How to think about Climate change: discussing the discussion

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

Photo by Flickr user Rusty Stewart

“If the things we report and the way we report them serve only to confuse people or frighten them or anger them, we diminish their understanding of the great issues of the day.”--Michael Enright, CBC journalist

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.

Nearly half of Americans believe climate change threat is exaggerated (

[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.

Scientists take another run at climate change (USA Today)

[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…”

Political ads: new weapon in US climate change war? (Reuters)

[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.”

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You’re a click away from shutting off lights around the world

It’s stuff like this that makes me love multimedia.

This 26-picture series allows you to experience Earth Hour 2010 from several vantage points.

Whether you think it’s a token gesture or an inspiring display of human coordination, I think you’ll be impressed by the stunning change in landscape.

As a displaced Torontonian, I’m happy to see our financial district included in this series. Especially since, this time around, my adoptive Vancouver–which is striving to be the greenest city–didn’t have much to show for it.

Personally, I was eating comfort food and hanging out in a dark room with about 30 other students. It was a fine opportunity to stuff one too many cookies in my mouth and chew like a gluttonous toddler. We also managed to pull off a round of donna nobis pacem without sounding too much like screaming banshees.

(Shout outs to Jenni Dunning for bringing this amazing gallery to my attention.)

Everything’s Amazing & Nobody’s Happy

How fitting is it that this video choked while loading on my iPhone, and I made the “crappiest generation” face. Louis CK is a stand up comedian who just calls it like he sees it, and I’ll definitely be thinking about him next time I’m sitting in a chair in the sky.

This video has been viral for a while now, but it’s so worth sharing with those who haven’t seen it…
especially non-contributing zeros.

Vancouver’s Next Gay Top Model TONIGHT!

Will Garon Hill be crowned Vancouver's Next Gay Top Model tonight?

Garon Hill may be “the nice guy,” but he has no intention of finishing last.

He’s a finalist in Vancouver’s Gay Top Model, a community spin-off of the popular American reality TV show. The amateur model will take to the catwalk tonight, where he’s hoping to outshine nine other hopefuls and get his shot at a professional modeling career. The men will be competing at Celebrities, the largest gay nightclub in the city.

This morning, I interviewed Garon, as well as host and 2008 winner Aaron Ursacki. Among other things, we spoke about what it means to walk primed and proud at this unique event, and why the glam-charity focuses on raising funds for the wellness and friendship  society Friends for Life.

Listen to competitor Garon Hill and 2008 winner Aaron Ursacki:


(I had to lose a lot of great audio to create a really short voicer for school, so maybe I’ll remix the material into something else later.)

This story was never supposed to appear here.

So, this is a bit of a tale-within-a-tale, but it’s worth mentioning. This audio story and some pictures were supposed to go up on miss 604 Rebecca Bollwit’s  popular Vancouver blog. Unfortunately, her website is down due to a distributed denial of service attack. Earlier today, she posted this very sad tweet:

“My site is the target of a DDOS attack meaning I am completely out of commision… indefintitely. No more”

Due to the timeliness of the Gay Top Model story, I’ve gone ahead and posted it here on the Fab Files instead… but let’s hope Rebecca gets her wonderful website back!



Garon prepares for tonight’s show at his partner’s place in Vancouver.

Garon lays out all the outfits he's going to wear tonight

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The science behind a climate headline

In 4 minutes, atmospheric chemist Rachel Pike provides a glimpse of the massive scientific effort behind the bold headlines on climate change, with her team — one of thousands who contributed — taking a risky flight over the rainforest in pursuit of data on a key molecule.

So, I’m starting a project for one of my courses–namely, Climate Change in the 21st century with Stewart Cohen–and I’m really interested in how media representations of climate change inform (or misinform) the public conversation. This is obviously an overly broad topic at this moment, however, my preliminary research is already turning up some fascinating stuff.

Pike’s brief talk has given me a glimpse at how much work can go into a very specific scientific pursuit. How do you fairly represent this kind of work  in a daily news story? How do you make it interesting and accessible in a feature?

Anyway, as a non-scientist, such a massive concerted effort was beyond the purview of my imagination. This clip helped me put things in perspective. It’s worth a watch.

A Cup of Kava: UBC student gains insight on Fijian culture

Wanying Zhao, MA Candidate at UBC Psychology Department

Wanying Zhao’s lips were itchy, and her tongue felt slightly numb.

In a roomful of Fijians, the young researcher was drinking Kava, a mildly intoxicating beverage that comes from a plant of the same name. Kava, she explained, is the foundation of social activity in the village of Teci, Fiji, where she lived as a cultural researcher in the summer of 2009.

“Kava looks like muddy water and it tastes pretty much the same,” laughed Zhao, who explained that the drink becomes more potent over time, creating a body buzz that makes the drinker feel mellow.

To demonstrate one of kava’s effects, Zhao momentarily closed her eyes, smiled and swayed gently.

Not all ethnographers could describe such details first hand, as some don’t believe outsiders should actively participate in the cultures they study. But Zhao’s team consciously chose participant observation as their research strategy, doing ethnography by conducting experiments and interviews, as well as engaging in day-to-day routines.

“I’m used to living in large cities where people mostly leave each other alone,” said Zhao. She described the strong kinship in the small 26-family village, where it was possible to walk anywhere in 15 minutes or less.

Her team’s interest was in understanding how and why people cooperate, and having intimate access was a very important advantage. Teci is one of more than a dozen field sites, where researchers like Zhao are actively examining human cognition through the Culture & the Mind project to see what people around the world have in common and also how they differ.

Little Sione, the mischievous child featured in Zhao’s audio story (see below).

“Fiji was really good in terms of people being very inclusive, warm and inviting,” said Zhao, who didn’t take the Fijian’s openness for granted, “It’s harder to understand a culture from the outside when you’re being treated with suspicion.”

From a solar-powered bure (Fijian hut), Zhao and her team engaged with tremendous questions, such as “what are norms?” and “what solutions have different cultures evolved to maintain social order?”

While engaging with the villagers, including large groups of enthusiastic children, Zhao gained what she calls an “embodied understanding” of her host community.

“You miss a lot when you don’t engage,” Zhao explained. “It’s only by participating and interacting that you begin to understand what it means to live, think and feel in another cultural world.”

Listen to Wanying Zhao tell a story about the Fijian “Denise the Menace”

“He’d wack the dogs and chase the cats…”