Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Global Warming Cover-Up

Journal Sentinel’s coverage of Lake Michigan’s decline is bizarrely slanted. Why?

By - Aug 1st, 2013 12:27 pm
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On Sunday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a huge story documenting how a decrease in ice cover and other changes in weather are lowering the water level on Great Lakes like Michigan and Superior. The online version of the story was visually gorgeous and the reporting by two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Dan Egan was first-rate — save for one massive omission. Nowhere in the story did Egan explain the relationship between these changes and global warming.

Not once in the entire story, which runs 144 paragraphs and took up three full pages in the newspaper, did Egan ever mention the words “global climate change.” Indeed, he goes overboard to banish that thought from readers minds, writing that “This is not a story about climate change. It is a story about climate changed.”

The average reader, I suspect, knows about ice melting in the arctic and the habitat for the polar bear shrinking, but would not necessarily think this has any relationship to the lowering of Lake Michigan’s water level. But in fact, they are all part of the same phenomenon. How do I know this? Because nearly every expert in Egan’s story would tell you this — if the newspaper had ever bothered to ask.

For instance, Jia Wang is an ice research climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, and did a report which found Great Lakes ice coverage has decreased by an average of 71 percent over the past 40 years.  Egan reports on his research but skips Wang’s explanation for why this is happening. “We are seeing the impact of global warming here in the Great Lakes,” Wang told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  No, you won’t find that quote in the Journal Sentinel story.

Then there’s Jay Austin, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, whose work on warming trends and ice cover on Lake Superior are reported in Egan’s story. Austin had no problems relating this to global climate change in talking to Chicago public radio station WBEZ: “Climate change is real,” he declared. “It’s something that’s not just happening half a world away.” But it’s not happening in the pages of the Journal Sentinel, because Egan didn’t include any such quote from Austin.

Then there’s Paul Roebber, a UW-Milwaukee meteorologist and associate dean of its School of Freshwater Sciences, who helps explain evaporation on Lake Michigan in Egan’s story. Is this transformation of the Great Lakes part of global climate change, I asked him? “Yes, he answered. “The changes in water temperature are not specific to the Great Lakes – this is happening to large, inland water bodies worldwide. Climate change is not restricted to the polar regions, so yes, it is part of the same global process.” Once again, you didn’t find that quote in Egan’s story.

Then there’s Drew Gronewold, a hydrologist at NOAA’s Great Lakes lab, who in Egan’s story helps explain how evaporation can happen on the Great Lakes in cooler months. “When you go through that radical a change, that’s climate change,” he told me. The changes on the Great Lakes are connected to increasing temperatures found across the globe, he noted. “It’s one of the best explanations we can see for what is happening.”

Finally, there’s Bob Krumenaker, park superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, who tells Egan how the ice cover near the islands in Lake Superior has all but disappeared in the winter. Interestingly, he told a similar story to WBEZ but also said much more.

“Kurmenaker said he had no idea climate change was hitting the Great Lakes until 2006, when he attended a conference,” the WBEZ story reported. “It was a very eye-opening moment in ways I can’t think of any other time in my career where I’ve said, Oh my God, I really need to get involved in this.”

“He and his staff took action, working to educate the public. They know climate change is global, but they say they want to do what they can to not make it worse. They’re switching to fuel-efficient vehicles, promoting bicycling, and experimenting with solar generators to reduce their carbon footprint.”

These scientists are not saying global climate change is the only cause of the warming and radical loss of ice cover on the Great Lakes. Wang, Austin and Gronewold have noted that natural variability in weather, including the El Nino event in the 1990s, have had an impact as well. But all believe global climate changes caused by human behavior is contributing to the warming of the Great Lakes.

There’s been a “lack of understanding of the global nature of this,” Roebber  says.

Scientific groups are certainly trying to educate the public. The National Wildlife Foundation has done research to alert people about the impact of global climate change on the Great Lakes.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has done a report, Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region: Impacts on Our Communities and Ecosystems.

Then there’s the Healing our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition, which also published a report on the impact of global warming.

Scientists with Minnesota Sea Grant have also joined in, noting “it’s becoming obvious that Lake Superior is responding to global climate shifts as clearly as anywhere on Earth.”

And the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts was formed in the fall of 2007, by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, to educate the public about the impact of climate change in this state.

But these efforts won’t get far if the media ignores what these scientists are saying. Egan had a golden opportunity to explain to readers why Lakes Michigan and Superior are getting warmer and losing ice cover — and how this is not some isolated event, but part of a global phenomenon. He all but stood on his head to avoid doing so.

As I’ve written previously, the JS has done nearly 40 stories since 2005 about the declining water level of Lakes Michigan and Huron without ever mentioning global warming. Most of those stories were written by Egan, an excellent researcher who surely knows that most scientists studying the Great Lakes see global warming as a contributing factor. So why no mention of this in eight years? If his editors wanted this covered, believe me, they would have made that clear to Egan.

