Major newspapers in the U.S. have produced 7 to 21 articles per day about climate change – but botch the reporting says a paper published in a National Academy of Sciences journal.
Since 2016, the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times have produced between 204 to 643 climate change-related articles per month, or 7 to 21 articles per day, according to tracking led by Max Boykoff of the University of Colorado Boulder—figures that do not include the significant number of online-only articles at the Times and Post, or articles by wire services.
This is published in Issues in Science and Technology, which is s a journal published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and Arizona State University.
It’s worse than we thought:
Studies conducted by social scientists in the United States and Europe using statistical techniques to rigorously evaluate hundreds of news stories show that journalists frequently gloss over the uncertainties and caveats inherent in a single study or line of climate change research, neglect to report on the varying predictions offered by different climate models, and fail to include in their reporting the careful language that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has developed to qualify the likelihood of various consequences of climate change. In coverage of major climate change-related events such as a new IPCC report or United Nations summit, journalists also tend to dramatize their significance by emphasizing the most calamitous future climate change scenarios, framing a new scientific report’s findings in terms of disastrous and fear-inducing risks, rather than emphasizing in the face of those risks opportunities to protect health or sustainably grow economies. Reviewing available studies, the German journalism researcher Michael Bruggeman concludes that reporting too often “simplifies science and turns context-dependent and preliminary findings into established facts.”
Note the use of fear, “by emphasizing the most calamitous future climate change scenarios” and framing everything “in terms of disastrous and fear-inducing risks”. Regarding the last sentence, above, I frequently see reporters confusing future projections with today – literally implying that a future projected effect is occurring now, when the data does not support such conclusions.
Headlines reporting on the 2018 IPCC report verged on dystopian. “Major climate report describes a strong risk of crisis as early as 2040,” warned the New York Times. “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, UN scientists say,” echoed the Washington Post. “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe,” predicted The Guardian. “New UN climate report dims hope for averting catastrophic global warming,” declared HuffPost. “UN says climate genocide is coming. It’s actually worse than that,” was the headline at New York magazine.
I am gratified to see that others of far higher pay scale than me are seeing the same problems that I see in climate communications. The media has gone off the deep end, which leads to the “Never Cry Wolf” phenomena as many of us no longer believe anything we read in the media.
“Such alarmism by the climate scientists has spawned doomsterism, to the dismay of these same climate scientists – things are so bad that we are all doomed, so why should we bother.”
Standard Disclaimer Applies: How to Do Climate Communications – Never Cry Wolf
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.
Stick with the facts of CO2 rising, sea level ice and temperature changes, ice mass changes or risk tuning all of us out. Shrill terminology designed to create emotional outrage and responses is a total turn off.
The facts are sufficient. The impacts of untrue propaganda hysteria, on the other hand, are to turn off the target completely. We have learned nothing from the parable of the boy who repeatedly cried Wolf!
The propaganda messaging methods in use are leading to public opinions that are not based in facts, logic or evidence. In the U.S. 51% of those aged 18-34 believe humanity may become extinct within 10-15 years, even though there is zero evidence to support such a conclusion. This disconnect between belief and reality risks the potential for major backlash against taking action to reduce CO2-equivalent effects on climate.
Some suggest focusing on solutions and opportunities – instead of unrealistic, dystopian catastrophes designed primarily as click-bait – would be a more effective and positive way forward for climate communications. Instead, we get intense negativity – and falsehoods – that have led to children and adults to seek mental health treatment for induced anxiety.
Personal Notes on Climate Realism
We are taking direct actions to reduce our CO2-equivalent emissions. In late 2019, we are spending $18,000 (before credits) to install a solar PV array that will reduce our home’s annual grid-provided electricity to net zero (likely less). Our utility generates 56% of its electricity by burning coal and 14% by burning natural gas (about half the emissions of coal). Solar PV directly cuts our portion of those GHG emissions to zero.
We are spending over $5,000 to upgrade 40 year old R-19 attic insulation (which has settled such that it is less than that) to R-49 building code standards. For an all electric house, we currently use 1/3d the amount of electricity of similar homes. We heat using locally sourced wood pellets and our home is cold most every winter day. I drive a Honda Fit averaging about 42 mpg. While spending an amount similar to a low end electric vehicle, our solar and attic upgrades we will have a far greater reduction in CO2 emissions than buying an EV. About half of an EV’s lifetime CO2 emissions occur during its manufacturing and if you live where your electricity is generated by burning coal, your overall CO2 emissions reductions are small. While EVs will generally reduce CO2 emissions, for many they are primarily a virtue signaling device (a survey by Volvo found about 75% of purchasers said this, and selected an EV because paradoxically it “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”.)
I post this at the end of each climate communications post because merely asking any questions about climate change results in being called a climate denier or a Nazi.
Call me a climate realist but don’t call me a denier or a Nazi.