The Climate-Media Paradox: More Coverage, Stalled Progress

Mon, 2011-12-19 05:58Chris Mooney
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The Climate-Media Paradox: More Coverage, Stalled Progress

For those of us who care about global warming, 2006 and 2007 felt like pretty good years. Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for An Inconvenient Truth, sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Media attention to the issue soared, and it was positive attention. Given all the buzz, I—and many others—figured the problem was all but solved.

The next steps appeared deceptively simple. Elect Barack Obama, pass cap-and-trade, go to Copenhagen in the snowy winter of 2009 and take it global—or so I advised in Scientific American. I didn’t expect “ClimateGate,” or the dramatic consequences that an overseas non-scandal (for so I perceived it to be) could have for U.S. climate policy.

Nor did I imagine that virtually the entire Republican Party, rather than just some part of it, would come to reject climate science on this flimsy basis. I expected out-and-out climate change deniers like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe to be further marginalized, not mainstreamed.

Needless to say, I now look back on all this and shake my head.  Clearly, I–and many other people who felt the same way–was missing something rather big. We were far too optimistic in thinking that our governmental and media institutions were up for dealing with this type of problem.

Recently, a new book has helped bring the nature of their failure–and particularly the media's failure–into sharp focus.

It’s University of Colorado media scholar Max Boykoff’s Who Speaks for the Climate: Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change, and it points to a disturbing paradox. In an interview for this post, Boykoff summarized it to me like this: “The crux of the book is that while media coverage has increased on the issue of climate change, rather than greater clarity and consensus on what to do, there has been more confusion than ever.”

Indeed, Boykoff’s book presents data showing that 2009, not 2006-2007, represented the overall global peak of media attention to climate change. Much of that attention, however, was due to “ClimateGate.” And insofar as much of the media coverage out there is “balanced” or focused on doubt-mongering (particularly in the U.S. and the UK), there's every reason to think it is doing more harm than good.

For a striking example of how media attention to climate change can actually hurt, just open Boykoff’s book to page 104:

….during the coverage of COP15 popular Fox News programme ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ pitted the comments of former US Vice-President Al Gore against those of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, with the segment title ‘The Climate Feud.’ Sarah Palin’s authority to speak on the climate derived from an opinion piece she wrote in the Washington Post the day before. In that piece, she confused and conflated weather and climate among other issues, where she opined, “While we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can’t say with assurance that man’s activities cause weather changes. We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs.” These error-laden claims apparently passed editorial correction by the weight of her importance and personality-driven arguments.

In our interview, I asked Boykoff to discuss the role of Fox in particular. We have, after all, every reason to suspect that the station’s coverage of climate change actively causes its audience to be misinformed about the issue, rather than more engaged or better conversant with the science.

Here’s how Boykoff put it:

Fox is a sign of what’s to come. General assignment reporters commenting as experts on complex issues like climate science and climate policy. And opinion journalism taking the place of what had formerly been considered straight journalism.

Fox has, under the banner of fair and balanced journalism, infused these spaces with opinion…as viewership increases with Fox, and atrophies with other places like CNN, then this opinion journalism, and general assignment reporter stories will continue and perhaps flourish. That’s detrimental to gaining public attention and more accurate and effective public engagement with the public on this issue.

But Fox is just the most glaring example of the problem. The deepest issue, Boykoff explained, is that we’re using a “20th century media apparatus”—one whose journalists are focused on conflict, on chasing after the “new,” on “balance”—to tackle a “21st century problem”—climate change. The medium just isn't adequate for conveying the appropriate message.

Why? Climate change isn't an issue that we have the luxury to endlessly debate about, to  hear “both sides” on, or to selectively attend to when it’s convenient. It is the issue of the century, if not the millennium.

But at the same time, you really won’t know that unless you are A) insulated from Fox-style misinformation; B) have enough perspective, scientific and otherwise, to see this issue in the context of the global human energy system, and ultimately, the planetary energy balance itself.

Needless to say, human beings who can tick off both box A and also box B are still far too  scarce. And our media, overall, do little or nothing to create them. Indeed, our media are full of people who themselves are either misinformed, missing the broader perspective, or both.

