George H.W. Bush wrote a book, after he was CIA director but before he was president, about his time as director and how he tried to improve the efficiency of the agency.

I remember that one of his main recommendations, one he returned to in several chapters of the book, had to do with how information was developed and brought to the director’s attention. His complaint was that the numerous reports and memos were too long and full of details; it made it very difficult for him to prioritize and then digest all the information he received.

His improvement to the process was, basically, to require that each item be introduced by a short headline that summarized the content. I remember thinking how bizarre that seemed; doesn’t everybody already do that? Apparently not.

In my own experience, I know that I can spend an hour reading the news, but if I’m in a hurry I can usually get the gist of each story without reading more than a headline and maybe a paragraph or two.

This is a long way of introducing this article. The following is a listing of headlines about the climate crisis; some seem to point to a positive direction, viewpoint or outcome, urging a sunny view (pun intended) of the climate crisis. Others sound fairly gloomy, and with some it’s hard to tell.

Here we go, headlines and sometimes the subheadline:

“U.S. renewables capacity overtakes coal for the first time” with a subheadline of “Renewables now make up 21.56 percent of U.S. generation capacity, compared to 21.55 percent for coal, according to official figures.” Pretty sunny.

“What to do about plastic pollution — Bans on bags will not solve a global recycling failure.” Gloomy.

“Is Antarctica Collapsing? Rapid glacier retreat could put coastlines underwater sooner than anticipated.” I’d go with gloomy on this one, but the article says scientists are not sure.

“California officially becomes first in the nation mandating solar power for new homes —Historic undertaking expected to boost number of rooftop solar panels across the Golden State.”

Definitely sunny, and it brings to mind a recent email from Woodland City Council member Tom Stallard, that Woodland “continues to maintain an average of more than 500 solar permits issued annually. This has been going on for several years now. I’m very proud of our citizens for embracing this technology which helps reduce our carbon emissions and promotes the objectives of our Climate Action Plan.” There’s lots of sunny stuff happening in Davis — but also in the city to our north.

“U.S. rattles Arctic talks with tough talk on China.” Eight countries and representatives of indigenous peoples of the Arctic Council got together to talk about how to avert the worst effects of climate change and the U.S. Secretary of State shocks everyone by using the occasion to attack China on national security issues. No venue is overlooked when it comes to an opportunity to pick a fight. Gloomy.

“Republicans care about the climate.” Majorities of Republican respondents in recent polls said they were in favor of limiting carbon emissions from coal plants, requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax, and that if there is a policy conflict that pits the environment against economic growth, environmental protection trumps (another pun intended). Very sunny.

“Record-high carbon emissions highlight gap in goals, action.” Quoting from the article, “Between 2014 and 2017 emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent.” Very gloomy.

“Pentagon fears confirmed: Climate change leads to more wars and refugees.” I don’t know whether this is sunny or gloomy. On the bright side, maybe the climate hawks in Washington will listen to the military. The gloomy side is the content of this report is not new news, and so far it doesn’t seem to have had any effect.

“Energy efficiency jobs in America — 2.25 million Americans work in energy efficiency.” According to the article, “Across every time zone, state, county, and even zip code, energy efficiency solutions are creating new economic opportunities … its workers now outnumber elementary and middle school teachers and are now double those in U.S. law enforcement.” Definitely sunny; energy efficiency is good for the wallet.

“Carbon emissions’ rise hastens perils to globe, two new studies warn — rising greenhouse gases likened to ‘speeding freight train.’” No explanation needed for this one; not just gloomy, also scary.

“California orders new city buses to be electric.” Municipal bus fleets can take as long as 10 years before they must only buy electric buses, and have to be fully electrified by 2040, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road. Sunny (I want to end these examples on a positive note).

I guess, if I had to summarize my experience with headlines today, the signals point in many directions, some forward but mostly either backwards or sideways, lending not much certainty to our overall direction. Danger and dithering are by far still the dominant messages in our headlines.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on June 19, 2019 | Printed in the June 19, 2019 edition on page B3