and losers from climate change."

It is good news--don't get me wrong--but some other outlets' stories had a less perky take.  After a few minutes' perusal, my nominee for one of the most perceptive is Bryan Walsh's "Why an English Butterfly Is a Rare Winner in Global Warming" at Time magazine's EcoCentric blog. Walsh starts off by noting, "Little is expected to benefit from climate change, with the possible exception of air-conditioning manufacturers, popsicle makers and Canada," then reviews the scientific findings about the brown argus, and moves on to this insightful close:

"But the brown argus butterfly is likely to be the exception to climate change, not the rule. Past periods of sudden climate change in the Earth‘s history have led to a reduction in biodiversity and even great extinction waves. If warming keeps up at the expected rate—and we’re doing little to slow it down—far more species will suffer as they attempt to adapt than those likely to succeed, especially since climate change is only one of many other challenges wildlife will face, including habitat loss and degradation. And the big question for 7 billion plus human beings is: will we be able to adapt and even thrive like the brown argus, or will we fail?"  Several good sound bites there too, and more important, an appropriate level of respect for the very complicated planetary climate and environmental system in which we are mucking about.


  1. Well said! Your comparison of different news reports is illuminating.

    1. Thanks, Gillian. I used to be a newspaper reporter myself, and I'm still a communications consultant, so I'm very interested in sound bites and nuances of reporting, headline writing, etc.