Who, then, speaks for the climate? If you ask me, it’s too often journalists who not only don’t know what they’re talking about, but don't feel that it's part of their job description to do better. And that, really, is the essence of our problem.

To order Boykoff’s book, you can click here.

Comments

Several recent polls by Pew, Gallop, Harris etc., continue to find a downward trend in concern for global warming among adults since 2007 and find that presently only about 32% of Americans find global warming to be a serious threat.

Fewer See Global Warming as Serious Threat

In similar fashion, the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is going to affect them or their way of life in their lifetimes has dropped to 32% from a 40% high point in 2008. Two-thirds of Americans say global warming will not affect them in their lifetimes.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/126560/americans-global-warming-concerns-continue-drop.aspx

With 76% of the population being 18 and older, that means that according to polls 160 million adult Americans do not find global warming to be a serious threat.  

The average prime time viewership of Fox is roughly 2,000,000 viewers/day on average, which leaves 158 million US adults getting their climate information from sources other than Fox. 

“The average prime time viewership of Fox is roughly 2,000,000 viewers/day on average,”

I imagine that in turn, those viewers have friends & family that they pass their message onto. I doubt whether the information stops with the viewer. They discuss what they have been told.

“which leaves 158 million US adults getting their climate information from sources other than Fox.”

No doubt, such as AM talkback, papers, blogs & front groups. They all reinforce each others view in the echo chamber. Rarely do journo’s in this echo chamber check facts, or want to. 

I believe people are turning off TV for news in masses. Too many ads, too contrived, too slow. The internet is fast becomg the place for news. Its quick. You can consume many news stories in a 10th of the time it takes you to see just a couple on the TV. Plus you don’t have to participate in viewing advertising if you choose not to.

 

Phil - you’re overlooking the fact that the same argument that you make about Fox being spread by its audience can also be made for the audiences of PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, etc whose combined prime time audiences far exceed Fox.

Consider also that the latest polls show a drop across the entire political spectrum. According to Gallup,”And though wide ideological differences remain, both liberals and conservatives are more likely now than they were in 2008 to believe the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated in the news.”

How many believe that the threat was exaggerated? Here is the breakdown.

Liberals in 2008 13% => Liberals in 2010 26%

Moderates in 2008 34% => Moderates in 2010 40%

Conservatives in 2008 51% => Conservatives in 2010 67%

http://www.gallup.com/poll/126563/conservatives-doubts-global-warming-grow.aspx

You certainly can’t blame Fox or Fox type outlets for the 13% increase in 2 years by liberals that believe the climate threat is exaggerated. Fox is not a big factor at all but Mooney has no real clue as to why polls show such a rapid decline in the number of Americans that no longer see global warming as a serious threat, so he chooses to highlight some guy who appeals to his confirmation bias about Fox. The same trend that is happening in America is also happening overseas too.

That a huge portion of people are misinformed?

Here’s a republican scientist and what he thinks of all the misinformation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDNXuX6D60U

Hey, do you think Exxon got its money’s worth from its counter climate change advertising campaign?

“Phil - you’re overlooking the fact that the same argument that you make about Fox being spread by its audience can also be made for the audiences of PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, etc whose combined prime time audiences far exceed Fox.”

That’s a fair point. But people have to get their information somewhere. And if they are not developing opinions based on information they have consumed through fox, AM talkback, blogs, papers or politicians, then what do you attribute it to? Do you believe they somehow form these opinions in isolation of all media sources?

“Consider also that the latest polls show a drop across the entire political spectrum.”

That just shows that people are vulnerable to misinformation & propaganda. Considering that most conservative news sources are telling the public the opposite of what the worlds scientific institutes are saying. It just shows that lies & propaganda are easier consumed than facts. A bit like how carbon monoxide is absorbed into the body easier than oxygen, yet is less beneficial for you.

“You certainly can’t blame Fox or Fox type outlets for the 13% increase in 2 years by liberals that believe the climate threat is exaggerated. Fox is not a big factor at all but Mooney has no real clue as to why polls show such a rapid decline in the number of Americans that no longer see global warming as a serious threat, so he chooses to highlight some guy who appeals to his confirmation bias about Fox.”

