Media coverage of climate change

Media coverage of climate change

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Media coverage of climate change has significant effects on public opinion on climate change
Public opinion on climate change
Public opinion on climate change is the aggregate of attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population concerning the science, economics, and politics of global warming. It is affected by media coverage of climate change.-Regional:...

, as it mediates the scientific opinion on climate change
Scientific opinion on climate change
The predominant scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth is in an ongoing phase of global warming primarily caused by an enhanced greenhouse effect due to the anthropogenic release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases...

 that the global instrumental temperature record
Instrumental temperature record
The instrumental temperature record shows fluctuations of the temperature of the global land surface and oceans. This data is collected from several thousand meteorological stations, Antarctic research stations and satellite observations of sea-surface temperature. Currently, the longest-running...

 shows increase in recent decades and that the trend is caused mainly by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. (No scientific body of national or international standing disagrees with this view, though a few organisations hold non-committal positions.) Media coverage of climate change in the English-speaking
English-speaking world
The English-speaking world consists of those countries or regions that use the English language to one degree or another. For more information, please see:Lists:* List of countries by English-speaking population...

 media, especially in the United States, has been widely studied, while studies of coverage elsewhere lag behind. A number of studies have shown that particularly in the United States and in the UK tabloid press, the media significantly understated the strength of scientific consensus on climate change established in IPCC
IPCC
IPCC may refer to:*Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the United Nations*Independent Police Complaints Commission, of England and Wales*Irish Peatland Conservation Council...

 Assessment Reports in 1995
IPCC Second Assessment Report
The Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , published in 1996, is an assessment of the then available scientific and socio-economic information on climate change...

 and in 2001
IPCC Third Assessment Report
The IPCC Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001, is an assessment of available scientific and socio-economic information on climate change by the IPCC. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN's World Meteorological Organization ".....

.

A peak in media coverage occurred in early 2007, driven by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report
Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , is the fourth in a series of reports intended to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change, its potential effects, and options for...

 and Al Gore
Al Gore
Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

's documentary An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth is a 2006 documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim about former United States Vice President Al Gore's campaign to educate citizens about global warming via a comprehensive slide show that, by his own estimate, he has given more than a thousand times.Premiering at the...

. A subsequent peak in late 2009, which was 50% higher, may have been driven by a combination of the November 2009 Climatic Research Unit email controversy
Climatic Research Unit email controversy
The Climatic Research Unit email controversy began in November 2009 with the hacking of a server at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia...

 and December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference
2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference
The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit, was held at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, between 7 December and 18 December. The conference included the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate...

.

It must be admitted, however, that some researchers and journalists honestly believe that media coverage of political issues is adequate and fair, while a few other feel that it is biased all right—against big money (see, for example, Bozel & Baker, 1990; Lichter & Rothman, 1984). It must be likewise admitted that most media studies are neither recent nor concerned with coverage of environmental issue
Environmental issue
Environmental issues are negative aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment. Environmentalism, a social and environmental movement that started in the 1960s, addresses environmental issues through advocacy, education and activism.-Types:...

s. Moreover, when they do study media coverage of something like the greenhouse effect
Greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere...

, they are rarely concerned with the question of bias (cf.,Bell,1994;Trumbo,1996;Wilkins, 1993).

Factual Distortions


The public understands comparatively little about global warming Bord, O’Connor, & Fisher (1998) discovered the United States public has a flawed understanding of global warming—seeing it as linked to general “pollution” and causally connected in some way to atmospheric ozone depletion. According to Wilson (K.M. Wilson, 1995, 2000), reporters are not much better informed about climate change. Scientists and media scholars who express frustrations with inadequate science reporting argue that it can lead to at least three basic distortions. First, journalists distort reality by making scientific errors. Second, they distort by keying on human-interest stories rather than scientific content. And third, journalists distort by rigid adherence to the construct of balanced coverage.

