Friday, November 13, 2009

Is The U.S. News Media Failing to Do It's Job on Global Warming?

Is the U.S. Media failing America on global warming and Peak Oil, potentially causing us to miss our window of opportunity to solve these urgent problems before they become civilization-destabilizing crises?

We've said as much in some recent posts, and now ClimateBiz weights in:

It sure seems that America is out of touch with the rest of the world regarding global warming, and that the world is slapping us in the face to awaken us from our stupor.

Delegates at last week's Barcelona climate talks were frustrated that U.S. negotiators came to the table unable to commit to concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to our seized legislative engine.

The notion that the U.S. is out of touch also was borne out by the Pew Research Center survey that was widely reported on in the past few weeks. Pew found that fewer Americans (57 percent) believe that the earth's atmosphere is warming versus two years ago (77 percent).

That statistic for many validates the view that we are in denial. But there was another statistic in that study that may suggest WHY the U.S. may be so out of touch. Pew also found that a majority of Americans -- 55 percent -- have heard nothing at all about the proposed cap-and-trade policy to establish limits on carbon dioxide emissions.


That's right, 55 percent of U.S. citizens have heard NOTHING AT ALL about cap and trade. With a jaw-dropping statistic like that we must ask ourselves this question: Is the U.S. news media adequately doing its job as regards global warming?

At a time when climate science is urgently screaming to the American news media to mediate coverage of climate change in a way that will mobilize society, at a time when it's telling us that we just have a few short years to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions or we seriously threaten the planet with chaos, misery, death and extinction, at a time when climate science warrants that we create an atmosphere of grave threat and crisis, and at a time when it tells us that, in the words of Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, "…we need emergency action all around the world to curb (greenhouse gas) emissions" -- our delegates in Barcelona couldn't commit to any kind of plan just a month before Copenhagen, and the Pew Center has found that only 57 percent of Americans, down from 77 percent, believe that global warming is occurring, and that 55 percent have never heard anything about cap and trade. This suggests that the news media is not doing what it could and should be doing to keep us focused with the clarity and urgency that global warming requires, and that our global neighbors demand of themselves. 

Many are acknowledging that the media has cooled on global warming in the past year or more. A common refrain echoed recently is that the recession and healthcare reform have crowded out coverage of global warming.

For example...Juliet Eilperin, who covers the environment for the Washington Post, in her September 17 appearance on The Diane Rehm Show's "Preparing for Copenhagen" segment, said "… in the immediate past we've seen such a focus on healthcare you haven't seen as much altitude to those (climate change) stories."

But we should be seeing serious altitude on climate change stories. The lives of our children, and our children's children, are threatened. We can't wait until healthcare and the economy have become memories to return to climate change; we know that we have a few short years to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Regardless of what other issues enter and exit our realm of concern, global warming must remain the dominant central issue. Therefore, the U.S. News media should step up and mobilize the nation to take dramatic action on global warming. To that end the media should do the following:
  1. Dramatically increase the frequency and extent of coverage of climate change; fill the papers, websites, airwaves and television with lots and lots of coverage of climate change every single day;
  2. Fill the content of that coverage with current climate facts, suggest the future implications of those facts, including their social and economic consequences, and illustrate how those consequences will impact us at a personal level;
  3. Deliver that content with a grave tone of crisis and emergency;
  4. Institutionalize coverage of climate change by creating standard, daily news sections and departments in our print, radio, television, Internet and other media.
To blame issues like health care and the economy for pushing climate change coverage to the side is not an adequate justification.  Rather, it is a lame and shallow excuse that reflects an utter lack of critical thinking about how to accurately educate the public about the benefits of solving climate change.

Something this ClimateBiz piece misses out on completely is that the media is failing to make key connections for the American people.  For example, as we point out here time and again, the sources of pollution that cause climate change are also making millions of people sick, driving up health care costs.  By transitioning to a clean energy-powered economy, including electric vehicles, we will save billions of dollars on our nation's health care costs.

Similarly, much has been written about how our transition to a clean technology economy will spur the growth of whole new economic sectors and create millions of new jobs.  In addition, more efficient energy technologies and vehicles will help save Americans hundreds of billions of dollars on our energy and transport costs each year -- freeing up that money (which is now just going to energy companies) to be spent widely throughout diverse sectors of the economy (clothing, travel, restaurants, hotels, electronics, recreation, music -- you name it!)

Similar connections can be made on the national security front and fight against terrorism, where our dependence on oil helps fund regimes that strongly dislike America, compromises our foreign policy stances, and overall threatens our economic security.

The media is, in our opinion, failing miserably to relay these types of key linkages between solving climate change and solving other key challenges of our day.  Invite us on to your program and we'll be glad to tell your audience all about them.

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