Climate science is settled. Get over it.
Why do some news networks pretend that climate change isn’t real? Why do they act like there’s still a “debate” about the subject?
There is no debate. Facts are facts. I understand why certain politicians who get a lot of campaign money from the fossil fuel industry want to muddle the issue, but that doesn’t mean national news organizations have to act as a mouthpiece. But muddle it they have, and some news organizations are only too willing to play along.
In one of the silliest recent shows on Meet the Press, scientist and educator Bill Nye (the science guy) had a “debate” with GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R, Tenn.) about climate change. It wasn’t much of a contest. One had science and facts on his side. One didn’t. But the very fact that Meet the Press presented it as a “debate” gives some undeserved semblance of legitimacy to the anti-climate change argument. Is it too much to expect that the media report, you know, facts, instead of presenting ill-informed opinions and claiming they’re giving “both sides of the argument”?
The release of a new U.N. report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stresses that there is limited time to take action against global warming — limited time to reduce warming of some 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. This is the level scientists say the planet must not breach to avoid the worst risks of climate change. The report calls for action by all major countries, in both the developed and the developing world.
It’s pretty scary to read the report’s conclusions. Global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. The report stresses that “only major institutional and technological change will give a better-than-even chance that global warming will not exceed” the 2 degrees Celsius threshold. Indeed, in many countries and areas of the world, people and governments already have been forced to make concessions to deal with the effect of global warming, especially low-lying areas close to sea level.
As it turns out, many countries around the world are trying to do their part. According to officials from GLOBE International, a nonprofit group that backs legislative efforts on sustainable development: “Some 450 climate-related laws since 1997 have been passed in 66 countries covering around 88% of global greenhouse gases released by human activities. This legislative momentum is happening across all continents. Encouragingly, this progress is being led by the big emerging and developing countries, such as China and Mexico, that together will represent 8 billion of the projected 9 billion people on Earth in 2050.”
A new global summit will be held in Paris in November 2015 to work on a new global climate treaty. Of course, if history is any guide, countries will have a hard time coming to agreement. But the need is only getting more important, more dire.
In another new report, the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed how three major cable news networks — CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — covered climate science. The results aren’t surprising, but they’re still disheartening.
“In 2013, 70% of climate-science-related segments on CNN were accurate, 28% of Fox News Channel segments were accurate, and 92% of such segments on MSNBC were accurate,” the report states.
Hmm. Only 28% of climate science segments on Fox were accurate. No wonder a certain segment of the population is so confused.
The report continues: “Cable news coverage of climate science often reflects and reinforces people’s perceptions of the science, which are related to their partisan identification as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or Tea Party supporters. Political ideology can also have a large effect on whether or not people accept the scientific consensus on climate change. On the cable news networks, as in the halls of Congress, discussions about climate change feature a mix of political opinions and scientific information.”
The UCS report puts blame where it belongs, but says crying wolf doesn’t help.
“Many opponents of policies designed to reduce emissions or prepare for climate change, including hosts and guests on cable news programs, use inaccurate and dismissive portrayals of established climate science in order to bolster their political arguments and preferences. Meanwhile, some advocates for proactive climate policies occasionally overstate the effects of climate change, although they make misleading statements far less often than do opponents of climate policy action.”
Perhaps the most important thing the UCS says in its report is this:
“Established climate science is clear: human activities are largely responsible for the majority of recent warming, and climate change is already disrupting human and natural systems. Nevertheless, public attitudes toward climate science lag behind scientific understanding. Only two-thirds of Americans accept that climate change is occurring, and less than half of the population recognizes that it is largely due to human activities.”
The UCS is a nonprofit scientific advocacy organization that includes scientists worldwide, including many Nobel laureates. Conservative groups love to bash it as “left-wing” and “liberal.” Televangelist Jerry Falwell warned his followers not to fall for “global warming hocus-pocus” from the UCS. That should tell you which side to be on. And it’s not Jerry Falwell’s.
The IPCC report is available online. The UCS report Science or Spin? Assessing the Accuracy of Cable News Coverage of Climate Science also is available online.