Instead, the newspaper has deliberately kept readers in the dark all these years. That includes me. I’ve read all of the Egan’s stories over the years and it never occurred to me until recently that Lake Michigan’s decline had anything to do with global warming.

On Wednesday, Egan did yet another massive story about the impact of the dredging of the St. Clair River in Michigan on the water level of lakes Michigan and Huron. Egan’s reporting has convinced me it’s a major factor, but he has also given some attention to dissenters who don’t believe its quite that bad or think it can’t be so easily fixed.

The same discussion, of course, could go on about global warming and its impact on the Great Lakes. The consensus of scientists is that human-caused climate change is transforming the globe, including the Great Lakes. There are some who might disagree and caveats a good reporter might need to note. But why is the newspaper so afraid to discuss a trend that is having such a profound impact on Lake Michigan?

Categories: Murphy's Law

34 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Global Warming Cover-Up”

  1. Stacy Moss says:

    Duh…….. the ice is melting, the lakes are heating up,. What were the powers at the newspaper thinking? They couldn’t have thought people wouldn’t conclude that such events might have something to do with “global warming”.

  2. John O"Neill says:

    I expect nothing less from a newspaper that endorsed Scott Walker.

  3. Dan Armsrong says:

    I guess I’m expecting too little from the JS. I found the articles about the Great Lakes informative and interesting and accepted its quote about “climate changed” as an admission of an obvious truth. So I read the article from the point of view of man-made global warming, where Senator Ron Johnson, for instance, would blame natural variations like sunspots. Thanks for digging a little deeper, Bruce. The JS definitely does its best to tiptoe around the climate change issue.

  4. Bruce Thompson says:

    Like Dan, I assumed the first article was talking about the effects of global warming and read it that way. It is very odd that the paper was so afraid of being explicit.

  5. Mitch says:

    I was very happy to see this article as it was my first reaction to the JS story on Great Lakes Water Levels as well.

  6. D says:

    Climate change on this planet is inevitable. Go ahead and pretend you are saving the planet with your Prius and reusable bags. You want to help the rest of us out? Go live in a cave and stop using manufactured computers and other evil things.

  7. tim haering says:

    And missing from both your accounts is how precious little we actually know about Earth’s natural climate cycles. At best, we know maybe 100 years out of 4.5 billion. How can we be so sure we are causing the global climate change? Maybe we’re just enhancing it? Besides, change is constant. Any climate stasis we perceive is our mortal imagination. Nature is intractable, relentless, inexorable, there is nothing we could do to stop the change – whatever the change ultimately may be. We can’t even stop a tornado. How will we stop “global climate change”?! We need to steer our technology to cooperate with not fight Nature, “To sow a new mentality closer to the heart.” We need to be flexible, ready to improvise and take our lumps. Maybe we can make ethanol from phragmites.

  8. Jeff Jordan says:

    As much as I hate conspiracy theories,, is it possible the MJS may not want to rankle their western suburb readers who are trying ot get water out of Lake Michigan. If we even consider Climate Change as a possible answer to what’s happening in our environment, it puts another pin in that ballon

  9. Steve Basson says:

    Interesting to hear from these various academics; did anyone contact Prof Norman Lasca? He has been to both polar regions often and over a time span of decades, and I think his opinions would be of extraordinary value ………..

  10. David Ciepluch says:

    Thanks for the article on the need for MJS to provide a more comprehensive approach to the reporting that includes climate. It could also have included information on tortured change we have inflicted on the Lakes with deforestation of surrounding rivers and creeks, alteration of the rivers that all but eliminate fish breeding potential, and introduction of invasive species from bacteria to fish, like the sea lamprey, spiny water flea, zebra and now quaga mussels that make up over 90% of the biomass of Lake Michigan.

  11. Tyrell Track Master says:

    You know, I think the JSOnline actually did a pretty good job with the story. They didn’t specifically talk about CO2, but I thought it was very much implied that warming air was exactly what it is – a symptom of climate change brought on by you and me.

    I think by avoiding the direct conversation it was more likely that the average idiot would read the article and understand. Judging by the stupidity of the comments that always ensure (even here on Urban Milwaukee!) when climate change is mentioned, it’s sadly obvious that a lot of people in WI still don’t quite get it….

  12. Christine Nuernberg says:

    I read both articles to the end and thought they were great. I read into the reporting that global warming was causing the increased evaporation. The article talked about the increased air temperature and made other comments that would make it hard to miss climate change.

  13. Cindy Van Vreede says:

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a friend of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board, said that sun spots are causing these climate changes. I’m sure the paper doesn’t want to make the state’s senior senator look like an idiot. Besides, most GOP members and their base don’t believe in global climate change. And they certainly don’t cotton to the idea that humans are causing it. It’s my feeling that the editors at the paper don’t want to challenge their republican readership. They do so at the expense of journalism.

