I’m pretty sure there’s such a thing as climate change and I’m pretty sure humans are responsible for it.
I also think it’s too late to do anything about it even if we were a country capable of discussing the question in a reasonably intellectual way.
We’re not really much of an intellectual society. Too bad for you; I’ll be dead in about 20 years, the actuaries say, and the worst of climate change will be your problem, whippersnappers. I won’t be around to hear one of us say, “I told you so.” So good luck. Write if you get work.
This week, Mashable reported — again, two agencies monitoring such things reported that May’s global temperature (air temperature, we haven’t even talked about water yet) — was 1.38 inches degrees above average, whatever that is anymore. That makes it the warmest May on record, ahead of the previous record-holder: May 2012.
Later this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its own set of data. Anyone want to put some money on what it’ll say?
I’m not under any illusions that any of this data will make a difference in the public discussion.
I posted a link to the story last evening on Facebook and guess what? The deniers came out of the woodwork doing their denial thing. The believers came out and did their belief thing. Nobody ever changes their mind on the Internet.
At this point, the anthropological exercise of watching people’s inability to accept data that conflicts with their previously-held, usually-not-researched position is far more fascinating.
We live our lives on the assumption of probability all the time. We can’t state as fact that we’ll live long enough to retire, but we put money away for our retirements anyway. But on this question, we want definitive proof, even though definitive proof probably involves the disappearance of the human species.
But it’s entirely understandable. The debate is linked to politics. Politics is the new religion. Religious rivalries envelope the world in a suicidal plod.
Who’s responsible for this? The media must accept its role.
Writing this week on Vice, Josiah Hesse notes recent research that shows that the more evidence of climate change that presents itself, the more journalists couch the reporting in doubt.
“A lot of the papers we looked at show that in the US news there’s a tendency to frame climate stories as more uncertain, compared with European and Spanish-language newspapers in the Americas,” Adriana Bailey, one of the study’s co-authors, told me while sipping a latte at a campus coffeehouse. “Things like ‘sea levels could rise’ instead of ‘sea levels will rise’—subtle things like that.”
This wasn’t particularly mind-blowing to Boykoff and Bailey. What did surprise them was that both the American and Spanish publications increased their use of hedging language from 2001 to 2007. So just as the IPCC was growing more confident about climate change being real, imminently disastrous, and definitely caused by humans, the media was reporting that evidence with words that implied less and less certainty.
“Because the IPCC uses the scientific method of going back and forth with new data, there’s a tendency in the US media to frame climate change as a ‘debate,’” Bailey told me, noting the infectious potential of this trend by pointing out that “the Spanish articles in 2001 never once used the word ‘debate,’ but in 2007 they did.”
If New York Times reporters are card-carrying members of the liberal media—the nefarious assortment of outlets allegedly (hedge word!) behind the global-warming hoax—then why do they lack the declarative confidence to report climate change as an inarguable fact?
Boykoff pointed out to me that newspaper stories are often run through large editorial teams, who make small tweaks to stories here and there in the name of accuracy. Due to the large variety of subjects these editors cover, their certainty of the facts isn’t as high as it could be when it comes to climate science. So a statement like “sea levels could rise” is preferred as a safe middle ground.
This makes a certain amount of sense. As a journalist, the idea of getting something wrong in a story—no matter how seemingly trivial a detail—and then having it pointed out by some all-too-eager troll in the comments section gives me the cold, primal fear of a drowning polar bear.
And if you haven’t already noticed, the internet is loaded to the gills with commenters ready to call out the slightest discrepancy on climate change reporting. (The Climate Research Unit email controversy, or “Climategate,” in 2009—as inconsequential as it was—is still basically the cornerstone of global-warming skepticism.)
In the name of balanced journalism, Boykoff told me, US media will often give voice to climate-change skeptics when reporting breaking stories on the subject. This also has the added bonus of engaging readers in a polarized controversy.
Hesse notes that while climate change is usually pictured as rising seas and melting ice, it rarely seems to establish a link with everyday news. “The Boko Haram foot soldiers are known to be displaced refugees from nearby Chad and Niger’s extreme drought and food shortages,” he notes, for example.
But Hesse gives deniers a pass. It’s not about science, he says. It’s about people calming their own fears.
In other words: They’re not stupid; they’re just scared.
That’s our common ground.