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Monday, March 26, 2012

Take the blinders off!

In the wake of the astonishing record heat wave of recent days (see U.S. heat 'unprecedented,' 7,000 records set or tied, Reuters, March 23), the flow of what-me-worry reporting from the New York Times continued, with a lengthy article by Clifford Krauss and Eric Lipton on the new U.S. oil and natural gas drilling boom.

Krauss and Lipton tell the story of how increased oil & gas production from fracking and better auto efficiency due to rising fleet economy standards have combined to put U.S. oil imports on a downward trajectory after a long climb.  "[T]he domestic trends are unmistakable," they write. "Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gas industry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia."

Whoopee!  The only thing missing from this saga of new hydrocarbon wealth is its impact on global warming.  Climate change is mentioned just three times, briefly, and in a political context rather than a scientific one: while Candidate Obama "promoted policies to help combat global warming" in 2008, President Obama has "de-emphasized the challenges of climate change."

I know, I know, it's an energy story, but the question remains: how much longer before energy stories (not to mention weather stories) are viewed as incomplete unless they incorporate discussion of global warming?  It's been a long wait: in 1990, I wrote a letter to the Times complaining about a similar non-mention of climate in a story about the glowing market prospects for the coal industry.

Not that there aren't encouraging signs. Over at the Washington Post, which has been equally out to lunch on global warming, the editorial staff put together a strong screed on the subject today (Rising concern on climate change, March 24).  Said the Post sternly, "[T]he only energy debate America seems capable of having during this election year revolves around whom to blame for higher gas prices and who can bring them down again. Neither of those is the first, second or even 10th question we’d ask of America’s leaders on energy."

I agree, it's a problem.  But when the most respected news sources publish story after story about high gas prices and energy with barely a mention of the most important problem with which they are inextricably intertwined, what are political candidates supposed to do?

The blinders have to come off.  The tunnel vision has to stop.  And as hard as the media try to pass the buck, it has to start with them finding ways to ask the hard questions and change the national conversation.  (For an entirely different take, see Lessons from Obama's Keystone Cave-In by Jeff Goodell on Rolling Stone's Politics blog, March 23, in which he asks the burning question: Will Barack Obama go down in history as the President who cooked the planet?)

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