Thursday, February 26, 2009

Media Needs to Take Climate Change More Seriously

British climate scientists are faulting the media for inadequate climate change coverage:

Researchers found that the total number of articles on climate change printed over three years was fewer than one month’s worth of articles featuring health issues. The articles offered mixed messages about the seriousness and imminence of problems facing the environment.

Dr Gavin explains: “Our research suggests that the media is not treating these issues with the seriousness that scientists would say they deserve. The research company lpsos-MORI found that 50% of people think the jury is still out on the causes of global warming. The limited amount of media coverage - which tends to be restricted to the broadsheets - means that this statistic is unlikely to alter in the short-term.

“Climate change, therefore, may not be high enough on the media agenda to stimulate the sort of public concern that prompts concerted political action. The media may well continue to focus its attention on health, the economy or crime, thereby drawing public attention away from the issue of climate change."
That problem of inadequate coverage is compounded when relatively good climate change reporting has to share space with denialist or obstructionist tracts, such as John Tierney's nonsense in the NY Times Science section. I suppose it is fair to include multiple points of view regarding political solutions on an opinion page, but in its current placement – treated as a science column – it undermines the credibility of the paper's science reporting. (I do not mean to pick exclusively on the Times here; I have seen other papers do the similar things.) Treating the existence of climate change as a matter of opinion and failing to connect the dots between rising temperatures and natural disasters makes the worst-case scenarios far more likely.