Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Is the Media Blowing Its Coverage of Climate Change Public Opinion Polls?

That sure would seem to be the case, according to Grist's David Roberts:

Polls about climate science get treated like the results of some contest between two ideological interest groups. It becomes a horserace story—“Democrats/environmentalists are losing”—rather than a story about danger to public health. It’s about environmentalists’ failure to persuade rather than the anti-scientific obscurantism that’s completely overtaken the Republican party, with financial support from large corporate interests.

If I can’t convince a guy standing in a downpour that it’s raining, seems to me the dumbass in the rain is the story, not my poor messaging.

I couldn't agree more.  So what's the real story here?  Roberts proposes the following:

A ramped-up effort by conservatives and industry groups to cast doubt on climate science has largely failed to convince the public that the science is in error. The fact that the earth’s atmosphere has warmed over the last 100 years is accepted by 72 percent of the public, down from from 80 percent last year. The decline came principally from the ranks of self-identified Republicans. The partisan split has widened on the issue, but a solid majority of the public accepts the findings of climate science and supports legislative efforts to address climate change.

To our ears this sounds “biased,”  because it accepts—without counter claims from the “other side”—the following three propositions:
  1. climate change is a fact, a process already underway, not some sort of speculation or proposition of faith;
  2. a coalition of fossil fuel industries and conservative foundations have conspired for decades to deny this fact, aided and abetted by the American political media; and
  3. now that climate/energy legislation is a real possibility, that coalition is sharply ramping up its efforts.
All three of these propositions are demonstrably true;  it’s impossible to understand climate and energy politics over the last two decades without understanding them. Yet they never seem to sink into the firmament. They don’t shape coverage; they’re not part of the background architecture of climate stories.

I couldn't agree more.  To me, as both a scientist and a concerned citizen, the real story in this poll is the increasing politicization, among America's Republican party, of what is undoubtedly the most important challenge facing the world today.

That the recommendations of the worlds top National Academies of Sciences has become a political football in America, rather than a call to action to make our world more secure, brings Republicans squarely into the Earth-is-Flat, anti-Galileo camp.

As a registered Independent, I'm the loser.  Instead of having sound ideas from two parties to choose from, I largely only have one choice, since the other party's ideas on the issues I care about most are off-the-charts bonkers right now.  It's a shame.

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