11 October 2019

Climate-Change Facts Missing

Welcome back. Not long ago, I interrupted a conversation about climate. It happened during the Saturday morning coffee klatch (Saturday Coffee Hour).

Months earlier, I had talked about carbon dioxide and climate change with different Saturday morning attendees. This latest incidence was back to square one. It began when I heard something along the lines of climate change is all politics, climate is always changing.

News about climate change has finally made it to prime time and the front page. Most people now accept that climate is warming, even if they still don’t get it.

CBS News poll of Americans on the gravity of climate change; Sep 2019 survey by YouGov (from www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-news-poll-most-americans-say-climate-change-should-be-addressed-now-2019-09-15/).
A recent study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that journalists could do more; that they have failed to present key facts to educate the public. While that study’s findings are reliable, there’s a lot of noise to overcome.

Why Don’t They Understand?
Polls show that whether Americans agree or disagree that human activity affects climate, they lack an understanding of the facts.

The Berkeley researchers identify five basic climate facts people need to know, and they investigate how often those facts were conveyed in The New York Times news articles on climate change from 1980 to 2018.

The five facts are: climate change is occurring, its cause, there is a scientific consensus, the magnitude of the problem and the timescale of the resulting harm. 
The five climate-change facts searched for in The New York Times articles, 1980 to 2018; alternative or optional wording in parentheses (from iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/2515-7620/ab37dd).
A single newspaper, The New York Times, was chosen for analysis since the Times’ reputation and excellence in reporting environmental issues would place something of an upper bound on newspaper climate coverage.

The Times Search
The researchers’ search of the ProQuest US Major Dailies database from 1980 found 1,801 Times articles with “global warming,” “climate change” or “greenhouse effect” in the title.

Reducing these to standard, non-duplicative news articles (e.g., removing op-eds) of at least 500 words, they arrived at 597 articles.

A computer algorithm was devised to screen the 597 articles for character strings that conveyed any of the five climate facts. The identified articles were read to confirm the fact was present.

Newspapers Should Do More
The analysis found that the vast majority of climate-change news articles contained none of the five basic climate facts.

The one exception, that global warming is happening now, appeared in 31% of Times news articles. The mechanism of global warming appeared with a similar frequency in the early 1980s but is rarely reported today. Similarly, scientific consensus, highest CO2 concentrations and global warming permanence are also seldom reported.

Percentage of climate change articles in The New York Times since 1980 that mention five climate facts (graphic by David Romps from iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/2515-7620/ab37dd).
Presuming that other major newspapers don’t do much better, the researchers conclude that newspaper articles on climate change lack the scientific context readers need to make sense of the problem.

But Who Reads Newspapers?
The newspaper industry has been in decline since the mid-2000s. According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital) in 2018 was 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday, down 8% and 9%, respectively, from 2017.

By 2017, more Americans were getting news from social media than from print newspapers, though in 2018, television was still the most popular news platform.

Pew Research Center survey of where U.S. adults often get news, 2018 (from www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/12/10/social-media-outpaces-print-newspapers-in-the-u-s-as-a-news-source/).
Unfortunately, television hasn’t done much to educate the public. When I was still in academia and colleagues were recognizing and modeling climate change elements, the fossil fuel industry led the campaign to spread misinformation and sow doubt about global warming. Now, there’s talk radio and Fox News, the most watched TV cable network.

Wrap Up
I often watch certain Fox newscasts; I’m always impressed by the Fox News tape at the bottom of the screen. An analysis of Fox News TV transcripts during the first half of 2019 found that, of the 391 times “climate change” or “global warming” was mentioned, 247 involved considerable discussion. Of these, 212 (86%) were dismissive, undermining climate science, action and advocacy.

Fox News commonly framed climate change as a political construct, suggesting global warming is a vehicle for the Democrats’ big-government agenda, that responding to the climate change would kill our economy and that concern about climate is liberal hysteria.

Hmmm…that sounds like the Saturday morning conversation I interrupted. We’re running out of time. Thanks for stopping by.

U.C. Berkeley study of NY Times news articles on climate in Environmental Research Communications journal: iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/2515-7620/ab37dd
ProQuest News portfolio: www.proquest.com/libraries/academic/news-newspapers/
Pew Research Center’s Newspapers Fact Sheet: www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/newspapers/
Pew Research Center report on watching vs reading news: www.journalism.org/2018/12/03/americans-still-prefer-watching-to-reading-the-news-and-mostly-still-through-television/
Public Citizen analysis of Fox News: www.citizen.org/article/foxic-fox-news-networks-dangerous-climate-denial-2019/

1 comment:

  1. Is it just me or what. I live in a state with a lot of seniors retired here. Many watch nothing but Fox News or listen to right wing radio and that is why they are so ill informed.
    I don’t understand why it is so prevalent among seniors. Why they refuse to do any research or believe any other news source.