Science reporter and global warming advocate Andrew Revkin's story in Wednesday's edition, "Plateau in Temperatures Adds Difficulty to Task Of Reaching a Solution ," noted the recent stabilization of global temperatures.
But Revkin posed the development not as a welcome indication that the world might avoid environmental apocalypse, but a barrier that "climate experts" must overcome before convincing governments to devote massive spending and regulation to combat a "global warming" problem that seems to be correcting itself, for now.
The world leaders who met at the United Nations to discuss climate change on Tuesday are faced with an intricate challenge: building momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.
The plateau in temperatures has been seized upon by skeptics as evidence that the threat of global warming is overblown. And some climate experts worry that it could hamper treaty negotiations and slow the progress of legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.
Scientists say the pattern of the last decade - after a precipitous rise in average global temperatures in the 1990s - is a result of cyclical variations in ocean conditions and has no bearing on the long-term warming effects of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere.
But trying to communicate such scientific nuances to the public - and to policy makers - can be frustrating, they say.
Mojib Latif, a prize-winning climate and ocean scientist from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel, in Germany, wrote a paper last year positing that cyclical shifts in the oceans were aligning in a way that could keep temperatures over the next decade or so relatively stable, even as the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming continued to increase.
Revkin explained why some are asking "What's the rush?" in the climate change debate:
The global average temperature is now only 0.13 degree Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1999, according to the British meteorology office.
A series of unremarkable storm seasons followed the string of destructive storms in 2004 and 2005 that included Hurricane Katrina. And in the Arctic, an extraordinary summer retreat of sea ice in 2007 has been followed by less substantial losses and projections by some researchers of a possible, if temporary, recovery.
Most climate scientists stand firm in their projections of centuries of rising seas and other disruptive effects of a warming planet if humans take no steps to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Revkin also appeared Wednesday as a guest on the left-wing Pacifica Radio "Democracy Now!"show(hat tip MRC's Tim Graham) hosted by Amy Goodman, to appeal for a "social awakening" that would enable the world to "grow out of" its cocoon. And, oh yeah, make wrenching and expensive changes toour economy and lifestyles.
Revkin: We have this tendency in human nature, with a looming, slow-drip problem like global warming, even in the face of these incremental changes, most of which are in places we don't pay a lot of attention to, while we're insulated ourselves, to let things slide until we get hammered. And the hammer has not fallen yet in any way that has been that kind of wake-up call.
Robert Brulle, who's this sociologist, on the blog, sort of deconstructing us, shrinking us, you know, he says we're really - and he points to the activist community, too, and said, you know, this isn't just about lobbying within the Beltway. If you don't have this kind of social awakening , in the absence of the big slam from nature, we're not really going to do stuff. And so, what I've said, I asked on the blog again, are we still in this "blah, blah, blah, bang" kind of situation? Can we grow out of that ? And it's not clear yet.
Reporter Seth Mydans didn't get the memo to hold off on apocalyptic global warming rhetoric in his Thursday story, "Vietnam Finds Itself Vulnerable If Sea Rises - Report Shows Risk From Warming ."
But everything here, both the timeless and the new, is at risk now from a threat that could bring deeper and longer-lasting disruptions than the generations of warfare that ended more than 30 years ago.
In a worse-case projection, a Vietnamese government report released last month says that more than one-third of the delta, where 17 million people live and nearly half the country's rice is grown, could be submerged if sea levels rise by three feet in the decades to come.
The risks of climate change for Vietnam go far beyond the Mekong Delta, up into the Central Highlands, where rising temperatures could put the coffee crop at risk, and to the Red River Delta in the north, where large areas could be inundated near the capital, Hanoi.
Climate experts consider this nation of an estimated 87 million people to be among the half-dozen most threatened by the weather disruptions and rising sea levels linked to climate change that are predicted in the course of this century.
If the sea level rises by three feet, 11 percent of Vietnam's population could be displaced, according to a 2007 World Bank working paper.
If it rises by 15 feet, 35 percent of the population and 16 percent of the country's land area could be affected, the document said.
And the lousy metaphor of the year award goes to this sentence:
Once again, this nation, which has spent much of its history struggling to free itself from foreign domination, finds itself threatened by an overpowering outside force.