08/03/2006 10:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Hot Is It?

How hot is it?

It's so hot that ... it almost makes you think of global warming.

But not so much for the mainstream media.

Interestingly, it turns out that the media are now giving significant coverage to global warming. Whether this is just a spike because of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, or the recent Blair-Schwarzenegger meeting to promote a California-UK compact on climate change, or the just-announced Clinton-Large Cities Climate Leadership Group project to cut urban greenhouse gas emissions, remains to be seen.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. press is giving attention to climate change. Run a lexis search, and you get 5,973 stories in the U.S. media since June 1 that mention global warming or climate change.

The media are also, understandably, giving lots of attention to the successive heat waves that have blanketed the country. Since June 1, there have been 2971 stories mentioning "heat wave" or "record heat."

But of the almost 3000 stories on the heat, only 164 -- just over 5 percent -- have mentioned global warming or climate change.

Yes, yes, yes, of course, no one single weather event can be attributed to global warming.

But the reporters who have bothered to cover the issue haven't found this to be a problem. They rely on a metaphor provided by many climatologists: it's like weighting the dice. You can't say that global warming is responsible for this heat wave or that hurricane, but you can say that these kind of extreme weather events are becoming much more likely because of global warming.

Is there really anything to complain about here if the media are giving due coverage to global warming anyway?

The problem is that if the public discussion about global warming remains at the level of abstraction, there's too little motivation for people to get involved and demand meaningful action -- before it's too late. On the other hand, if harsh weather is connected -- with all appropriate caveats -- to the reality of climate change, then we just might see a mobilization for policy change.

And, by the way, consider:

- The first six months of 2006 were the hottest in the United States since record keeping began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

- On a global basis, 2005 tied 1998 for hottest year on record.

- Also on a global basis, 19 of the hottest 20 years on record have occurred since 1980.

And, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-affiliated grouping of 1,800 of the world's climatologists -- often needled for the extraordinarily cautious language it employs:

- The Earth's climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era, with some of these changes attributable to human activities.

- There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

- The rising socio-economic costs related to weather damage and to regional variations in climate suggest increasing vulnerability to climate change.

- The projected rate of warming [over the twenty-first century] is very likely to be without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years.

- The impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor persons within all countries, and thereby exacerbate inequities in health status and access to adequate food, clean water and other resources.

The media may have trouble drawing connections, but Conan O'Brien didn't. His take:

A heat wave is gripping the entire country. This week scientists in Boulder, Colo., installed what they call 'an early warning system to detect global warming.' The scientists say that they call their global warming detection device a 'thermometer.'