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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The New York Times dedicated their entire magazine this week to the subject of climate change; specifically, a single article on the decade when the scientific consensus on the subject solidified and humans failed to act.

Why it matters: It is rare to see media outlets dedicate substantial coverage to the Earth's rising temperature and the subsequent impacts, let alone a nearly book-length piece. But the magazine, online today, isn't being lauded unanimously.

What you need to know: At 30,000 words, this piece is long, and takes its time detailing narratives of those who've participated in the climate fight for decades. Journalist Nathaniel Rich focuses on the largely-ignored decade from 1979-1989, before the public became more aware of the science, and the energy industry mounted an organized disinformation campaign to emphasize scientific uncertainty.

Here are some of the most important takeaways:

  • "In the late 1970s, a small group of philosophers, economists and political scientists began to debate... whether a human solution to this human problem was even possible... They asked whether humankind, when presented with this particular existential crisis, was willing to prevent it. We worry about the future. But how much, exactly? The answer, as any economist could tell you, is very little."
  • "Even some of the nations that pushed hardest for climate policy have failed to honor their own commitments. When it comes to our own nation... the dominant narrative has concerned the efforts of the fossil-fuel industries to suppress science, confuse public knowledge and bribe politicians."
  • Six weeks after NASA scientist James Hansen's congressional testimony 30 years ago, the company that would become Exxon "prepared an internal strategy paper urging the company to "emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions," a policy that was then accepted by the broader sector.
  • "More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk Conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it."

What the piece misses: The piece tells a relatively narrow story about a huge issue by focusing only on one decade. That's drawn criticism from some experts who say that faulting "human nature" excuses the multi-million dollar campaigns by fossil fuel companies and lobbyists that have focused on challenging climate science.

  • It also fails to acknowledge that public awareness of the issue, let alone support for action, was lacking during the period the story discusses.
  • In addition, the piece ignores some of the most important attempts to address the problem, from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to the Paris Climate Summit in 2015.

The article, however, argues that: "There can be no understanding of our current and future predicament without understanding why we failed to solve this problem when we had the chance."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Neera Tanden withdraws nomination for Office of Management and Budget director

Neera Tanden testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, D.C., in February 2021. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Neera Tanden withdrew her name from nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget after several senators voiced opposition and concern about her qualifications and past combative tweets, President Biden announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Tanden’s decision to pull her nomination marks Biden's first setback in filling out his Cabinet with a thin Democratic majority in the Senate.

What's ahead for the newest female CEOs

Jane Fraser (L) and Rosalind Brewer. Photos: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images; Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The number of women at the helm of America’s biggest companies pales in comparison to men, but is newly growing — and their tasks are huge.

What's going on: Jane Fraser took over at Citigroup this week, the first woman to ever lead a major U.S. bank. Rosalind Brewer will take the reins at Walgreens in the coming weeks (March 15) — a company that's been run by white men for more than a century.

3 hours ago - Health

Biden says U.S. will have enough vaccines for 300 million adults by end of May

President Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden on Tuesday said that ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end May.

Why it matters: That's two months sooner than Biden's previous promise of enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of July.

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