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The Media Loses Interest in Climate Change; The Public and Policymakers Follow?

2 min. read

Over at his New York Times “Dot Earth” blog, Andrew Revkin has an important piece on the nexus of climate change and media coverage. Or, to be more accurate, perhaps we should have said, “the nexus of climate change and the lack of media coverage.”  The question, according to Revkin, is this:

Has media coverage of human-driven climate change gone away, or gone undercover, as was the case for this CBS radio reporter  seeking a quiet zone at Copenhagen climate talks a year ago? If so, does this matter?

In his article, Revkin quotes Robert Brulle of Drexel University, who has looked at the data, and who believes “it is fair to say that the cycle of media interest in climate change has run its course, and this story is no longer considered newsworthy.”  Assuming this is true, and we have little reason to doubt that it is, why should it matter? According to Brulle, “Since we know that public opinion is heavily influenced by media coverage, this would imply that public concern or issue saliency of this issue would decline.”  The end result?  “For the last 4 months of 2010, the percentage mentioning environment as the most important problem has remained steady at 1% or less.”

This lack of concern by the media, and also by the American public, comes at a time when the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change is stronger than it’s ever been.   Recently, for instance, we learned that 2010 was the hottest climate year on record. As Rafe Pomerance, a senior fellow at Clean Air-Cool Planet, explained, “Not only is the temperature record indicative of rapid warming but many other indicators such as rising sea levels, the loss of Arctic sea ice and glacial retreat are pointing in the same direction."  Yet fewer and fewer Americans see this as a priority, let alone the most important challenge facing humanity.

Why is this the case?  Other than the media’s lack of interest in this story, we have to consider the fact that coal and dirty energy interests have spent millions of dollars in an effort to minimize concerns over climate disruption, to delay and prevent governmental action on this crisis, and to muddy the public discussion regarding the increasingly firm and increasingly damning scientific consensus that climate change is not just happening, but accelerating. There are many examples of this, including Chevron’s Orwellian “Human Energy” campaign, the Koch brothers attacks on climate change science and policy, and many more. The question is, what are the rest of us who live on Earth – and who want to keep the planet habitable for many generations to come – going to do about this? One thing’s for sure, we aren’t being well served by the current lack of media coverage.