On the face of it, it seems very reasonable to demand that journalists get it right. If journalists knew more science, then their reports would be more accurate and then, perhaps, the public might understand more about issues like climate change. It may be impossible to craft good public policy about nuclear power and global warming without a better-informed public. Bord, O’Connor, & Fisher (2000) argue that responsible citizenry necessitates a concrete knowledge of causes and that until, for example, the public understands what causes climate change it cannot be expected to take voluntary action to mitigate its effects. This is a highly laudable sentiment that in principle is achievable simply with better training of journalists.But even for a scientifically literate journalist, sorting out the true cause and effect mechanisms of climate change may be far from easy. Scientists often underestimate the complexity involved in popularizing science. Here’s a sketch of the basic concepts an informed citizen needs to understand climate change.
  1. Climate
    Climate
    Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

     is not the same as weather
  2. The climate system is complex, working via a series of “forcings” and “feedbacks.”
  3. There are delays or inertias in the system, notably the oceans that can absorb large amounts of heat for a time.
  4. So far scientists cannot predict with any certainty the regional effects of anthropogenic global warming—from sea level rise, to intense storms, to regional cooling. Effects might well be counter intuitive with global warming producing severe cooling in certain regions.

Narrative Distortions


Journalists are storytellers. They like telling stories with characters, settings, and conflicts. While they are attracted to risk controversies, what interests them are not the intellectual arguments so much as the underlying human-interest drama. When a group of parents believes their children are dying from some “agent” in the environment, those parents become scared and angry. Their predicament, as journalists know, grabs the audience’s attention. As readers and viewers are drawn into a conflict, and come to feel as though they know the protagonists, they are motivated to learn more and more about the issues that are so important to the main characters and their families.

Human-interest controversies that pit “innocent victim” against “alleged perpetrator” are a popular story type. According to Shoemaker and Reese, controversy is one of the main variables affecting story choice among news editors,along with human interest, prominence, timeliness, celebrity, and proximity. But controversy raises editorial issues, such as, what is the fairest way to report such hotly disputed versions of reality to an audience? The culture of political journalism
Political journalism
Political journalism is a broad branch of journalism that includes coverage of all aspects of politics and political science, although the term usually refers specifically to coverage of civil governments and political power....

 has long used the notion of balanced coverage. In this construct, it is permissible to air a highly partisan opinion, provided this view is accompanied by a competing opinion. But recently scientists and scholars have challenged the legitimacy of this journalistic core value.

One example is Michael Coffman's address about the global climate change was more of a political scare tactic than scientific.

C-SPAN Address: Michael Coffman

Distortions of Balance


The notion of balanced coverage may make perfect sense when covering a political convention, but in the culture of science, balancing opposing views may be neither fair nor truthful. To quote climate scientist Stephen Schneider
Stephen Schneider
Stephen Henry Schneider was Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University, a Co-Director at the Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Senior Fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment...

 (Schneider, 2005): “In science, it’s different.” Extreme examples bring this point home. Does a flat-Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 proponent deserve equal time to a modern astrophysicist? Surely not Should an advocate for intelligent design be taken as seriously as an evolutionary biologist? Again no. Following this logic, some experts argue that it is misleading to give scientific mavericks or advocates equal time with established mainstream scientists.

Yet there is evidence that this is exactly what the media is doing. In a survey of 636 articles from four top United States newspapers between 1988 and 2002, two scholars (M.T. Boykoff & J.M. Boykoff, 2004) found that most articles gave as much time to the small group of climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 doubters as to the scientific consensus view. Given the real consensus among climatologists over global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

, many scientists find the media’s desire to portray the topic as a scientific controversy to be a gross distortion. As Stephen Schneider
Stephen Schneider
Stephen Henry Schneider was Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University, a Co-Director at the Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Senior Fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment...

 put it: “a mainstream, well-established consensus may be ‘balanced’ against the opposing views of a few extremists, and to the uninformed, each position seems equally credible.”

Seeking the truth clearly involves more than simply balancing opinions, it concerns gathering and evaluating various types of relevant evidence and rigorously checking sources and facts. The subgenre of science journalism puts this search for evidence at the center of its reporting. As Boyce Rensberger, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Knight Center for Science Journalism, put it “balanced coverage of science does not mean giving equal weight to both sides of an argument. It means apportioning weight according to the balance of evidence.”

