Last year, in an interview with New York Times reporter Justin Gillis, CJR’s Curtis Brainard asked:
There’s been a lot of debate about the extent to which media coverage does or does not influence public opinion about climate change and society’s willingness to address the problem. Do journalists matter in this regard?
Gillis answered exactly as I (and any journalist) would have:
Well, if I didn’t think it mattered, I wouldn’t be doing it, but how that social dialectic works over the long run, I don’t really know.
What we do know is that the weather, above all, moves the needle on public opinion. Read More
There’s an old saying, If you don’t like the weather in [insert your state] ____, just wait five minutes.
Something similar could be said for climate change media coverage. For example, maybe you didn’t think much of a Telegraph story from a month ago, which warned that global warming was going to be catastrophic for the UK. Not to worry: This week, the Telegraph has a piece you might like better, headlined:
Global warming: time to rein back on gloom and doom?
Marc Morano, at spinmeister central, is doing cartwheels over it. Naturally, the latest, greatest climate controversy (#982) is more complex than climate skeptics would have you believe. Still as Fred Pearce writes at Yale Environment 360, Read More
My eight year-old son is not a disinterested sports fan. He knows as much about European soccer as I do (which is zilch), but when we’re in a barbershop for 15 minutes and Manchester is playing Barcelona, he asks me who we should root for. Ditto for the NBA All-Star game, which I let him stay up to watch (just the first half) this year. “Who do we want to win?” he asked me. Part of this stems from natural childhood competitiveness, but I’m sure it mostly owes to that tribal part of our evolutionary heritage. We are a species that defines ourselves by our alliances. Are you a Republican or a Democrat, a Yankee fan or a loyal member of the Red Sox Nation?
Why should science and environmental debates be any different than sports? Look at the different tribes of secular skeptics that have formed in recent years, for example. Team Militant Atheist, led by the hard-charging PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, play in-your-face ball, especially with anyone who suggests that atheism and science can coexist. Are you with them or are you with Team Spiritual Atheism, who are okay with experiences that have a “sacred” or religious quality to them? If you play in that world, you probably feel compelled to choose sides.
The climate change arena is another us/them venue. Read More
When a social cause gains momentum and becomes symbolically important, partisans inevitably hijack it for their own ends. They do this by trying to define and control the meaning of the cause and how it should be perceived. We’re seeing this play out now with the Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a touchstone for environmentalists and climate activists.
An opinion piece by John Abraham in today’s Guardian is what I would consider a textbook case for how not to communicate about a cause that you care deeply about. Abraham, an outspoken voice in the climate arena, argues that President Obama’s climate change legacy hinges on the White House’s decision on the controversial pipeline. That’s absurd. For one thing, the President already has an impressive string of accomplishments on the climate and energy front.
Secondly, it really does the climate movement no good to frame the Keystone battle in such simplistic, over-the-top terms. Doing so overstates the importance of a single pipeline, a rhetorical tactic that green friendlies have been pointing out for some time.
Then there is this passage from Abraham, which is as poisonous to his cause as it is rich in irony (my emphasis): Read More
Just a decade ago, ‘adaptation’ was something of a dirty word in the climate arena — an insinuation that nations could continue with business as usual and deal with the mess later.
That’s Olive Heffernan, reminiscing several months ago in Nature. She goes on to say:
But greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing at an unprecedented rate and countries have failed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. That stark reality has forced climate researchers and policy-makers to explore ways to weather some of the inevitable changes.
Heffernan’s piece is all about current approaches and projects that aim to make the world more resilient to climate change. (Another reason why the resilience concept is in tune with the times.) She quotes Jon Barnett, a political geographer at the University of Melbourne in Australia:
As progress to reduce emissions has slowed in most countries, there has been a turn towards adaptation.
In his State of the Union Address last night, President Obama spoke forcefully about global warming. He said that, “for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” Notably, the President framed his case this way:
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods — all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.
As Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post observed:
That’s about as direct a call for action by Congress on climate change as you will hear from a president.
Since no one expects Congress to act, President Obama promised:
I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
He also cleverly reminded Americans that once upon a time–in the not distant past–top Republicans believed global warming was worth addressing, too.
The President’s strong play for action on climate change stands in remarkable contrast to what many were lamenting as his “climate silence” during the 2012 presidential campaign, and his failure to “connect the dots.” Those days are gone. Climate change activists must have been pinching themselves during the President’s 2013 State of the Union Address. Read More
I don’t think anyone can top this:
Lots of snow falling outside. This proves whatever I believe.
— Dan Gardner (@dgardner) February 9, 2013
Now I read that as a clever rejoinder to all sides in the climate debate. But since we’re already seeing stories that link global warming to the blizzard that has just struck the Northeast, let’s focus on the side that is making the connection. Read More
It appears that certain media moguls and self-important, publicity-addicted narcissists are in good company when it comes to confusing climate and weather.
Yesterday, I was alerted to this press release, which starts off:
A University of British Columbia study of American attitudes toward climate change finds that local weather – temperature, in particular – is a major influence on public and media opinions on the reality of global warming.
The study, published today by the journal Climatic Change, finds a strong connection between U.S. weather trends and public and media attitudes towards climate science over the past 20 years – with skepticism about global warming increasing during cold snaps and concern about climate change growing during hot spells.
I went ahead and read the study, which is very interesting (alas, it’s behind a paywall). As the paper acknowledges:
Although past studies have suggested that a particular anomalous seasons, like the hot summer of 1988, influenced U.S. public opinion or media coverage of climate change (Shanahan and Good 2000; Zehr 2000; Boykoff and Boykoff 2004; Krosnick et al. 2006; Freudenberg and Muselli 2010), there has not as of yet been a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between climate variability and the variations in public and media opinion over time.
The media opinion/weather analysis is the aspect of the new paper that caught my eye. Its main finding surprised the researchers. Read More
The underlying basis for why some people become so fiercely opposed to genetically modified crops or to action on climate change is often not grounded in science. That’s why I’ve come to believe that the anti-science tag is misused and a distraction from what’s really at play.
An example of what I mean is captured below in two tweets. The first is from former TV meteorologist Joe Bastardi, who is often cited approvingly by Anthony Watts and many others in the climate skeptic community:
Global warming, Guns,Health Care.. you look at the common denominator..the attempt to take control of someone’s life
— Joe Bastardi (@BigJoeBastardi) January 10, 2013
— GMO Journal (@GMOjournal) January 10, 2013
What is the common denominator for both of these attitudes? If you need a hint, scroll around the site of Cultural Cognition.
Without urgent action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources.
I don’t take these concerns lightly. Global changes of a massive scale suggest some very worrisome trends, which have led to some very bleak projections. So it behooves us to pay attention to the state of the planet. (It is also reasonable to hash out the metrics used for these projections.) I’m no panglossian, notwithstanding my distaste for breathless catastrophizing. I think we should pay close attention to how the earth is being altered by 7 billion people and what those alterations may portend.
What bothers me most about this debate is how it swings between two opposite poles. I suppose it happens this way because voices are loudest at these ends and the tug-of-war conflict makes for a convenient narrative. Read More