Sunday, July 10, 2011

Climate Change False Balance

Of Boobs and Haboobs

~ Arizona, ravaged by wildfires and suffering recurring and more severe droughts, is in danger of experiencing dust bowl conditions like those of the Great Depression. Last week they even had a haboob, a towering dust storm of the kind found in Middle Eastern deserts:

Darkness at midday. Low moisture levels in the soil are to blame, as is our modern form of input-intensive agriculture with its heavy emphasis on monoculture supported by fossil fuel-based fertilizers and cultivation. Higher temperatures and stronger winds do the rest.

While it is a stretch to link any specific weather phenomenon as directly caused by climate change, the increase in extreme weather events, both in number and intensity, is a direct effect of our changing climate. These kinds of things are what the models suggest will occur, and, here they are, occurring more and more.

Meanwhile, most of the world recognizes that our climate is changing and that human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are to blame. Companies world-wide are preparing and mitigating their risk from the effects. Across the globe countries and their political leadership are investing in a clean energy future both for their populace's needs and for their long-term economic competitiveness. Everywhere news reporting has gradually moved from indifference, to confusion, to denial, then alarm, and now to debates on responsive public policy alternatives and features outlining pragmatic choices for individuals.

Everywhere that is but here in the United States.

We cling tenaciously to our denial. Many of our leaders have gone all-in on their commitment to a naive nostalgia which facts cannot be permitted to contradict. The media was given enormous freedom by the First Amendment precisely to speak truth to our centers of power and to equip the people with the information, and the voice, to keep our leaders accountable and responsive. They are failing us.

Conservative media voices elsewhere in the world are doing their job, which is why in part those countries are taking real action.
For Peter Vandermeersch, editor-in-chief at the traditionally conservative daily NRC Handelsblad in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, there is no debate about climate change.

"Absolutely, that's a given," he said. "The conviction has grown that climate change does exist, and that humans play a major role in how it evolves."

"There's almost no discussion about it," agreed Wouter Verschelden, editor-in-chief at the progressive daily De Morgen in Brussels, Belgium. "The nonbelievers have been marginalized, and they aren't taken seriously anymore. We don't have to convince our readers anymore of the fact that there is climate change, and that it's caused by humans."
Both say that US media gives too much voice to climate change deniers and skpetics, downplaying (or ignoring) the near-unanimous state of scientific understanding. Says Verschelden:
In a sense, you're lying to your readers. You're creating a 'he said, she said' story, and looking for an argument that just doesn't always exist.
Naysayers in the US media, like Cristi Kempf, the national foreign editor at the Chicago Tribune, claim they're just being "objective":
We will print stories that bring both sides of the view. We will print stories about climate change presenting it as fact, and we will print stories about people who say climate change doesn't exist. It's very obvious that a lot of people, including members of the U.S. Congress, believe it's not true.
She goes on to allude to how some of her readership are members of the Tea Party, with the implication that she is giving her readers want they want to read. Not what they need to read—that is, what is.

It is not objective to provide a platform for falsehoods and repeatedly disproven assertions offered by assorted crackpots and the paid shills of moneyed interests that cannot or dare not stand up and speak their real reasons to oppose climate change action. Nor is it anything more than yellow journalism to slavishly ape prejudiced opinion and thus lend it a credence beyond the ignorant gossip it resembles. Even if from Congress. Especially if from our supposed leaders. How far our media have sunk when they claim justification for pandering to confirmation bias, to demonstrable error, to ignorance.

If objectivity is to mean anything, it must be as a focus on the objects of discussion—the facts—not the subjects—people and their opinions.
"I think the objectivity standard that U.S. newspapers apply has probably outlived its usefulness on this particular issue," said Mark Neuzil, a professor of environmental communication at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. "At some point you're not being a decent and good journalist when you're giving equal weight when 97 percent say one thing, and 3 percent say the other, unless you point that out really clearly."

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