Global warming a tough issue for the media

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    Martin W

      I’ve only recently come across interview with New York Times reporter Brooke Gladstone about the media and global warming.
      Interesting reading – includes fact that it’s a big issue, with long time scale, barely suited to frontpage headlines: can get frontpage news, but may be wrong if saying Hurricane Katrina, say, is definite result of warming.
      Also, get tendency for media to aim for “balance” – showing there’s debate, when really, the scientific consensus is that global warming is very real. (Occurs to me that it’s a bit like debating the pros and cons of bestiality or something; just because a few people may be in favour doesn’t mean there’s a real debate about morals of it.)
      Quotes from Gladstone include:

      when you look at the near term, there’s been a lot of melting, a lot of strange things going on with the sea ice that they can’t ascribe this particular year to our influence on the climate system. They know it’s contributing to change but there’s enough variability in the Arctic that you can’t make a slam dunk case. So that’s a nightmare for the media. You know, my editors — the one thing that makes them glaze over immediately is the word “incremental”. That’s like, at The Times, and I’m sure any other newsroom, that’s a death sentence for a story. And global warming is kind of like the Social Security and national debt of the environment. It’s there, we all recognize it’s some kind of big bad thing, but it’s always kind of a “someday, somewhere story.”

      Dangerous Extremes

      Post edited by: Martin, at: 2006/12/14 14:42

      Martin W

        Thoughtful commentary on this issue from Dick Meyer of, includes:

        So what is it that makes some human brains dismiss or ignore global warming and others, far fewer, feel worried, threatened and called to action? Answering this question properly is probably far more important to future behavior and policy than endless arguments about how hot it will be in Cincinnati in 2077.

        Charles Darwin explains a lot of this. Global warming simply does not present the kinds of stimuli that the human nervous system evolved to respond to in order to survive threats from bears, lightning, rolling boulders and mean cavemen.

        Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist who wrote “Stumbling on Happiness,” summed up evolutionary psychology’s perspective by noting how global warming lacked four traits “the human brain evolved to respond to.”

        Global Warming: It’s All In Your Head
        It’s Not A Question Of Facts, But Perceptions, Says’s Dick Meyer

        – recalls, to me, the reported behaviour of frogs w hot water: toss them into hot water, they jump out; heat it gradually, they stay till boil to death.

        Martin W

          Seems the US media – rather like dear old George “Warmer” Bush – is having a tough time getting to grips with global warming, and the magnitude and immediacy of the issue.

          Media analysis by Fairness and aAccuracy in Reporting includes:

          The first IPCC report, issued on February 2, focused on the now-overwhelming evidence that the dramatic rise in global temperatures over the last century (about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit total), and especially the last decade, is due to human emissions of greenhouse gases. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” concluded the IPCC, noting that 11 of the 12 warmest years on record have occurred since 1995, while the polar ice caps are melting and sea levels rising at increasing rates. The panel concluded that there is greater than 95 percent certainty that human activity is to blame.

          The next day (2/3/07), alarmed headlines greeted newspaper readers: “Official: Global Warming Is All Our Fault.” “World’s Scientists Convinced That Humans Cause Global Warming.” “Worse Than We Thought: Report Warns of 4 C Rise by 2100: Floods and Food and Water Shortages Likely.”

          None of those, though, were seen by readers of U.S. newspapers–they appeared in, respectively, Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and Guardian. The same day’s U.S. headlines were mostly far more demure: “U.N. Study Spurs Call to Fight Warming” (Boston Globe); “From Global Warming Report, U.S. Feels Heat” (Chicago Tribune). The New York Times titled its front-page story “Science Panel Calls Global Warm-ing ‘Unequivocal'”–ducking the more significant finding that not only is climate change underway, but that human-created greenhouse gases are the culprit.

          Doubt Global Warming? Read Different News

          Major U.S. Papers Less Likely Than International Counterparts To Confront Threat – short intro, then includes the analysis.

          Martin W

            After seeing news item on National Geographic, sent this to them; maybe self-explanatory:

            In article re climate change inaction and costs, I believe you have tumbled into the trap re journalism supposedly requiring balance.

            In quoting Timothy Ball, did you check re him and NSRC:
            See DeSmogBlog profile of Ball, say:
            What kind of “expert” has published only 4 papers that can be found; and no original research in last 11 years, even though prolific in producing “popular” articles, and is in groups that reveal to disclose funding and/or have strong ties to oil industry monies?

            Maybe in news, can also have “balanced” items re evolution, plate tectonics.
            Except with these, far less of import is at stake.

            And as for journalism, “balance” – of rather bogus nature – does not always happen. Do we get balance re, say paedophilia [where I believe are a very few arguing it’s ok]?

            The Nat Geo news item is at:
            Global Warming Inaction More Costly Than Solutions?

