Kevin Trenberth handles a discussion of the ongoing anomalies with his usual aplomb, but to my mind the most interesting aspect of this interview is the interviewer. You can practically see the journalistic mind operating against the human soul in this interview if you watch the interviewer as well as the interviewee.
First of all, kudos are to PBS for resisting the temptation to make this into a debate between a leading scientist and some politically motivated yahoo.
When Trenberth calls the current situation “without precedent”, Woodruff is journalist enough to call him on it. Trenberth does a good job of defending the claim, with reference to the context of the past few summers (East Australia, Russia, Texas). This goes well, too. A careful and unbiased listener, I think, ought to come away with a reasonably balanced view of the situation.
The problem arises when Woodruff struggles for an appropriate closing. You can see that she is horrified by what Trenberth is saying – she can see the apocalyptic implications of the calm, sober, and restrained scientific language. But her journalistic training causes her to avoid any reaction. She says this is all “something to keep you scientists busy”.
Let’s leave aside how confused a view of science this reveals. We do wish science journalists had a better idea of scientific practice, but it’s not an easy thing to convey.
What’s really interesting is her refusal to own the problem. Journalists own no problems and take no responsibility. This is a classic example of Jay Rosen’s View from Nowhere, and how it affects reporting on subjects of consequence. Trenberth really shines in rising to the occasion, and rejecting Woodruff’s rejection of the problem.
Scientists do not worry about severe events for a living. It is sort of a hobby for us.
The people who should worry about these things for a living are the press (and once the public is properly engaged, the policy sector). But the ideology of the press makes it impossible. This clip demonstrates it perfectly. We see Woodruff the human appalled by what Trenberth is saying, and yet we hear her as journalist robotically erecting defenses. And finally, we see Trenberth rising to the occasion and taking two seconds to not let her get away with it entirely.