  14. According to the US Weather Bureau Climate And Crop Service, July 1901 averaged between 100 and 111 degrees in Wisconsin. About 20-25 degrees warmer than this year.

    Here is a photocopy of the 1901 report.

    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/wisconsin-july-1901/

  15. Mike Connor says:

    Good stuff! Most folks will intuitively conclude that climate change is having effect on Lake Michigan. But faulty reporting, as you point out, allows for those who have appearances to keep, alliances to maintain and politics to play, to dirty the water.
    At NPLH we are currently fundraising for a pervious paver driveway to replace our gravel drive. Runoff from the light station site ends up in Lake Michigan and on Bradford Beach. The award winning paver system used by the county at the Franklin Sports Center would remedy that problem. The lake’s ability to handle run-off is diminished by the lower water level and the warming.
    When journalism gets next to politics to support a falsehood, that seems like collusion more than freedom of the press.

  16. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Climate change is inevitable??? Course it is, the climate changes all the time and the activity because of the sun and other factors far out way any thing else going on. Look at history before man had engines or any CO2 besides breathing and then we had the early ages warming period when the Vikings sailed o Greenland and the NA,, the Ice Age, the Dinosaur age, the Mammoths and on and on. The question is how much of a change is coming and the answer is no one knows. The last 16 years has been about the same despite Al Gores predictions. Great lakes are down cause of dredging. Evaporation from Lakes just causes more rain downwind and more snow. Lakes and rivers up north are the highest ever and this year is cooler.
    Face it, the Left just wants to use Climate Change as an excuse to build up more government and dominate peoples lives.

  17. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    The lakes ability to handled runoff is diminished by the lower water level and the warming??? What warming??? Hasn’t warmed in last 16 years, yet lake went down because of dredging.
    Lake has been low before, several times in last 100 years and it handled runoff just fine, even when it was more dirty before 1940.

  18. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    All of you are missing th fact that the last 16 years temp is actually down miniscule amt. Arctic summer half as long as normal this year according to NAS. Get ready for the next Ice Age. All that Left hot air has run out so temp is dropping.

  19. Spock says:

    The lakes have been emptying since I was a child in school 30 years ago and it has nothing to do with the weather. Any true scientist knows this already. I suspect another made up climate deal we are now all so used to. What does one call someone so easily fooled….

  20. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Some people purposely have very poor memories as to the Lake depths and shoreline. 30 years ago they were worried that Fox Point was going to fall into the Lake. A friend of mine sold his home along lake cause he was tired of trying to protect the bluff. It was high point in many years and now it has gone down. Fact is that Lake height varies from centuries. History shows that.

  21. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Cover up?? Thats what I have to do this morning as we move to the new ice Age. I read all the Russian newspapers, I am ambidextrous you know, and they are predicting the new ice Age. Putin has to wear shirts and even sweaters. Rivers are flooding and lakes are high. Cold. I wanted to play golf today, the temp is actually down this year making it 16 straight years.

  22. Bruce Thompson says:

    A few comments on the comments:
    1. There seemed to be a view that one can accept or reject the findings of science depending on whether it fit with one’s politics. This reminded of a number of famous cases where science was rejected because it was taken to threaten religion.
    2. There seem to be several cases of rewriting the history of Milwaukee’s climate. For example, when I first moved here winters tended to be much colder. Also, it is not true that the lake level has been steadily dropping; that is a recent phenomenon. I recall when Dave Schultz raised all the county’s docks to protect them from the rising lake levels and when people were demanding that the Corps of Engineers do something to drop the level.
    3. There is a lot of evidence for global warming. For example the warmer winters described in the first J-S article fits the theory nicely.
    4. The vast majority of specialists in climate accept the theory, although, as is typical in science, there is disagreement on details.
    Finally, there is the attitude towards risk. If there is uncertainly, shouldn’t one take the least-risky course. I think the chance of my house burning down next year is much less than 1%, yet I still buy insurance. If the scientists are right but we do nothing, the results could be catastrophic. If they are wrong and we act to prevent global warming, the results could still be beneficial, for the economy, for the development of new technologies, for more livable cities. That seems like a good trade-off to me.

  23. David Ciepluch says:

    Great comments Bruce. During the last decade, energy efficiency, renewable energy production advances, and sustainable practices were advocated as partial solutions for solving climate change. They actually are excellent stand-alone solutions, and through a comprehensive approach, could reduce fossil fuel energy use in the USA by 50% in a few decades. Major oil, coal, natural gas, and utility companies do not like this approach since it reduces the consumption of their products and revenues. And by the way, the by-product of this approach would be a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions that are at an all-time high for the last 250,000 years based on ancient ice core research.