Powers of Perception


If risk perceptions have as much to do with feelings as facts, then we might predict that changes in the social, environmental,and cultural circumstances might radically shift human risk perceptions, making scary things less scary and vice versa.

For example, while global warming lacks traction today, theory predicts that a serious global warming catastrophe
Catastrophe
A catastrophe is an extremely large-scale disaster, a horrible event.It may also refer to:*Catastrophe bond, a risk-linked security used to share risks with bond investors*Catastrophe , a non-fiction book by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann...

—such as a succession of years with super storms or a large sea level rise that drowned a United States city—would change perceptions, alter media traction, and influence public opinion
Public opinion
Public opinion is the aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population. Public opinion can also be defined as the complex collection of opinions of many different people and the sum of all their views....

.12 Just as the disaster at Chernobyl
Chernobyl
Chernobyl or Chornobyl is an abandoned city in northern Ukraine, in Kiev Oblast, near the border with Belarus. The city had been the administrative centre of the Chernobyl Raion since 1932....

 offered everyone salient and enduring exemplar of how bad a reactor accident can be, a global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 catastrophe might offer a striking image of the dangers of tampering with the climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

.

Unlike advocates, journalists are not supposed to persuade but to report. It would be inappropriate for them to use these insights to manipulate their audience to, say, fear global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 more and nuclear power less. But, it can be argued that journalists should expand their narrative horizons: to include not just the facts about the risk in question but also how people feel about the risk and why. In essence, they should report two dimensions of the risk story—the physical narrative of nuclear power or global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

, and the psychological subtext that discusses how the public thinks about those risks. Journalists, of course, should strive to be accurate and avoid distorting the science, but getting to the heart of risk tales involves something more: in sum it requires not only understanding the objective facts of the danger, but also navigating the way their audience feels about the risk issue, while telling a gripping, scientifically accurate story.

Videos


Japan



In Japan, a study of newspaper coverage of climate change from January 1998 to July 2007 found coverage increased dramatically from January 2007.

India



A 2010 study of four major, national circulation English-language newspapers in India examined "the frames through which climate change is represented in India", and found that "The results strongly contrast with previous studies from developed countries; by framing climate change along a 'risk-responsibility divide', the Indian national press set up a strongly nationalistic position on climate change that divides the issue along both developmental and postcolonial
Postcolonialism
Post-colonialism is a specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism...

 lines."

New Zealand



A six month study in 1988 on climate change reporting in the media found that 80% of stories were no worse than slightly inaccurate. However, one story in six contained significant misreporting. Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth is a 2006 documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim about former United States Vice President Al Gore's campaign to educate citizens about global warming via a comprehensive slide show that, by his own estimate, he has given more than a thousand times.Premiering at the...

in conjunction with the Stern Review
Stern Review
The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a 700-page report released for the British government on 30 October 2006 by economist Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and also chair of the Centre...

 generated an increase in media interest in 2006.

The popular media in New Zealand often give equal weight to the those supporting anthropogenic
Anthropogenic
Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes impacts on biophysical environments, biodiversity and other resources. The term anthropogenic designates an effect or object resulting from human activity. The term was first used in the technical sense by Russian...

 climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 and those who deny it. This stance is out of step with the findings of the scientific community where the vast majority support the climate change scenario
Climate change scenario
This article is about climate change scenarios. Socioeconomic scenarios are used by analysts to make projections of future greenhouse gas emissions and to assess future vulnerability to climate change...

s. A survey carried out in 2007 on climate change gave the following responses:
{|class="wikitable"

|Not really a problem || 8%
|-
|A problem for the future || 13%
|-
|A problem now || 42%
|-
|An urgent and immediate problem || 35%
|-
|Don't know || 2%
|}

United Kingdom



A study of the UK tabloid press (The Sun, Daily Express
Daily Express
The Daily Express switched from broadsheet to tabloid in 1977 and was bought by the construction company Trafalgar House in the same year. Its publishing company, Beaverbrook Newspapers, was renamed Express Newspapers...

