Friday, April 4, 2014

Popular Media Panders to Conservative Politics and Legitimizes Climate Denial

The media's portrayal of climate science has caused the discussion to devolve into a political debate. Coverage of global warming panders to conservative politics and this directly impacts public perception. Climate change is commonly presented as a matter of personal opinion. Presenting both sides, turns scientific observation into a debate which is like giving equal time to holocaust deniers or advocates of a flat earth. This approach undermines the veracity of the science and lends credence and legitimacy to climate denial.

When we politicize the findings of scientific inquiry we often ignore salient observations and focus on their political ramifications. Rather than addressing national strategies of action we continue to talk about the veracity of the science.

Climate science is one of the most prolific fields of study in the history of human inquiry. The body of evidence is strong and irrefutable. There is no debate among researchers as the vast majority (97%)of climate scientists agree. However, you would never know this from watching the coverage presented by many major media outlets.

While pandering to the ignorance of viewers may generate ratings, it reifies the lies. Take the example of the alleged global warming hiatus, this received considerable coverage, yet it is patently untrue.

When you give the stage to climate change deniers you are helping to substantiate their subterfuge. This is irresponsible journalism. For the same reason that the press does not give equal time to people who believe the earth is flat we should not be giving equal time to people who have political agenda's rather than a fact based understanding.

It is not necessary for deniers to win the debate, all they need do to keep us from acting is continue to interject an element of doubt.  Perpetuating misinformation can be as simple as pointing to a snow storm or a cold front. The fact that these isolated storms and cold fronts do not constitute a shift away from a consistent warming trend does not matter. People walk away with the idea that some snow or a few days of cold weather refutes the science.

Media is aiding and abetting the kind of fraudulent misrepresentations that spell calamity for the Earth and its inhabitants. Climate skeptics do not offer an alternate interpretation, they are purveyors of lies. Absurd statements from people like Rush Limbaugh do not deserve equal time.

The anti-science campaigns waged by conservative pundits and the Republican party are harmful to the national interest. The views of climate deniers should be challenged and they should not be given a platform that widely disseminates their obfuscation.

One of the reasons that these lies are so pernicious is in part due to the fact that they are tied into the religious views of Biblical literalists. These same people will argue that the Earth is 7000 years old and students should be taught creationism in school.

The vast majority of climate scientists agree that anthropogenic global warming is real. It is also true that we have reached 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere (and climbing). It is also true that if we do not change our current trajectory and substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions we invite calamity. 

Responsible politics is informed by science. What we commonly see in US media coverage of climate change is often irrational and this undermines popular support for action which imperils our future.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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