Media partly to blame for climate confusion

My Clean Break column today takes a look at the media’s role in spreading confusion regarding the science of climate change. I decided to write this column after reading Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan of, but also after getting a chance to talk to some front-line U.S. government scientists during my recent retreat to New Mexico. I got a good sense of how climate change is playing havoc with water resources, forests, and municipal planning, as well as the complexity of determing how much of it is caused by natural cycles and how much is caused by greenhouse-gas emissions. It was also driven home how climate change is affecting different regions of the planet in different ways, and that just because there’s unusual cooling on one side of the planet doesn’t mean there’s not record heating happening on the other. What matters is that global seas are rising, global mean temperature is rising despite observations of slight intra-decade decline, and polar icecaps are retreating. Here’s an excellent piece just written by Seth Borenstein of AP that nicely summarizes what has happened over the past decade.

My own column is an apology of sorts on behalf of a profession that, in an attempt to be balanced, often inadvertently tilts the scale too far to accommodate those looking to spread misinformation and confusion.

4 thoughts on “Media partly to blame for climate confusion”

  1. I posted to the Star site a few times today and wow, did I ever hear screaming from the deniers. I’m finding a real trend of denialism whenever a Star article about climate change (I prefer ‘disruption’ – see “Hot, Flat and Crowded) is posted. Unfortunately, the denialism seems to be based in an ignorance of climatology and possibly in science in general. To say that I was stunned at the reactions of certain people is putting it mildly. I’ve had bad papers that have long been debunked quoted to me as “proof”, studies taken out of context or simply misunderstood etc.

    I don’t think that the deniers are dumb or in the pay of some fossil fuel company either. I think that the problem is much more complicated than that and unfortunately simple ignorance seems to play a huge part. The role of the media is so important when trying to convey messages of a scientific nature, but without a base understanding of scence and how it works, any messages from a scientific media – in this I mean science writers, bloggers etc – are likely to be lost beneath the avalanche of emotional, knee jerk responses that come from other sources.

    I’ve seen this in the Creationism “debates” and I’m watching it all over again with AGW. I can’t wait to see what happens when Peak Oil gets out in the MSM in a big way.

  2. Mark, I agree with you. I do not think the deniers are dumb, they just seem to have this notion that AGW is some politically motivated movement, in which they will lose their rights as free citizens. I think it is just sad that they blame AGW for degradation of citizen rights, when so many other policies have greater affect.

    I personally think the debate is over. If we keep fighting amongst ourselves over who’s numbers are credible or who’s publication is classier, we all lose. I have started to ignore the hot air of deniers and just point them to read the changes that are going on, either way, if it is AGW or something else, the world is changing. The Seth Borenstien piece is exactly what the media needs to start writing about and going down to those places and talking to the people affected. I am sure you could add dollars to all of Seth’s points.

  3. One of the reasons that I began to say anything on the Star site was that I found that the deniers were dominating all the comments sections. While not a problem – I have no issues with people expressing their opinions – with that much dominance and no-one saying anything I figured that some people might come to the conclusion that you don’t need science to come up with a position.

    I think if I’d actually seen real logic and science, I might not be so annoyed, but there’s just so much misunderstanding of science and even basic logic. I have to say that I’ve seen a few decent arguments, but mostly it’s been hot air. And that’s what scares me. Science is hard to learn and even harder to diseminate to the public.

    Take the “Climategate” issue that’s just come up. Before any solid analysis of the emails and a serious analysis can be done, the emotional reaction is “It’s all a fake! Nothing that climate scientists say is true and we can just do whatever we want! Back to business as usual!” It seems to be a case of cherry picking coupled with screaming. This is not logical. Now, if there is some impropriety in terms of keeping sceptics out of journals, then there does need to be a serious second look. However, does this change all the other studies done in other universities and research spots around the world that point to climate change being a big deal? I’d say no, but that’s not what deniers are saying. Logic fail!

  4. Nice articles Tyler- sadly, I am afraid it may take a lot more change in the global ecosystem before many will seriously consider the effects of pumping all that carbon into the atmosphere. But I applaud your effort from the news media side- let’s just hope other journalists read your articles as well;-)

    Mark Robinson- I thank you for your stand- but I would recommend you do not confuse and cojoin the debates over Creationism vs the theory of Evoluion with Climate Change. You are inferring A equals B, and will thus lose both arguments to any who already believe one or the other, though the debates of the two are not similar. I, for one, do not believe in the theory of Evolution, but can accept the proofs of climate change- most, however, will not separate the two if you insist on using one as the proof of the other. I do not bring this up to debate the merits of Creationism vs Evolution, as this is not the forum for it- but that is the point- they are two distinct arguments, and the debate over Climage Change would be well served not be entangled with other, unrelated issues. Besides, the debate over Creationism vs Evolution is so heated, it may well be a source of Climate Change all on its own;-)

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