, Daily Mail
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail is a British daily middle-market tabloid newspaper owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom's second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. Its sister paper The Mail on Sunday was launched in 1982...

, Daily Mirror and their Sunday equivalents) covering the years 2000 to 2006 found that "UK tabloid coverage significantly diverged from the scientific consensus that humans contribute to climate change. Moreover, there was no consistent increase in the percentage of accurate coverage throughout the period of analysis and across all tabloid newspapers, and these findings are not consistent with recent trends documented in United States and UK 'prestige press' or broadsheet newspaper reporting. Findings from interviews indicate that inaccurate reporting may be linked to the lack of specialist journalists in the tabloid press." Another study of the same dataset found that "news articles on climate change were predominantly framed through weather events, charismatic megafauna
Charismatic megafauna
Charismatic megafauna are large animal species with widespread popular appeal that environmental activists use to achieve conservation goals well beyond just those species...

 and the movements of political actors and rhetoric, while few stories focused on climate justice
Climate ethics
Climate Ethics is a new and growing area of research that focuses on the ethical dimensions of climate change, and concepts such as climate justice....

 and risk. In addition, headlines with tones of fear, misery and doom were most prevalent."

A two-year study of media coverage of climate change feedback
Climate change feedback
Climate change feedback is important in the understanding of global warming because feedback processes may amplify or diminish the effect of each climate forcing, and so play an important part in determining the overall climate sensitivity...

 loops found that "non-US news organizations, especially in the UK, are at the forefront of the discourse on climate feedback loops. Poor US press coverage on such climate thresholds might be understood not only as self-censorship, but as a "false negative" error."

A 2010 study looked at "prominent, disruptive direct action around the climate change issue, in the context of comparable activity across a range of political groupings" and found that "they garner significant but unflattering attention from [the conventional mass media], partly as a consequence of the persistent pressures and imperatives that drive conventional journalism."

United States



According to Peter J. Jacques et al., the mainstream news media of the United States is an example of the effectiveness of environmental skepticism
Environmental skepticism
Environmental skepticism is an umbrella term that describes those that argue that particular claims put forward by environmentalists and environmental scientists who support the first are false or exaggerated, along with those who are critical of environmentalism in general...

 as a tactic. A 2005 study reviewed and analyzed the US mass-media coverage of the environmental issue of climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 from 1988 to 2004. The authors confirm that within the journalism industry there is great emphasis on eliminating the presence of media bias
Media bias
Media bias refers to the bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of events and stories that are reported and how they are covered. The term "media bias" implies a pervasive or widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism, rather than the...

. In their study they found that — due to this practice of objectivity
Objectivity (journalism)
Parent article: Journalism ethics and standardsObjectivity is a significant principle of journalistic professionalism. Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.- Definitions :In the context...

 — "Over a 15-year period, a majority (52.7%) of prestige-press articles featured balanced accounts that gave 'roughly equal attention' to the views that humans were contributing to global warming and that exclusively natural fluctuations could explain the earth's temperature increase." As a result, they observed that it is easier for people to conclude that the issue of global warming and the accompanying scientific evidence
Scientific evidence
Scientific evidence has no universally accepted definition but generally refers to evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is generally expected to be empirical and properly documented in accordance with scientific method such as is...

 is still hotly debated.

A study of US newspapers and television news from 1995 to 2006 examined "how and why US media have represented conflict and contentions, despite an emergent consensus view regarding
anthropogenic climate science." The IPCC
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific intergovernmental body which provides comprehensive assessments of current scientific, technical and socio-economic information worldwide about the risk of climate change caused by human activity, its potential environmental and...

 Assessment Reports in 1995
IPCC Second Assessment Report
The Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , published in 1996, is an assessment of the then available scientific and socio-economic information on climate change...

 and in 2001
IPCC Third Assessment Report
The IPCC Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001, is an assessment of available scientific and socio-economic information on climate change by the IPCC. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN's World Meteorological Organization ".....

 established an increasingly strong scientific consensus, yet the media continued to present the science as contentious. The study noted the influence of Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton
John Michael Crichton , best known as Michael Crichton, was an American best-selling author, producer, director, and screenwriter, best known for his work in the science fiction, medical fiction, and thriller genres. His books have sold over 200 million copies worldwide, and many have been adapted...

