It's a truism that environmental issues don't figure much in how Americans vote. But they're certainly figuring in the news on either side of the presidential election, and how they're being reported is worth paying attention to.
The biggest international story in the domestic press is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. The findings "put a face on global warming," writes Andrew Revkin of the New York Times in today's photo feature on the report, which opens with a photograph of a polar bear. They will be early victims of fast climate change in the Arctic, "because unbroken sea ice serves as a kind of herder for seals, concentrating them around breathing holes and other small openings, where they become polar bears' favorite prey. The study concludes that by 2070, the top of the world is likely to be mainly open blue water in the summer."
It is a toss-up on what motivates the public more: photos of other people, or photos of large furry mammals. It is striking, though, that the slide show features no pictures of the Inuit seal hunters and other indigenous peoples certain to be displaced as Arctic ice thins and coastline erodes.
Fair's fair, though: the Times first leaked the Arctic Council report, and US efforts to block it, over a week before its official delivery date, with Revkin's October 30, front page article "Big Arctic Perils Seen in Warming, Survey Finds".
U.S. recalcitrance on global warming is couched carefully towards the middle of the article: "The findings support the broad but politically controversial scientific consensus that global warming is caused mainly by rising atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and that the Arctic is the first region to feel its effects. While the report is advisory and carries no legal weight, it is likely to increase pressure on the Bush administration, which has acknowledged a possible human role in global warming but says the science is still too murky to justify mandatory reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions."
The Washington Post led with its chin a couple days after the election with "U.S. Wants No Warming Proposal" on November 4, and minced fewer words: "The Bush administration has been working for months to keep an upcoming eight-nation report from endorsing broad policies aimed at curbing global warming," Juliet Eilperin began, "despite the group's conclusion that Arctic latitudes are facing historic increases in temperature, glacial melting and abrupt weather changes."
The story hit the world press resoundingly with the report's official release on Monday. The coverage is interesting. Xinhuanet notes cannily that global warming "could cause everything from the extinction of polar bears to the flooding of large parts of Florida." Hindustan Times gives a Bush administration spokesman room for official demurrals, but lets Norwegian Environment Minister Knut Hareide have the coveted end-of-article kicker: "The clear message from this report is that Kyoto is not enough. We must reduce emissions much more in coming decades."
While the UK's Guardian highlights counterclaims by scientists affiliated with the "Danish Academy for Future Studies," (can anyone tell us more about this group?) who take issue with the Arctic Council's findings, the Moscow Times leads with worries that global warming "threatens to disrupt Arctic oil pipelines in the United States and Russia as melting ice caps turn the permafrost into a "sea of mud" ..."
At least a few Canadian papers, such as the Edmonton Sun, feature a CP wire story noting pragmatically that "Some hope the eight-country council that commissioned the report will act on its warnings of damage to the people and environment of the North. But others doubt that much will happen until southern industry starts to suffer."
One of the rosiest views is found in New Zealand, where Stuff.co.nz notes that while rising temperatures "would threaten coastal cities, change growing patterns for vegetation and destroy habitats for some wildlife...an energy-starved world would have new areas for oil and gas exploration." What's New Zealand's stake, one wonders? Territorial interests in the Antarctic perhaps, that could include mineral and energy resources.
the best part?
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rising global temperatures will melt areas of the Arctic this century, making them more accessible for oil and natural gas drilling, a report prepared by the United States and seven other nations said on Monday."