Thursday, April 24, 2014

Communicating Climate Change - The Problem with the Media

From Media Matters
The IPCC released the third of its series of reports on man-made climate change last week, and the organization Media Matters published a first analysis of how the media was reporting it. While the analysis was limited in scope, it does provide some interesting insights into the role of the media in communicating the science.

One of the most noticeable things about media coverage of the report was that there wasn't much media coverage of the report. This is a problem on several levels, not the least of which is that the media is not communicating to the public one of the most important science stories impacting the public. While ignorance may be bliss in some cases, this isn't the time to hide from reality.

Another problem with the lack of coverage of this third report is that its focus is on mitigation, that is, it offers some potential solutions to man-made climate change and the impacts that we are facing from those changes. These are dire messages. But as Media Matters notes, "studies show providing dire messages without solutions could be ineffective."

Covering the first U.N. reports warning of the dire impacts of climate change, while giving relatively little coverage to the report outlining the solutions, may be counterproductive. A 2009 review of studies on climate messaging, published in Science Communication, found that "fear-inducing representations" of the threat of global warming without providing solutions could "trigger barriers to engagement."

Even worse:

[D]ire messages warning of the severity of global warming and its presumed dangers can backfire, paradoxically increasing skepticism about global warming by contradicting individuals' deeply held beliefs that the world is fundamentally just.

So whereas the media reported on the problem, they largely ignored reporting on the solutions. Doing so actually reduces the chances for action. And action is what the IPCC - and every other scientific organization - insists must happen. In fact, the IPCC notes that "carbon emissions need to be drastically reduced in order to prevent global temperatures from rising over two degrees Celsius -- the threshold to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of manmade global warming." We're well on our way to reaching the two degrees Celsius. Without action, the question is not will we reach it, but how fast.

It's one thing for the media to poorly report on science, as has been discussed here and here. But what we're talking about here is media actually misinforming the public by its dual errors of 1) ignoring coverage of solutions, and 2) giving false credence to science deniers.

This is a major problem.