    Many politicians, on the local and federal level, take their marching orders from these large energy companies and receive funds and support from them. Then they turn around and write laws that benefit these companies over the common good of the majority. We are near or past peak resource extraction and use for many materials on the planet for a growing world population. The USA is 4% of the planet’s population, and consumes 40% of the available energy. Another reason for a different pathway. Otherwise the outcome in future years will get very ugly for the majority of us.

  24. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    David, you people are so silly that it is hard to imagine where you get these ideas. Conesrvation is good, my paretnts always preached that, but that can only go so far.
    You cannot run a modern society on solar, and wind. Biomass is another story, that is what coal, oil and natural gas is, compressed biomass.
    Latest reports from Germany, who has done a lot in this area details all kinds of increased costs and problems.
    We have seen the effects of this policy in Wisconsin with higher electric bills and nationwide with no jobs or only parttime jobs. 90% of jobs created in the last 5 years have been parttime. Great ideas you leftisits.
    Your policies have helped the rich and screwed the rest of us.

  25. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Money that we waste on foolish global warming fallacies while the debate rages on as to whether there is such an animal, could be far better spent teaching kids to read, making Milwaukee more habitable and helping to create jobs. there has not been any warming in 16 years, and if you look most of the records for heat were set in the 1800′s. We do know that the temp goes up and down over the millenia, check the Middle ages warming period.
    The puny efforts of humans are nothing compared to the changes in the sea and the sun.

  26. David Ciepluch says:

    Idiotes – taken from the Greeks. The original Greek meaning was for individuals who only cared for themselves, refusing to participate in public efforts to benefit the larger community, to serve the common good. The ancient Greeks and founders of democracy considered such people selfish, contemptible, and stupid.

    I pulled the Greek reference to Idiotes from a Jim Hightower article. Idiot is a term we can apply in our country and world today for various politicians, judges, corporations and CEOs, wealth and power, and many of our fellow citizens. Some of these citizens are Koch funded trolls disguised as writers that spew toxic lies, distortions, and trashing everyone else, and really have no knowledge base or facts to base their opinions. A good practice may be to ignore idiots since they expose themselves and readily remove all doubt with their written materials.

  27. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Good idea David, from now on will ignore you and other idiots.

  28. Bruce Thompson says:

    Dohnal said: “Biomass is another story, that is what coal, oil and natural gas is, compressed biomass.”
    Actually, “sequestered biomass” would be a more accurate term. When we burn fossil fuels, we are releasing carbon to the atmosphere that was removed millions of years ago.

  29. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Cute, we must lock up that carbon. The biomass has locked up carbon too. We release some carbon, plants pickit up, grow faster and we have more corn, whet and vegetables.

  30. Omri says:

    ” The puny efforts of humans are nothing compared to the changes in the sea and the sun.”

    Comments like these, Dohnal, are part of what shows you to be a complete and utter moron. Those “changes in the sun” are continually monitored. If there were any significant ones, NASA would spot them. And so would anyone living in the Tropics. You see, the Tropics face the sun directly. The poles do not. Notice that warming has been happening primarily in the poles, not the Tropics. Which is how we know it’s a greenhouse effect that’s going on.

  31. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Only people without ny cogent arguments call people names. Fact is that the last 16 years and this year is cooler have not seen any change in temp. Over the last 10,000 years, as measured buy the Greenland ice cap. there have been numerous warming and cooling periods. Remember the ice Ages, Middle Ages warming period, Roman Warming periods.
    This year was shortest summer on record in arctic ice. Humans produce only very small percentage of CO@ in air, the rest comes from all over.
    This Global Warming fiasco is an invention of the Left to control the humans and the world, just like all of their dumb ideas that do not work. Look at Detroit and Ill., Ca.

  32. Omri says:

    ” Fact is that the last 16 years and this year is cooler have not seen any change in temp.”

    The fact is that in the last 16 years, polar ice coverage has declined significantly. I come back from a trip with a cooler full of ice and put it in my living room. Temperature on my house is 70 degrees. I go to bed. In the morning, I wake up, and discover that the temperature is 70, but all the ice in the cooler has melted. Conclusion: my house has warmed.

    The only reason you’re even making htis argument is that 1998 was the warmest year ever recorded for air temperatures. It’s true (thank God) we have not matched that record. But, the aughties are the warmest DECADE ever recorded. As in they were warmer than the 90′s, which were warmer than the 80′s, and so on.

    You know this, because your stupid talking point has been debunked in front of you again and again. And yet you repeat it. Which is why it is justifiable to call out your stupidity.

  33. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Ahh, go soak your head. put on more sun screen

  34. Omri says:

    And now that your drivel is thoroughly debunked (again), you are reduced to asking that I go away. Because you have nothing else to say.

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