Our Massive Communication Failure on Climate Change

The Intersection
By Chris Mooney
Mar 7, 2007 12:38 AMNov 5, 2019 10:15 AM


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Perhaps only scientists could be such a bunch of media naifs that they would release a pivotally important report--one so significant that it only comes out once every five years--on a Friday. But that and other failings, combined with well-known pathologies of the media itself, collectively helped to ensure that the latest policymakers' summary from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (PDF) made only a minor blip on the public's radar screen. Matthew Nisbet now has the definitive take on how and why this massive communication breakdown occurred--a breakdown that is all the more troubling in light of the fact that we may have a steadily narrowing window of time left to address global warming before we're committed to irreversible, large-scale changes. Tonight at my panel discussion here in Vancouver--sponsored by the DeSmogBlog and the University of British Columbia School of Journalism--I, Ross Gelbspan, and others will be talking about the various problematic ways in which the media has covered the climate issue. The well-known tick of false "balance" is one such foible (although I actually think the press isn't as bad today as it once was in this respect). But in any event, phony "balance" represents just one media problem out of many, and following Nisbet's lead, tonight I'll be talking about some other, perhaps less obvious ones. For instance, it seems to me that the volume of attention that the press devotes to a subject is just as important as how it actually covers that subject. So I'll be presenting some revealing data along these lines that Matt has provided to me. In addition, I'll also introduce some new data that he and I have pulled together and analyzed about how the press has covered an increasingly prominent sub-issue of the global warming debate: the relationship between hurricanes and climate change. At the end of the day, though, while it's a time-honored pasttime to gripe about the media, this only takes us so far. The press is indeed culpable for failing to communicate the nature of our looming climate problem--but then, so are the scientists, science advocates, environmentalists, and others who care deeply about this issue, but who have failed to discuss it in a way that resonates beyond a relatively small circle of like-minded devotees. In short: We all have a great deal more to do...and the clock is ticking.

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