The Oklahoman's New Year Prayer For Cooler Temps Ignores Climate Change

Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

On its list of wishes for the New Year, The Oklahoman is pleading to God for "a wetter, cooler summer" after two years of drought and high temperatures -- an odd request, given that the publication has a history of denying the existence of climate change and ignoring evidence that global warming can exacerbate severe drought conditions.

Rejecting the tradition of New Year's resolutions as "well-intended vows that usually don't wind up amounting to much," The Oklahoman passed up an opportunity for self-evaluation and instead made a list of "wishes" that the editorial board hopes will come to pass in 2013. The board's first wish was for a cooler summer:

As the new year begins, we're offering wishes instead of resolutions. What follows is a compilation of what The Oklahoman's editorial board hopes to see come to pass in 2013, here and elsewhere.

A wetter, cooler summer: Enough with the heat and drought! We thought 2011 was bad, and it was, but 2012 wasn't much better. There were fewer 100-degree days than the year before, but that 113-degree reading at Will Rogers World Airport on Aug. 4 was over the top. Oklahoma begins the new year with 90 percent of the state experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. What's needed is an extended period (or two, or three) of soaking rainfall. From our lips to God's ears!

The Oklahoman's wish reeks of irony; the paper has regularly denied the existence of global warming while pushing for energy policies that would benefit the paper's billionaire owner, oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz, and continue us on the path of further warming. Unsurprisingly, the paper's complaint about the extreme weather was devoid of deeper context, but scientists have explained that this year's drought may have been made worse by higher temperatures in 2012 -- part of a manmade global warming trend. From the science journalism site Climate Central:

Unlike the droughts of the 1930s, this one is occurring in a much warmer climate, a byproduct of manmade global warming. [Richard Seager, a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University] said that although it most likely didn't trigger the drought, it's possible that global warming is making this drought worse than it would otherwise be.

"I think what we're seeing is largely a naturally occurring event, but it's occurring against the background of a warming environment," Seager said.

[...]

A recent study found that global warming made the Texas drought and heat wave 20 times more likely to occur than under similar large-scale climate conditions 50 years ago. Other research shows that warming driven by human activities made the same heat wave and drought more severe than it otherwise would have been. As for whether global warming made the current drought more likely to occur, such "climate attribution" studies can take several months to complete, and the drought is still underway.

If indeed we're already seeing more intense droughts as a result of global warming, it doesn't bode well for the future, judging from what climate studies show. For example, climate research consistently shows the Southwest U.S. will become much drier as the climate continues to warm.

Of course, this kind of expert testimony is absent from the pages of The Oklahoman. Rather than a list of New Year's "wishes," the paper's readership would be better served by a resolution from the editors: a dedication to informed and balanced journalism on the subject of energy and the environment.

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