Nowhere in the article did Mooney say the entire responsibility for misinformation was soley the fault of Fox news. He singled out Fox in one section, but the bulk of the story was about media in general. Fox has become synonymous with misinformation & the term “Foxification” has become easily identifiable as a technique that many media sources are adopting. I believe this is what they are getting at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Foxification_of_News

Excerpt: “Fox News has also developed a particular style of communication that variously contains appeals to patriotism, overt partisan discourse, and also employs the use of hyperbolic claims.”

“The same trend that is happening in America is also happening overseas too.”

What do you attribute that to, if the bulk of the worlds science says the opposite to those trends? Why do you suppose that active scientists who are also active publishers on climate science are increasing?

http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf

Why is it that the more you have to do with the actual science the more you are inclined to accept the prevailing view, yet the less expertise one has, the trend goes the other way?

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/climate-change-a-consensus-among-scientists/




 

… not news.

 Climate change denial, for the most part, is confined to English speaking countries, and ones with interests in fossil fuels.  U.S., Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand

 And much of the growth of denialism overseas was intentionally spread there from the U.S. by conservative think tanks etc.

Pat Michaels, Robert Balling and Fred Singer helped found the skeptic organization, ESEF, in Europe in 1996. The ESEF takes the same absurd position as OSIM, the group who issued the Oregon Petition . They want you to think global warming will be good for you.
Those three skeptics sure get around, don’t they?
  

 

Phil

  AM radio talk show broadcast is dominated by conservative, Fox like shows.   If anything, they are even more extreme. They far outnumber progressive talk radio.

  Reuters published results of a poll showing the opposite. 

“More Americans Believe World Is Warming, New Reuters/Ipsos Poll Shows”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/15/us-usa-poll-ipsos-idUSTRE78D5B220110915

 ”Unlike many other issues that divide Republicans and Democratic voters, such as healthcare or how to deal with the deficit and debt, a majority of Americans from both major parties agree on global warming, the poll found. Some 72 percent of Republicans believe global warming is happening and 92 percent of Democrats do, it found.”

 It said 71% of Americans think humans are at least partly responsible for the warming.

 It also said ‘skeptics’ were becoming more entrenched in their belief. 





 

hate radio

AM radio talk show broadcast is dominated by conservative, Fox like shows. “

And

“hate radio”

Yes, commercial talkradio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck & Sean Hannity certainly has a lot to answer for also. As do many other commercial talkradio hosts around the world (Alan Jones here in Australia). Their educations are almost identical “dropped out of university”. Their one qualification or skill set they are required to have is to talk under water. Doesn’t matter if its true, just rant. Feign anger. Use dog whistle techniques known to draw allegiance from conservatives. Like mention any of these words frequently & you are guaranteed to get your conservative audience worked up & on side;  tax, red tape, bureaucracy, regulations, big government, less freedom, taking away rights, nanny state, incompetence, spending our money.

They believe its ok if conservative governments do any or all of those things or do them more than a liberal government……..because somehow, they do it more carefully.

Here is a good compilation of Rush Limbaugh working his audience. Have a listen to the amount of times he mentions hoax & scam, lol.

“Rush Limbaugh: Climate Change Misinformer of the Year”

http://mediamatters.org/research/201112190006?frontpage

I especially like this from Limbaugh :

“How do i know global warming is a hoax? Because of who is pushing it……Liberals!…. they lie!”

Yep, thats all the evidence you would need. Sounds like  Ralph or Rick verbatim.



 

AM radio talk show broadcast is dominated by conservative, Fox like shows. “

And

“hate radio”

Yes, commercial talkradio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck & Sean Hannity certainly has a lot to answer for also. As do many other commercial talkradio hosts around the world (Alan Jones here in Australia). Their educations are almost identical “dropped out of university”. Their one qualification or skill set they are required to have is to talk under water. Doesn’t matter if its true, just rant. Feign anger. Use dog whistle techniques known to draw allegiance from conservatives. Like mention any of these words frequently & you are guaranteed to get your conservative audience worked up & on side;  tax, red tape, bureaucracy, regulations, big government, less freedom, taking away rights, nanny state, incompetence, spending our money.