's 2004 novel State of Fear
State of Fear
State of Fear is a 2004 techno-thriller novel by Michael Crichton concerning eco-terrorists who attempt mass murder to support their views. The novel had an initial print run of 1.5 million copies and reached the #1 bestseller position at Amazon.com and #2 on the New York Times Best Seller list for...

, which "empowered movements across scale, from individual perceptions to the perspectives of US federal powerbrokers regarding human contribution to climate change."

A 2010 study concluded that "Mass media in the U.S. continue to suggest that scientific consensus estimates of global climate disruption, such as those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are 'exaggerated' and overly pessimistic. By contrast, work on the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge (ASC) suggests that such consensus assessments are likely to understate climate disruptions. ... new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media. The findings indicate that supposed challenges to the scientific consensus on global warming need to be subjected to greater scrutiny, as well as showing that, if reporters wish to discuss " both sides" of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate 'other side' is that, if anything, global climate disruption may prove to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date."

Gallup's annual update on Americans; attitudes toward the environment shows a public that over the last two years has become less worried about the threat of global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

, less convinced that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that scientist themselves are uncertain about it occurrence. In response to one key question, 48% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, up from 41% in 2009 and 31% in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.


A recent search of Lexis-Nexis computerized database for any mention of the term 'global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

' in the following three news papers, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and Washington Post, found articles that were not concerned with the greenhouse threat but which only mentioned it in passing.

Nor did the newspapers fail to ignore any research which could conceivably cast doubts on the reality of the greenhouse effect or on the need for actions.One article, for instance, wrongly led readers to believe that scientists now believe that human-induced global warming is most likely a fiction
Fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

, and that the warming we have seen is due to solar cycles. Many other reports of scientific developments implied that global warming would be good for us. According to Moti Nissani, when the devastating effects of El Niño were reported, the likelihood that El Niño itself is caused by global warming was either whispered in passing, and always attached to an emphatic question mark, or flatly denied.

Out of 100 articles reviewed from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and Washington Post repeatedly cited a tiny minority of scientist whose views happened to coincide with those for the oil, coal auto, and petrochemical industries. British Petroleum's views were cited in twelve of the 100 articles. At the same time a warning by 21 leading ecologist were cited in one article. There was a major U.W. government study dismantling the greenhouse controversy. In 99 articles the views of the ecologists and then Vice President of the United States were ignored.

On August 12, 1997, the New York Times promised its readers:"Between now and December, when representatives of most nations will meet in Japan to discuss limits on greenhouse gases, The Times will examine the science, politics and economics of climate change." [NYT 8/12]. The Times did not keep the stated promise.

Media, Politics and Public Opinion


As McCombs et al.’s 1972 study of the political function of mass media first showed, media coverage of an issue can “play an important part in shaping political reality” . Research into media coverage of climate change has demonstrated the significant role of the media in determining climate policy formation. The media has considerable bearing on public opinion, and the way in which issues are reported, or framed, establishes a particular discourse
Discourse
Discourse generally refers to "written or spoken communication". The following are three more specific definitions:...

. Discourse, broadly defined, is a linguistic or communicative regularity, which creates particular norms and determines the way we understand an issue, and “help[s] shape institutional considerations of policy”.

The Media-Policy Interface


The relationship between media and politics is reflexive (see:reflexivity (social theory)
Reflexivity (social theory)
Reflexivity refers to circular relationships between cause and effect. A reflexive relationship is bidirectional with both the cause and the effect affecting one another in a situation that does not render both functions causes and effects...

). As Feindt & Oels neatly state, “[media] discourse has material and power effects as well as being the effect of material practices and power relations”. The Foucauldian concept of power-knowledge is central in discourse analysis, and resonates in media coverage of climate change.