            Martin W

              From the Guardian:

              “The flooding in Africa just now is the worst anyone can remember,” Sir John [Holmes, a British diplomat who is also known as the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs] said, expressing frustration at how little media attention in the west was being devoted to what he terms creeping climatic catastrophe.

              Climate change disaster is upon us, warns UN

              Martin W

                New York Times environment reporter Andrew Revkin has blog post asking if words can lead to action needed to combat climate change
                Cites email from Tom Lowe, a research associate at the Center for Risk and Community Safety in Melbourne, Australia, inc:

                In the absence of physical evidence that something bad is going to happen, people tend to ‘wait and see.’

                A common reaction to this stand-off is for risk communicators to shout louder, to try and shake some sense into people. This is what I see happening with the climate change message. The public are on the receiving end of an increasingly distraught alarm call. The methods used to grab attention are so striking that people are reaching a state of denial.

                also says:

                Another troublesome trait is the tendency to normalize a bad situation.

                Various responses; I posted:

                Words are vital in the climate fight.

                Vital partly to counter righties such as Inhofe, and their obfuscation. I today had short email correspondence w someone who wrote to me that he wasn’t sure carbon is leading to warming – figures it could be sun cycle. This, I reckon, stems from info from sceptics brigade, but not scientists.

                I shall ever remember someone (editor at major magazine – which can help shape opinion, but has even run piece saying why warming will be good for us [!]) telling me, “I don’t believe in global warming; I’m a conservative.” [or something much like this]
                To me, mind boggling.

                Yet such views important, and – frustrating though it is given the science – it’s crucial to keep on with counter arguments.

                Images important too, of course: a starving, skeletal polar bear on small ice floe among saddest I’ve yet seen.
                Yet must also show that warming is not just out there, someplace – which has been big factor in US I think. It’s where you are; it’s effects are gonna get larger, and will be everywhere; no one will be unaffected.

                “gonna” I’ve written here; not a normal word for me, a Brit.
                But words for the fight must be chosen, used with care, strategically. Here, I’m writing for blog in US – albeit highly erudite readership/contributors, some of whom may never say “gonna”.

                We need words to take this complex issue, and show key points. Greg Craven, in How It All Ends, has made a big contribution here – gone viral.
                Otherwise, can be well meaning, but too dull; and maybe lapse into jargon (AGW, ghg … – tho yes, this blog is for those who know).

                Indeed need this major issue to get coverage it deserves.

                Reading comments here, also need to cover as a global issue; here, I’m seeing US-centric views.

                As for me, I’ve blog/forum re warming (climate change, climate collapse…); ideas for documentary or two on the issue – we can all do what we can to get those words out.


                I agree w comments here – including, importantly, scientists should look for metaphors that convey much: soundbites. Might look to the Exxon-Mobil etc crowd for how to do soundbites and so forth – albeit have to be honest, which tougher given how dirty the denialist camp can fight (not letting facts get in the way of a good story or two).

                Stanford scientist and climate-specialist Stephen Schneider has called out media organizations for the quality of reporting on climate change and other scientific issues.

                "Business managers of media organizations,” he said, “you are screwing up your responsibility by firing science and environment reporters who are frankly the only ones competent to do this."

                Schneider points to CNN, which in December fired all of its science and technology reporters. "Why didn’t they fire their economics team or their sports team?" asks Schneider. "Why don’t they send their general assignment reporters out to cover the Superbowl?"

                Schneider’s frustration doesn’t stop at the media. He believes scientists are not living up to their responsibility to actively participate in scientific discussions with the mainstream media.

                "I have arguments with some of my scientific colleagues, who think it is irresponsible to go out and talk when you can only get 5 seconds on the evening news, a couple of quotes in the New York Times, or five minutes in front of Congress," Schneider said. "Well, you know what guys, that’s just how it is. And if you think that you have a higher calling and you’re not going to play the game because they don’t give you the time to tell the whole story, then all it means is that you’ve passed the buck to others who know the topic less well."

                With years of media appearances and interviews to back him up, Schneider advices "that scientists find metaphors that convey both urgency and uncertainty, so that you can get people’s attention while at the same time not overstating the case. Then you have websites and backup articles and books where you can give the full story, but you have to have your sound bite and your op-ed piece."

                Renowned climatologist says mass media ‘screwing up’ global warming reporting


                Interesting blog post by Andrew Revkin, till recently of New York Times, now at Pace University, quoting Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University who has long studied human responses to environmental issues. includes:

                Here are Dr. Brulle’s thoughts about the media, the human mind and looming issues, like global warming, that hide in plain sight (I added the links for context and background):

                The complete lack of any significant coverage in the U.S. media of environmental issues in general, and global warming in particular, is not surprising.