They believe its ok if conservative governments do any or all of those things or do them more than a liberal government……..because somehow, they do it more carefully.

Here is a good compilation of Rush Limbaugh working his audience.

“Rush Limbaugh: Climate Change Misinformer of the Year”

http://mediamatters.org/research/201112190006?frontpage

I especially like this from Limbaugh :

“How do i know global warming is a hoax? Because of who is pushing it……Liberals!…. they lie!”

Yep, thats all the evidence you would need. Sounds like  Ralph or Rick verbatim.



 

Chiquita bananas has decided to ban the use of Alberta Tar Sands to fuel its deliveries!

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kathryn-marshall/chiquita-supports-blood-oil_b_1155091.html

Elthical Oils accuses Chiquita of ‘greenwashing’.

http://www.ethicaloil.org/news/unethical-chiquita-supports-blood-oil/

Hello?  Pot? Have you met the kettle?

Exactly. Just like Levant whitewashes history. It’s tragic, and funny.

First, there’s no way to tell whether the gasoline comes from Tar Sands oil or not. Most Canadian Refineries are in in the east and mix imported oil with domestic oil. The few refineries in Alberta ship Tar Sands oil to the US (and some to Eastern suppliers). It all gets mixed anyway and there’s no way to tell exactly the origin of any given supply of oil to a fleet of trucks on any given day.

Second, Ezra Levant just embarrases himself again. He has no clue about Guatemalan history. The United Fruit Comapny was an American coporation founded in 1899, lasting until 1970 when it became United Brands and then later Chiquita. UFC had a horrible reputation throughout Latin America for its unscrupulous practices of bribing government officials for special treatment, barbaric mistreatment of workers and ruthless tactics to creat a monopoly for itself.

In 1954, the CIA led a coup against the Guatemalan government after democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman had begun making land reforms to help peasants and to clean up corruption and influence peddling by large corporations like UFC. CIA director Allan Dulles and his brother had shares in the United Fruit Company. The land reforms by the Arbenz government created fear of communism (this was during the Red Scare). The UFC lobbied the US government to ‘do something’. And sure enough, the CIA armed and trained insurgents to overthrow the Guatemalan government. Once the government was overthrown, and Arbenz resigned, the country descnded into chaos leading to a bloody civil war. Sound familiar? Can you say Iraq?

Levant only tells half the story of the United Fruit Company. Wouldn’t the fact that Canada sells almost all of it’s tar sands oil to rogue, terrorist nations like the US who backed and supported the UFC and overthrew a democratically elected government make Canadian tar sands conflict oil?

“Once the government was overthrown, and Arbenz resigned, the country descnded into chaos leading to a bloody civil war. Sound familiar? Can you say Iraq?”

 No kidding.   I take it you have seen the movie - “No End In Sight”.

 Anyone who hasn’t, should check it out.  About how the Bush administration failed to establish order in Iraq, after invading.  Basically let it fall into chaos.


 

Unfortunately such coverage of climate change does not apply only to Fox. Similar conclusions are drawn in a longitudinal study regarding Canadian print media:

“Representations of Climate Change in Canadian National Print Media: The Banalization of Global Warming” (Canadian Review of Sociology, 2011).

To give only one example, in 1988/1989 the causation of climate change was mentioned in 85% of the articles published, while in 2007/2008 this percentage has decreased to… 13%! No wonder Ms. Palin “can’t say with assurance” anything about it.

Here’s a link for the article Mihai Sabu mentioned: 

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-618X.2011.01247.x/abstract

If the poll I referenced is right, it shows that GOP politicians are even out of step with rank and file Republicans.

There is a bad link on the last word of the story.

To order Boykoff’s book, you can click here.

The word “here” doesn’t go to the book.

 

that is fixed.

not look good.

[x]

Problems caused by climate change are likely already dangerous and global warming may be irreversible, according to a draft science report by a United Nations committee.

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) report, leaked earlier this week to a number of major media organizations, said continued greenhouse gas emissions caused primarily by burning oil, coal and natural gas will probably increase the likelihood of  “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

The New York Times...

read more