Media Fails To Put Record Heat Report In Climate Context

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous U.S. and that so far this year is the warmest on record. Scientists say that this record heat is partially driven by manmade climate change, yet Reuters, The Wall Street Journal,, CBS Evening News, and USA TODAY did not mention climate change at all in their reports on NOAA's announcement.

These heat extremes are occurring in the context of rising global temperatures, which the vast majority of scientists agree are driven by greenhouse gas emissions. As the National Research Council explained, extensive climate research indicates that heat waves will become “more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting” in the United States and around the globe as a result of human-induced climate change.

Source: NOAA

But not everyone in the media failed to mention these facts. The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein spoke to climate scientists, who noted that July's record heat alone would not be evidence of climate change, but that the broader pattern of record breaking heat shows global warming at work:

“This would not have happened in the absence of human-caused climate change,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

Crouch and Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said what's happening is a double whammy of weather and climate change. They point to long-term higher night temperatures from global warming and the short-term effect of localized heat and drought that spike daytime temperatures.

Drought is a major player because in the summer “if it is wet, it tends to be cool, while if it is dry, it tends to be hot,” Trenberth said.

So the record in July isn't such a big deal, Trenberth said. “But the fact that the first seven months of the year are the hottest on record is much more impressive from a climate standpoint, and highlights the fact that there is more than just natural variability playing a role: Global warming from human activities has reared its head in a way that can only be a major warning for the future.”

The New York Times reported that "[a] vast majority of scientists agree that" heat waves “will become ever more common as the planet warms.” And The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang noted that while the U.S. represents a small percent of the globe, global temperatures this year have similarly been “running warm.” The Los Angeles Times and NBC Nightly News also mentioned the rising temperature trend, although NBC did not note that these changes are driven by human activity.