Climate, G-20 Gossip, and The New York Times

“What is the point of all this?” — Judge Snyder
“Your honor, I feel so confident of Marge Simpson’s guilt that I can waste the court’s time by rating the super hunks!” — Blue Haired Lawyer

The image at left was the second lead in this morning’s edition of the pixels of record, The New York Times. The headline, subhead, and opening paragraphs (which is all most people are ever going to read) state with snide confidence that Donald Trump, our grotesquely orange Alzheimer’s patient of a President, got totally snubbed by Angie, Shin, Emmy, and the rest of the kewl and responsible leaders of the free world. They care about climate change, and were totally justified in being mean to President Kwyjibo, who denies climate science and frequently gets confused enough to wander away from his limo.

On a simple factual level, this is all true. Most of the world actually cares about the Paris Accords, Trump is a senile embarrassment who barely knows what he “pulled out” of, and, hey, what time is brunch? But this kind of facile coverage, which was shared by The Guardian, The Washington Post, and other outlets of varying respectability, is exactly how the world 1) shuffled into its unhappy climate catastrophe in the first place, and 2) continues to excuse itself into avoiding meaningful action.

In contemporary news parlance, “Paris” has become a shibboleth that means “fixing the climate”. This is wrong. This is hilariously, out of bounds, Jaws-4-was-a-good-movie scale of wrong. The 2015 Paris Accords are wholly inadequate to the scope of the problem, entirely voluntary, and predicated on unenforceable self reporting.

Which is not to say that they were bad. Nothing of the sort. But even the few remaining climate optimists saw them as a stepping stone rather than a solution, and things have gotten worse since then. Without getting into too many of the depressing details, the flattening of emissions growth the last couple years is more sizzle than steak, and even professionally optimistic experts now have to invent miracles to keep the 2C targets of Paris within squinting distance of plausible.

People who browse the Times and think of themselves as well informed won’t get any of that. Hell, even the dedicated few who actually read the article won’t get any of that. There’s no mention of the inadequacy of Paris, of the numbers having gotten worse since 2015, or of the fact that their target of 2C of warming would still be 1960s disaster movie level catastrophic.

Now, I have a certain sympathy for the Times on this. The above paragraph contains a lot of context that is not only unpleasant, but also hard to convey in their high falutin, high standard newspaperspeak. Moreover, it isn’t “news”; it’s an ongoing background reality. That said, noting those three items (Paris is too modest, things are worse than they were in 2015, and 2C is REALLY FUCKING BAD) can, should, and needs to be in every story about climate.

So, in the interest of saving Messrs Slim and Sulzberger some money (they’re too poor to keep copy editors on hand), I’ve written this for them:

Most experts consider the framework agreed upon in the Paris Accords to be inadequate to stabilize Earth’s climate at two degrees (Celsius) of warming.

I thought about puffing that out to a whole paragraph, adding caveats about emissions pledges and variable reporting, but newspapers are supposed to believe in truth and concision, and the above is both. Copy it, paste it, make a Word macro out of it, Ctrl-V the everloving shit out of it, because that is what people and policy makers need to understand. Paris isn’t good enough.

The Paris Accords are steps in the right direction, but even optimistic assessments of their goals mean that lower Manhattan is underwater by the time today’s babies are old people. Eliding that is easy and comfortable, but also foolish and grossly irresponsible. The Times thinks of itself as better than that.