Media Misrepresents Climate Change Challenges


For the last six months, major newspapers and news magazines have completely misrepresented climate science to the detriment of our public discourse and our planet.

Newsweek argued that climate scientists are playing “fast and loose” with facts. The New York Times reported a controversy raging in the field of climate science. And countless other news outlets, blogs, pundits and writers followed these leaders.

As in the case of evolution, anti-scientific activists are demanding “both sides” of a one-sided issue. By “teaching the controversy” of climate science, newspapers, magazines, blogs and TV personalities damage society’s ability to deal with climate crisis.

The University of Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) and its leader, Phil Jones have been the subject of a hacking attack that revealed unprofessional, improper e-mails sent between researchers. The content of these e-mails revealed the scientists to be, over the course of six years, occasionally spiteful. They were revealed to be concerned with the perception of their research. Spite and pride are hardly unique to CRU, and the actual content of their scientific output has never been challenged.

Even if the entire output been ignored, the international scientific consensus on climate science would remain.

Consider that CRU retained one of four major temperature records (the other three are based in the United States, Japan, and China). Wherever one looks, one finds rising average temperatures and increasing bizarre weather events.Similarly, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has been found on all subjects too conservative. From 2006 to 2009 ice melting, temperature increase, and greenhouse gas emissions have exceeded IPCC expectations, which were explicitly conservative. Yet mistakes about Himalyan glaciers and Dutch topography have been widely reported as threatening the validity of the report.

Last year, the Texas Board of Education adopted language requiring that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming and similar requirements exist in Kentucky, Louisiana, and soon, South Dakota.

Even the New York Times acknowledges that there is “no credible challenge to evolutionary theory” just as “there is wide agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring and that human activities are probably driving it.”

Yet the media continues to give the radical fringe, who deny the overwhelming majority of evidence, equal print space to a near-universal consensus of experts. This appearance of controversy becomes newsworthy, as the media begins to report on its own doings. Joe Romm has done a service by not only debunking some ridiculous claims, but also explaining this process. He’s pretty mad about all of this.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.

While global inequality and access to information is a huge problem, most Americans can go to a public library and rent An Inconvenient Truth. They can use a public computer to visit Real Climate or Climate Progress and learn the science themselves. People so disadvantaged that they cannot do this are probably not reading the Times or Newsweek anyway. This is unfortunate, but inequality and access to information are separate issues from climate politics.

People taking the climate crisis and peak oil seriously are tomorrow’s leaders. Look at transition towns , permaculture designers and organic farmers.

What will it take for the media to awake from denial and repression to consciousness of change?

Article by Eliav Bitan appearing courtesy Celsias.

photo: Roomic Cube

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. Opinions that Matter

    March 16, 2010

    There are plenty of groups opposing action by the U.S. government to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Most of them have little or nothing to do with science. The core of the denial movement is the Competitive Enterprise Institute. If not for the herculean effort by this and other conservative think tanks to derail science, we could very well be on our way to solving a major crisis in which time is a critical factor.

    What’s happening now is nothing new.

    In the 1980’s, scientists were concerned about the ozone layer when most of the world didn’t have the slightest clue about what ozone was. Scientists were saying that a compound best known by the DuPont brand name “Freon” was harming the planet. They said that certain chemicals were destroying part of the atmosphere that is essential for human life because it blocks out harmful ultraviolet radiation that causes cancer.

    The first step was The Vienna Conference; the first international conference on ozone layer depletion. Next came The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer; a multilateral environmental agreement. Soon after, came The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer; an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of a number of substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion.

    The Montreal Protocol is said to be the single most successful international agreement to date. All countries in the United Nations have now ratified the original agreement and three of the many noteworthy scientists who worked hard to solve the problem were awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for both brainpower and effort. Their names are Mario Molina, Paul Crutzen, and Frank Rowland.

    Are we honestly expected to believe that the opinions of these Nobel Prize Winners don’t matter?

    Here’s what they think:

    Mario J. Molina:

    Paul Crutzen:

    Frank Rowland: