Thursday, February 23, 2012

Falling Down on the Job at Climate Central and The Daily Climate

Climate Central, a "research and journalism organization providing clear and up-to-date information to help people make sound decisions about climate and energy" picked up a story written by Rae Tyson for The Daily Climate.  The Daily Climate "does not espouse a political point of view on the news but instead reports the truth to the best of our ability. Editorial integrity is the foundation of our mission."

Here are five steps steps they have taken to falling down on the job

Step 1: Journalism? Here? What? 
The story is really a plug for a particular framing of climate change adaptation by the investment advocacy group, Ceres.  So, both parties fall short on their ambitions of research, journalism, truth, and editorial integrity.

Step 2: Fail to do the research
The article starts out implying GHG emissions have led to changes in extremes that have led to increases in insured losses.  Not only is this an unsupported claim, the article proceeds to cite an uninteresting statistic of "14 weather related disasters causing $1 billion or more in economic damage."  The statistic is uninteresting for the exact reason that the previous statement is incorrect- failure to accurately account for changes in society.  To add insult to injury, Climate Central, linked the statement to their coverage of NOAA's release of billion dollar weather events since 1980- a highly criticized analysis (see here and here) that has since led NOAA to reevaluate their analysis.

Step 3: Espouse political points of view
Sharlene Leurig of Ceres, is the interviewed source for the article.  Rae Tyson, the reported claims that "The statistics she offered are not good news for taxpayers."

Try harder to not espouse a political point of view.

Step 4: Skip over editorial integrity
The largest insurance company in the state of Florida is the state of Florida.  And the liability that the state holds is so huge that ... the next time the big one rolls in the system will bankrupt itself.
The article, Leurig and, by extension, Ceres, conflates the situation of state run insurance programs developed to meet democratically agreed upon goals with climate change politics.  While the article is about climate change, the statement is, not only one of some opinion, but about an unrelated issue.  It's a low down, dirty, claim if I ever saw one.
We don't actually have the money to adapt to climate change – to adapt to more intense droughts and floods and wildfires – because we're burning thru GDP trying to recover from the last disaster just to encounter the next one.
It should raise eyebrows that Ceres is working under the assumption that we are "burning through GDP" as losses are, in part, of product of GDP.  This statement also implies that if we didn't have current disasters we could afford to address future ones.  This is an argument for adapting to current weather extremes.

Step 4: Lead the interviewee down irrelevant paths
Consumers shop for insurance based on price. Won't market pressures force insurers to simply bail from vulnerable locales rather than raise rates?
So far, that has been the way that the insurance industry in the U.S. has approached risk. When a risk gets too high in the area and they cannot increase pricing, they just move out of that area.
This is a fairly standard, negotiating tactic by the insurance industry that has nothing to do with climate change.  Yet, if all the groups associated with this report are insistent upon bringing this up, they may want to take a closer look at Florida's state insurer and its history which goes back much farther than any concern of climate change and is related to the irrelevant point brought up here.

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