It’s no surprise to hear all-encompassing statements about the press, as if it were a monolithic blob of “media.” One such claim is as follows: when it comes to climate change, journalists “aren’t doing anything to / are doing a poor job of” making sense of this contentious conversation.
So, is this true? Are meta-conversations about our very understanding of climate change actually absent or useless? To explore the situation, I’ve been collecting headlines since mid-March. Below, you’ll find recent attempts by many reporters, from publications big and small, to frame the discussion.
An important caveat: I have not read the stories at the bottom of this post, nor I am not actively endorsing all the stories I have read. I’m collecting these stories for a project I’m currently working on, and I just thought it’d be useful to bring a sample to the fore for the rest of you.
As I make my way down this growing list, I’ll try to provide the gist of, or interesting points from, each media text.
Climate Change in the Headlines
How well have journalists covered climate change? (TVO, The Agenda with Steve Paikin)
Gist: I watched this hour-long panel and I think it does provide a decent enough pan of the landscape. Its strength is that it brings together academically-anchored as well as practicing journalists, a blogger, a scientist, a foreign policy advisor, etc, so it’s not navel-gazing. Its limitation is that it’s typical of many televised discussions. They are, by format, somewhat stilted and privileging of breadth over depth. Still, host Steve Paikin does raise some interesting questions, and this is a good starting off point for further conversation.
[article] Excerpt: “He said the scientists who worked on the IPCC report were woefully outmanoeuvred in PR by business groups which have the funds to employ legions of lobbyists and communications experts. “It’s not a fair fight,” he said. “The IPCC is just a tiny secretariat next to this giant denier machine.”
Climate change science more certain than ever (The Turlock Journal)
[Short article] Gist: Anthony L. Westerling, an associate professor of environmental engineering and geography at UC, contrasts the decrease in American concern over climate change with the increase in certainty within the scientific community. The centerpiece of his text is the recently released report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.” He concludes with a bulleted list of the report’s findings.
[News brief] Excerpt: “Eight Nobel-prize winning economists and scientists have joined more than 2,000 others in signing a letter today that urges the Senate to take swift action on climate change…”
[Article] Excerpt: “Big business is now free to blitz the airwaves to attack politicians who support action against climate change, which could smother messages from environmentalists…”
“Environmental groups used to be able to get free media coverage by pitching stories to reporters. Now many journalists who wrote about those issues are gone, and the space available for coverage of the environment is shrinking…”
What’s the Proper Role of Individuals and Institutions in Addressing Climate … (Huffington Post)
[article] Excerpt: “…despite the fact that these decisions are made by firms and individuals, government action is clearly key, because climate change is an externality, and it is rarely, if ever, in the self-interest of firms or individuals to take unilateral actions. That’s why the climate problem exists, in the first place. Voluntary initiatives — no matter how well-intended — will not only be insufficient, but insignificant relative to the magnitude of the problem…Whether conventional standards or market-based instruments are used, meaningful government regulation will be required.”
Series of missteps by climate scientists threatens climate–change agenda (Washington Post)
[Article] Gist: Two Washington Post journalists look at the series of events that have cast a negative light on the IPCC. The article is front-loaded with deniers, skeptics, and strongly-worded quotations but seems to level out a bit in the second half. Although the authors clearly state “there is still a scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change,” the piece is written in such a way that it creates room for more stalling and more confusion.
I think I’ll select this one for an in-depth analysis in my upcoming assigment, which I will post in some form later, but suffice it to say that this “balanced” article actually sends the climate conversation spinning into reverse. They say: “The errors in the U.N. report — a document intended to be the last nail in the coffin of climate doubt — are a serious problem that could end up forcing environmentalists to focus more on the old question of proving that climate change is a threat, instead of the new question of how to stop it (emphasis mine).” I can’t wait to take that apart. In the meantime, the Guardian does a much better job of putting the IPCC errors in context.
British royalty speaks on climate change (Liberty University)
[PR Release] Gist: Even this PR release puts “royalty” in air quotes, so don’t expect the Queen. The title refers to Christopher Monckton, a known climate change denier, who recently spoke at a convocation ceremony at Liberty University. LU is a christian evangelical university in Lynchburg, Virginia. Although Monckton said he hasn’t received a red cent from big oil, lets follow the money, shall we? Oh, and even though he makes very heavy-handed scientific claims, he’s no scientist… but someone who is (Andrew Glikson, an Australian Earth and Paleoclimate scientist) has taken the time to rebut his claims.
[Public Feedback] Gist: This link basically takes you to a discussion forum on Crikey, an Australian independent online publication. I read around in the thread and, as in many public discussions, opinions varied and some insights were more useful than others.
[Editorial] Excerpt: “Our legislature and federal government are high stake gamblers. They are betting that any global climate change will be gradual and there is no urgency to cut greenhouse gas emissions severely…”
Gist: The aptly-named Bidgood (retired chemist and technical marketing manager) lays out a series of risks he thinks require serious attention, particularly for those in Florida.