                Global warming impacts are extremely slow and gradual compared to ongoing daily news.

                many of the most meaningful impacts of global climate change, such as ocean acidification, incremental sea level change and ice mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica, can be understood only via abstract scientific presentations, which do not convey a vivid visual image of environmental change.

                if global warming proceeds slowly enough, then the potential exists that we will just progressively become more used to unusual weather – the unusual (by today’s standards) becomes usual, and we will cease being alarmed about what is now the usual course of events. Global warming no longer becomes news, but rather just part of the way the world is. This can lead to a lack of political concern over this issue, and thus a lack of political action until the possibility of human control over the process of climate change becomes impossible.

                The Greatest Story Rarely Told



                Worldwatch Institute has good, lengthy – and disheartening – article re media and climate change coverage.


                The financial decline of traditional journalism organizations has stifled investigative and foreign news. While online news and social media are spreading more information more widely and rapidly, the growing lack of explanatory journalism may nonetheless result in a less informed public. The trend should be a concern for anyone dedicated to environmental sustainability. Journalism's economic adversity not only diminishes the ability of newsrooms to generate insightful, balanced reports on science-related topics such as climate change, it also limits our understanding of how governments and industry are responding to our global environmental crisis.

                Such poor scientific awareness, common throughout newsrooms, is not likely to improve anytime soon. Economically faltering news organizations across the industrialized world have downsized staff, shrunk content, and reduced coverage. PriceWaterhouseCoopers expects the global newspaper market to undergo a 2-percent annual decline through 2013 as advertisers spend their money elsewhere and readers turn to free online content. Although media markets are prospering in some places, such as India and Latin America, most European and U.S. print, broadcast, and radio newsrooms are grappling with smaller budgets.

                Recent layoff trends in the media market suggest that science and environment reporters are often the first to lose their jobs. CNN, for instance, laid off its entire science and technology staff in 2008. In the United States, two decades ago nearly 150 newspapers included a science section; today fewer than 20 do. The remaining reporters are expected to cover stories such as climate change along with their regular reporting duties.

                Worldwide, however, climate change coverage is on the rise. A 50-newspaper survey across 20 countries by University of Colorado and Oxford University researchers found "climate change" or "global warming" mentioned in about 400 stories in January 2004, mostly in the European, North American, Australian, and New Zealand press. Following the 2006 releases of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and British economist Nicholas Stern's report on the cost of climate change inaction, coverage increased considerably. The survey found some 2,000 stories, on average, each January from 2007 through 2009, with an increase in reports from Asia and the Middle East.

                Despite the increase in science and environment stories, in-depth coverage of scientific developments, technology solutions, and political responses is decreasing by the day.

                Unless climate change reporting improves through more in-depth, international coverage, the necessary shift to low-carbon, resilient economies will not likely occur until the worst damages become as apparent as flood water rising to our windows. By then, it may be too late.

                Covering Climate Change



                  I think the media has been really conservative about Global warming in general, especially when it comes to the US, where sentiment is quite strong against AGW theory. Here is an interesting story on stats among the public in the US, regarding their stance on Global Warming theory:


                  No wonder the media is sitting on the fence…


                  Andrew Revkin, who has reported on environment including global warming for New York Times, has reproduced a chapter he's done on media and global warming. Thoughtful; includes:

                  global warming remains the antithesis of what is traditionally defined as news. Its intricacies, which often involve overlapping disciplines, confuse scientists, citizens, and reporters—even though its effects will be widespread, both in geography and across time. Journalism craves the concrete, the known, the here and now and is repelled by conditionality, distance, and the future.

                  The norm of journalistic balance has been exploited by opponents of emissions curbs. Starting in the late 1990s, big companies whose profits were tied to fossil fuels recognized they could use this journalistic practice to amplify the inherent uncertainties in climate projections and thus potentially delay cuts in emissions from burning those fuels.

                  Journalists dealing with global warming and similar issues would do well to focus on the points of deep consensus, generate stories containing voices that illuminate instead of confuse, convey the complex without putting readers (or editors) to sleep, and cast science in its role as a signpost pointing toward possible futures, not as a font of crystalline answers.

                  The only way to accomplish this is for reporters to become more familiar with scientists and the ways of science.

                  On Balance, Hype, Climate and the Media



                  Good article on challenges for climate change reporting by ABC reporter Margaret O'Neill includes:

                  Where did all the climate change stories go? "The [programmers] are against it because it loses ratings," says a senior BBC journalist. "The wave [of public interest] has gone. There is climate change fatigue. That is why I am not [reporting] it now."

                  Other journalists agree. Even reporters at The Guardian, which especially targets environmental reporting, complain that it's difficult to get a run. Another UK broadcast journalist said he was warned that putting climate change on prime time would risk losing a million viewers.

