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Environment

What to Do About the "Polluted" Climate Discourse?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAugust 16, 2012 6:00 PM

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Andrew Montford, a Scottish climate skeptic who blogs at the Bishop Hill site, recently tweeted of his trip to London:

Had interesting conversations with a couple of enviro jouros today. Both agreed that media refusal to report "reasonable middle" is problem.

This prompted UK climate scientist Richard Betts to respond:

It is increasingly annoying that some media cover climate as a debate between NGOs and sceptics, with no actual scientists.

Ben Pile, a sharp critic of environmentalism who frequently dissects media coverage of climate change, then chimed in with his own complaint:

Plenty of stories in media with just one scientist, and no counter view at all.

He linked to a recent post of his that pointed out a spate of such stories. All three observations are, to varying degrees, legitimate. Of course, there's this grumble at the other end of the grievance spectrum: Not enough sirens and flashing lights. Meanwhile, another take that addresses the dysfunctional climate discourse (and its resulting polarization) is advanced by Yale's Dan Kahan, who argues that our "reasoning powers have become disabled by a polluted science-communication environment." He writes:

People acquire their scientific knowledge by consulting others who share their values and whom they therefore trust and understand. Usually, this strategy works just fine. We live in a science-communication environment richly stocked with accessible, consequential facts. As a result, groups with different values routinely converge on the best evidence for, say, the value of adding fluoride to water, or the harmlessness of mobile-phone radiation. The trouble starts when this communication environment fills up with toxic partisan meanings "” ones that effectively announce that "˜if you are one of us, believe this; otherwise, we'll know you are one of them'.

This tribal dynamic pretty much characterizes the state of our climate debate today. Any efforts to cleanse the "polluted science-communication environment" that Kahan refers to will necessarily require the media (across the spectrum) to curb its too often simplistic and sensationalistic coverage of climate change. Is that possible?

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