Holman Jenkins writes in the Wall Street Journal that when it comes to climate, the media never tells us good news. Jenkins says that the most recent piece of good news that has gone unheralded is a study estimating how much global warming we should expect from increasing levels of CO2. The results of this new study indicate that the highest degrees of warming that scientists had been saying were possible are now looking less likely.
Before we ask if this study went uncovered, it’s important to point out that it is at best qualified good news.The study indicates that the worst-case scenarios, where temperatures will increase a lot, are less likely than previously thought. But the lowest possible values are also looking less likely, while the most likely values are still the same. If the study is right, then we should expect something close to 3 C of global warming for every doubling of CO2 (so 3C if CO2 settles out around 550 ppm), but there is less concern that we will see 4C or more (and less chance we’ll see 2 C). Those high values of CO2 sensitivity, somewhat imprecisely called the fat tail, are worrisome and generally prompt a desire to act quickly to reduce CO2 emissions (c.f. Wagner and Weizmann), but I wouldn’t be particularly content with 3 C either.
As for climate journalists not covering the study, it was also reported by Ars Technica, Wired, Mother Jones, Carbon Brief, Fox News, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Reason, and more (courtesy of a quick google news search). The front page of the New York Times hardly seems appropriate for one study, though Jenkins is right that there is a literature indicating that the higher values are less likely. There is also literature saying that the higher values are still possible. There is not a consensus here.
I’m sympathetic to the notion that popular media coverage is slanted toward doom-and-gloom, but I’m not sure that it is true. We increasingly see good climate news reported on the clean energy side (in terms of falling costs and the status of that industry, if not emissions) but maybe not so much on the climate risks side. It might be right that some worst-case scenarios that scientists used to worry about now look less likely (a notable exception being the collapse of Antarctic ice sheets), but my impression is that further research is showing us that out previous expectations were pretty well calibrated.
The media ratio of bad to good news might also be giving an accurate picture of the nature of the climate problem. As research reveals new information, we are growing more certain that climate change will affect lots of stuff (mostly for the worse), it will be increasingly evident in the 21st century, and there is a small chance that one or more symptoms of change will be really bad. Climate journalism paints that picture, which seems reasonable to me.