[Editorial] Gist: A very short opinion piece that doesn’t really answer the question in the title. To be fair, that question is a big one. The essence of Stromberg’s case is here: “Americans are having trouble telling the difference between relatively small criticisms of the science or scientists — minor mistakes in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report or the release of overheated private exchanges among a few climate scientists, for example — and the solid case for the bottom-line on global warming: that it’s extremely likely it’s happening, it’s extremely likely that it’s at least partially our fault, and, if unabated, it’s extremely likely to have some rather unpleasant consequences.”
[Transcription in Q&A format] Gist: This verbal joust may remind you of a Frost/Nixon type of interview. In the hot seat we find Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC. Playing devil’s advocate–literally, as that is the name of the program–we have Journalist Karan Thapar grills Pachauri, who repeatedly asks Pauchauri loaded questions.
It wasn’t hard to track down the original footage (in four parts) and observe how things were said. I’d recommend watching the video and then reading the transcript, as it happens very quickly–just note: the trouble with the transcript is that it degenerates in quality as it progresses, giving the impression that the text itself was sloppily transcribed. For instance, Thapar is noted as saying “voodo signs” when he said “voodo science.”
I think the overall take-away is that this entire discussion is more about inculpating the man than it is about the clarifying the science. Someone who wanted to understand the melting of Himalayan glaciers would likely be at a loss at the end of this interview.
[Article] Excerpt: “What would God do? A rising chorus of voices is framing efforts to fight climate change in moral and religious terms — from the pope to a leading climatologist.”
Gist: This short article is set up by the words of James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen calls climate change “the predominant moral issue of the 21st century,” calling on today’s world leaders to address it like Churchill did the Nazis and Lincoln did slavery. It’s an interesting piece to contrast with the article Language of Religious Fervor Inflames Climate Change Debate. The overall question it raises for me: what’s God got to do with it (if anything)?
Climate Change ‘Quagmire’ (The Wall Street Journal)
[Article] Unfortunately, I couldn’t read this article because it requires a subscription.
Climate change skeptics ‘lack scientific credibility’ (The University of Queensland)
[PR release] Excerpt:“The skeptics who frequently deny the reality of climate change in the world’s media lack all scientific credibility, charge three eminent Australian researchers who have just been listed among the world’s 20 most influential scientists in the field of climate change…The three researchers are urging the Australian and international media to be far more cautious in accepting views about climate change put by people whose work has not been subject to rigorous scientific scrutiny and peer-review – and to question the motives behind it.”
James Lovelock’s Climate Change Pessimism Is Unhelpful (The Guardian)
[Article] Excerpt: “To say that humans are too stupid to prevent climate change is in itself a potentially dangerous remark. It is discouraging, and creates a feeling of inevitability that we will leave a degraded climate for future generations. To achieve climate stability through reductions in fossil fuel emissions will, most likely, require the collective actions of many individuals, and we should remain optimistic that this is possible…Lovelock’s comment that possibly the only solution is to temporarily suspend democracy needs considerable discussion with social scientists and historians. I cannot be alone in feeling nervous about such a view.”
Left-wingers need to find some balance on climate-change (The Edmonton Journal)
[Letter to the Editor?] Gist: Although not clearly flagged as such, this short text is likely a letter from a reader of the Edmonton Journal. It’s use is very limited, as it is simply another example of name-calling which yields very little information for a curious reader. It’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed: many commentators speak of “sides” as opposed to an opinionated spectrum, and decry the stereotyping of their camp while simultaneously stereotyping the other. In this case, the other side are referred to as “climate-change, Kool-Aid drinkers” and “enviro-nuts.”
[Letter to the Editor] Gist: This text is a clearly flagged letter to the editor. This reader does not attack anyone, which is refreshing, and begins this way: “It’s vital for newspapers to do more than just repeat what’s being said, but to show real news judgment. There’s an old joke that if one group tries to claim that the Earth is flat, a newspaper would report, ‘Earth’s Shape: Views Differ.'”
[Blog post] Gist: This article is a re-published blog post in which the author unapologetically criticizes those who wish to stop or stall policy change on climate issues. Most of the author’s own points are political in nature, and he does not delve deeply into the science. Perhaps the most useful information, however, is the nod to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Fact Checker site, “where real climate scientists assess questions through the lens of science not politics.” Still, as this post shows, it can be very difficult to disentangle the two, even for those who think it is important to do so.
[Article] Excerpt: “If the Deniers are using the tobacco model and techniques for their lies, then the appropriate model for legal action against oil companies and their executives is almost certainly the tobacco lawsuits. Here too we find corporate decision makers deliberately lying and funding doubt about the science in order to continue profiting even though it does great public harm. In fact it is no accident that many of the more prominent climate Deniers like Steve Milloy, Fred Singer and Thomas Gale Moore were also funded by big tobacco to do cancer denial before they became climate change Deniers.”
[Blog Post] Gist: I’m calling this one a blog post, as opposed to an article, because it has a very free-form structure. Examiner.com is an interesting media platform because it operates a network of hyper local news sites with content by specialized “examiners” or citizen journalists. In this case, the energy policy examiner is Clifford Bryan, who’s main goal in this piece is to call attention to the Green Peace report “Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine.”