Climate Communications: Climate media coverage lacks facts, say researchers

Climate Communications: Climate media coverage lacks facts, say researchers

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But of the 600 news articles mentioning climate change over the 38-year period, the vast majority contained none of the five basic climate facts. This occurred despite the ease with which the basic facts of climate science were embedded in articles that did mention these facts.

Source: In media coverage of climate change, where are the facts? | EurekAlert! Science News

Professors at U.C. Berkeley examined a set of published media reports about climate. They found that nearly all news articles about climate omit the most basic facts about climate and imply this is the source of skepticism about projections for future changes in climate.

A corollary is if they are not reporting basic facts, what are they reporting?

One possibility is that news reports are primarily propaganda messaging using the techniques and methods of propaganda to persuade the audience – these methods include fear, get on the bandwagon, name calling, appeal to authority, and so on – but omit factual information about climate.

For many, the onslaught of propaganda messaging – rather than facts and logic – is a turn off and may lead directly to skepticism.

For example, this past week the news on a self proclaimed child prophet who tells us to do as she says, immediately, or we are all going to die. That is propaganda messaging – and not a credible way to argue a point.

As Nobel recipient Bertrand Russell said, a valid argument rests solely on facts and logic. Propaganda, on the other hand, is generally intended to appeal to your emotions – and to short circuit your rational thinking in order to drive you to a conclusion based on emotions, not fact.

Climate communication messaging, for several decades, has made extensive use of appeals to authority (science, IPCC) and scary future projections and surprisingly little based on facts and logic. Just look up “climate change” on Google News and you will see the over reliance on propaganda messaging techniques.

This post offers clues as to how to effectively communicate what is known about climate – try facts and logic and kill the propaganda messaging and hyperbole.

Factfulness

I have been reading Factfulness by Dr. Hans Rosling, as noted in a post a few days ago. And then this happened, as if to prove Dr. Rosling’s point 🙂

As I was writing this I received an email from a conservation group – The Nature Conservancy –  that I support with donations. Their email began with the following:

There’s no doubt[1] that we’re now seeing the effects of climate change every day — wildfires[2], hurricanes[3], rising sea levels[4]… all getting more extreme[5].

Claims 1, 2, 3 and 5 are, in fact, false. Claim 4 is true.  Go and read our prior post on factfulness and then check the underlying data and authoritative sources to see how you are misled. See below for authoritative sources that refute the claims made in 1, 2, 3 and 5.

This single sentence uses the propaganda methods of:

  • Glittering generalities
  • Assertion
  • Get on the band wagon
  • Fear
  • Lies

Untrue propaganda statements like the above are a turn off to many.  The Nature Conservancy should focus on facts of atmospheric CO2 levels rising, land and sea surface temperature anomalies, ice pack changes, ocean Ph and sea level change (IPCC Synthesis Report, Figure SPM.1) – as reported by reputable scientific bodies, but they did not. Instead they went straight for hyperbole and making untrue claims to promote fear and hysteria. Classic propaganda techniques.

From their own web site:

Not any more.

 

 

References

[1] As you can see in [1] and [2] there are, in fact, doubts about these claims, from authoritative sources.

[2] “Yet many consider wildfire as an accelerating problem, with widely held perceptions both in the media and scientific papers of increasing fire occurrence, severity and resulting losses. However, important exceptions aside, the quantitative evidence available does not support these perceived overall trends. Instead, global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago. ” – Doerr, S., Santin, C. (2016) Global trends in wildfire and is impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world. Phil Transactions of the Royal Society B. Retrieved from: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2015.0345

[3] “Statistical tests indicate that this trend [in tropical cyclones] is not significantly distinguishable from zero (Figure 2). In addition, Landsea et al. (2010) note that the rising trend in Atlantic tropical storm counts is almost entirely due to increases in short-duration (<2 day) storms alone. Such short-lived storms were particularly likely to have been overlooked in the earlier parts of the record, as they would have had less opportunity for chance encounters with ship traffic….In short, the historical Atlantic hurricane frequency record does not provide compelling evidence for a substantial greenhouse warming-induced long-term increase.” Global Warming and Hurricanes: An overview of current research results. (2019). NOAA. Retrieved from: https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/ This NOAA paper summarizes the 2019 reports from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

[3a – related but not cited] “The bar charts below indicate there has been little trend in the frequency of the stronger tornadoes over the past 55 years”. NOAA – Historical Records and Trends. Retrieved from: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events/us-tornado-climatology/trends

[4] The rate of sea level rise appears to have increased since 1993 after being basically linear for just over 100 years. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-sea-level

[4a – related but not cited] “Mass gains of Antarctica ice sheets greater than losses”. Retrieved from: https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2361/study-mass-gains-of-antarctic-ice-sheet-greater-than-losses/

[5] There are papers claiming events are more “extreme” and also papers from authoritative sources, like those above, that say these events are not more extreme. Many have confused future projections with contemporary data- incorrectly attributing future projections of, say, wildfires or increased flooding, as if they have already occurred.

 

Additional commentary by Professor Byron Sharp, who writes

It’s not that global warming isn’t a problem, but the problem has been misrepresented, and over-hyped (by people with good intentions).

and

Contrary to reports in the popular press, climate scientists have not been reporting more hurricanes, flood, fires and so on due to Global Warming. There are concerns that extreme weather events might increase but not for a long while yet, and maybe not. Equally importantly United Nations data shows that deaths due to extreme weather events have declined a staggering 96% over the past century, and that’s in spite of population growth. Why? How? Largely due to better buildings and infrastructure, better emergency services, better hospitals and so on. In other words, human technology and wealth levels, both of which continue to improve. So even predictions of increased deaths due to a warmer planet seem far fetched, while the idea that global warming means “the end is nigh” is sheer apocalyptic fantasy.

Again, stick with the actual facts of climate change: “atmospheric CO2 levels rising, land and sea surface temperature anomalies, ice pack changes, ocean Ph and sea level change (IPCC Synthesis Report, Figure SPM.1) – as reported by reputable scientific bodies,“. All the hyperbolic exaggeration is turning everyone one. This is a major, major, major failure of climate communications – most of which is having an effect opposite to their goals.

 

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