                  A stormy forecast for climate change reporting


                  From Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism:

                  A new RISJ study of international media has analysed the marked differences between countries in the coverage given to the UN’s Copenhagen summit on climate change in 2009. It finds that of the 12 countries studied, Brazil and India provided the most coverage, followed by Australia and the UK. Meanwhile, Nigeria, Russia and Egypt gave the summit the least space in its newspapers.

                  In “Summoned by Science Reporting Climate Change at Copenhagen and Beyond”,  researchers analysed more than 400 articles published in the print media in 12 countries from the developed and developing world. They found that the media in all the countries tended to ‘under-report’ climate science during the summit. Articles written principally about the science of climate change represented less than a tenth of all the coverage surveyed. Nearly 80 per cent of the articles mentioned the science in less than 10 per cent of their column space.

                  The study also surveyed over 50 environmental journalists and scientists across the 12 target countries post-Copenhagen asking them how climate change science might be best communicated. The recommendations include:

                  • More (re-)engagement by climate scientists with journalists to explain where there is scientific consensus and where there is not

                  • More dedicated climate change press officers at universities and research centres

                  • More media personnel at the IPCC

                  • More imaginative use of new media

                  • Less adversarial coverage of climate science, but more frontline reporting on what people are experiencing and what they are doing about it.

                    Marked differences between countries in reporting of climate change


                    Nice discussion, lots of thoughtful and insightful ideas. In some ways, I think the reason for the human mind not to give top priority to global warming could be as a result of the “selfish gene” syndrome, which argues that human beings have evolved to respond to stimuli that affect them and affect them now. I mean, we might not be as bothered about what our next generation and the generation after that will suffer anywhere near as much as about what we and people close to us right now will. Just my thoughts…
                    One reason why newspapers and media try to strike an overly balanced tone on global warming might also be because there are a lot of scamsters around, making tons of money using the climate change or global warming fear. But is that a reason for us not to be worried about it? I am sure all of you would say No.
                    The point is, we can go on debating who’s right. There is no end to it. Rather, why don’t we consider what we can do about global warming.
                    Well, I share the concern of the members in this forum. It is true that there is a lot of hype and illiterate chatter online and offline about global warming, but all the readings I have done so far, it appears that global warming might be more real than we think, and it could affect us sooner. All right, the climate deniers would say that there is a chance that the data are insufficient. But even a small chance that the global warming threat is for real means that we are in real trouble!
                    The question is, what should we do about this? Also, a related question is: “should as individuals we should do something about this, or is this something for our governments and powers-that-be?”.
                    Let’s look at facts in order to answer this question. The key culprit being named in the greenhouse gases context is CO2. A section from the PowerPlantCCS site ( ) says, “Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas after water vapor. Burning fossil fuels, land clearing and other activities of modern industrial society have caused the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to climb from about 280 parts per million to 380 parts per million, causing warming and other climate changes.
                    From 1991 to 2000, CO2 accounted for 82% of total U.S. GHG emissions in terms of its global warming potential. About 96% of these carbon emissions resulted from the combustion of fossil fuels for energy”
                    I guess the data above could apply equally well for most countries worldwide.
                    If indeed CO2 is the main culprit in the global warming equation, it is imperative that we undertake practical measures to contain the amount of CO2 emitted. And I suggest we start with the huge power plants that each emits over a million T of CO2 into the atmosphere (the power plants alone contribute about 30% of all fossil fuel emissions, at 10 billion T per annum out of the total 30 billion T of fossil fuel emissions!).
                    The point to note about these power plants is that each is a concentrated source of CO2 emissions. Thus, by attaching a few thousand such concentrated emitters, we might be able to gain significantly. I guess we will have to do far more than just capturing the storing the CO2 from power plants, for long term viability of the planet, but this is a good start.
                    And I really wish that the media will focus on more on actionable such as these than debating whether global warming is a reality or not. Well, it might be good for them to know that if we wait for too long to get a confirmation, it might be too late to do anything.


                    Good article in Guardian on US lately wracked by extreme weather, but media and politicians pretty mute re global warming – or even strident in denying it exists, never mind droughts, floods and so on. Includes:

                    The news media carry much of the burden to make this reconnection. Yet, after the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the amount of US media coverage of climate change has plunged to pre-Inconvenient Truth levels, consistently hovering below levels of coverage from other parts of the world.

                    It's easy for journalists to cover the chaotic claims of prominent politicians. A challenge more befitting of the profession is to demonstrate how climate change connects to extreme weather, national security and the economy. More reporters covering those consequential issues need to place climate change into their journalistic quivers, so they can bring climate into conversation with the other vital issues of our time, rather than relegating it to the climate change ghetto in the media's culture war zone.

                    Hurricanes, floods and wildfires – but Washington won't talk global warming

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