Accuracy in Media

President Donald Trump tweets distract us from the ravages of climate change, according to Lisa Hymas’ piece for the Guardian last week.

“Some of Trump’s tweets generate more national coverage than devastating disasters,” wrote Hymas, who is director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters for America, a left-of-center group that attempts to steer media coverage toward its initiatives. “Which story did you hear more about this year – how climate change makes disasters like hurricanes worse? Or how Donald Trump threw paper towels at Puerto Ricans?”

If you said Trump and the paper towels, you are not alone, Hymas writes. She cited a study that found that, of 1,500 stories about hurricanes, 907 discussed “Trump” and 572 discussed “business.”

Only 79 discussed “climate change” in conjunction with the hurricanes, only four mentioned “fossil fuels” and none used the term “alternative energy.” Although 187 of the stories discussed the economy in terms of hurricane news, only 18 of those discussed hurricanes, the economy and climate change together, and “not one story explored the links between an economic model based on endless growth, and the implications of this endless growth for the planet and climate change,” Good wrote in a piece for the Toronto Star.

She claims in the piece that global warming suffers from what George Lakoff, the American linguist, referred to as “hypocognition” – or the lack of ideas we need. And what ideas are needed? Which are absent from the current debate?

“The fundamental answer is that climate change and extreme weather (i.e., hurricanes) need to be framed together more often,” Good wrote. “As scientists have pointed out, while climate change is not causing the weather, it is definitely exacerbating the weather. But increasingly adding climate change to the extreme weather frame is only the tip of the (yes, melting) iceberg. Alternatives to ‘business as usual’ need to be part of the media’s, and our, extreme weather frames.”

“Trump doesn’t just suck the oxygen out of the room; he sucks the carbon dioxide out of the national dialogue,” Hymas writes. “Even in a year when we’ve had a string of hurricanes, heat waves and wildfires worthy of the Book of Revelation – just what climate scientists have told us to expect – the effect of climate change on extreme weather has been dramatically under-covered. Some of Trump’s tweets generate more national coverage than devastating disasters.”

About those scientists telling us what to expect … a study in 2013 took a look at 117 predictions made about the climate in scientific journals in the 1990s. It found three to have been at least partially correct and 114 to have been outright incorrect for having overestimated the amount of warming.

John Christy, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, said he looked at 73 climate models going back to 1979, when such data first became available, and found every one of them had predicted more warming than happened in the real world.

In the 1970s, the concern was about global cooling … that deforestation would make the Earth more reflective and thus unable to retain heat, and air pollution would block so much sunlight heat would not be able to get through, and we would freeze. Then came predictions of overpopulation, mass starvation and mass extinction.  

And now, according to Hymas, the media refuses to make the connections and emphasize the “well-documented links” between climate change and hurricanes.

“If we are to fend off the worst possible outcomes of climate change, we need to shift as quickly as possible to a cleaner energy system,” Hymas wrote. “We could expect more Americans to get on board with that solution if they more fully understood the problem – and that’s where the critical role of the media comes in. As the weather gets worse, we need our journalism to get better.”

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