As highlighted above, media coverage in the United States during the Bush Adminstration often emphasised and exaggerated scientific uncertainty over climate change, reflecting the interests of the political elite. Hall et al. suggest that government and corporate officials enjoy privileged access to the media, so their line quickly becomes the ‘primary definer’ of an issue. Furthermore, media sources and their institutions very often have political leanings which determine their reporting on climate change, mirroring the views of a particular party. However, media also has the capacity to challenge political norms and expose corrupt behaviour, as demonstrated in 2007 when the Guardian
Guardian
-In the United Kingdom:* The Guardian, founded in 1821 as the Manchester Guardian and renamed in 1959* The Guardian , founded in 1713 and running only briefly...

 revealed that American Enterprise Institute
American Enterprise Institute
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a conservative think tank founded in 1943. Its stated mission is "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism—limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and...

 received $10,000 from petrochemical giant Exxon Mobil to publish articles undermining the IPCC
IPCC
IPCC may refer to:*Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the United Nations*Independent Police Complaints Commission, of England and Wales*Irish Peatland Conservation Council...

’s 4th assessment report.

Ever-strengthening scientific consensus on climate change means that scepticism is becoming less prevalent in the media (although the email scandal in the build up to Copenhagen reinvigorated climate scepticism in the media), however in terms of weighting impacts and positing responses, climate change remains a discursive battleground.

Discourses of Action - 'Creating a Climate for Change'


Commentators have argued that the climate change discourses constructed in the media have not been conducive to generating the political will for swift action. The polar bear has become a powerful discursive symbol in the fight against climate change. However, such images, it is argued, create a perception of climate change impacts as geographically distant, and MacNagton argues that climate changed needs to be framed as an issue 'closer to home'. On the other hand, Beck suggests that a major benefit of global media is that it brings distant issues within our consciousness .

Furthermore, media coverage of climate change (particularly in tabloid journalism but also more generally), is concentrated around extreme weather events and projections of catastrophe, creating “a language of imminent terror” which some commentators argue has instilled policy-paralysis and inhibited our response. Moser et al. suggest using solution-orientated frames will help inspire action to solve climate change. The predominance of catastrophe frames over solution frames may help explain the apparent value-action gap
Value-action gap
The value-action gap is a term used to describe the gap that can occur when the values or attitudes of an individual do not correlate to their actions. More generally, it is the difference between what people say and what people do. The phrase is associated with environmental geography, relating to...

 with climate change; the current discursive setting has generated concern over climate change but not inspired action.

Further reading

  • "The Climate War" (2010) Eric Pooley ISBN 978-1-4013-2326-4
  • Michael Specter
    Michael Specter
    Michael Specter is an American journalist who has been a staff writer, focusing on science and technology, and global public health at The New Yorker since September 1998...

     (2009). Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. Penguin
    Penguin Group
    The Penguin Group is a trade book publisher, the largest in the world , having overtaken Random House in 2009. The Penguin Group is the name of the incorporated division of parent Pearson PLC that oversees these publishing operations...

     Press HC, The. ISBN 978-1-59420-230-8

See also

  • Climate change alarmism
    Climate change alarmism
    Climate change alarmism or global warming alarmism is a critical description of a rhetorical style that stresses the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming to the point where the scale of the problem appears to exclude the possibility of real action or agency by the reader or...

  • Global warming controversy
    Global warming controversy
    Global warming controversy refers to a variety of disputes, significantly more pronounced in the popular media than in the scientific literature, regarding the nature, causes, and consequences of global warming...

  • Climate change denial
    Climate change denial
    Climate change denial is a term used to describe organized attempts to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons...

  • Merchants of Doubt
    Merchants of Doubt
    Merchants of Doubt is a 2010 book by the American science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. It identifies parallels between the climate change debate and earlier controversies over tobacco smoking, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer...

  • The Age of Stupid
    The Age of Stupid
    The Age of Stupid is a 2009 British film by Franny Armstrong, director of McLibel and Drowned Out, and founder of 10:10, and first-time producer Lizzie Gillett...

  • Requiem for a Species
    Requiem for a Species
    Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change is a 2010 book by Australian academic Clive Hamilton which explores climate change denial and its implications. It argues that climate change will bring about large-scale, harmful consequences for habitability for life on Earth...