by Kelly Rigg,, October 27, 2010
I've just returned from Brussels where I was invited to speak at the European Journalism Centre’sClimate Action Conference about the significance of the 10/10/10 Global Work Party and next steps for the climate movement.
With approximately 100 journalists in the audience, I decided to focus on the role of the media in shaping perceptions about climate change, its solutions, and the paradigm shift which I believe has now begun.
I pointed out that a number of larger developing nations are seeing the competitive advantages in improving energy efficiency and investing in a green economy. China invested nearly $35 billion last year in clean energy projects, with the US running at not even a close second (less than $19 billion in investments). Just this month, South Korea announced that it would invest $36 billion into renewable energy over the next five years.
Last year more than 50% of all new electrical power installations in the EU came from renewables and there's a roadmap for Europe to achieve 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050. Around 40% of new power installations in the US in 2009 came from wind. As HSBC noted in September,
"…looking through the fog of the carbon war, a new climate is starting to emerge, driven as much by resource scarcity and industrial innovation as by the raw realities of global warming… it is also self-evident that mounting pressures on energy, land and water resources require a step change in economic behaviour, offering growth, employment and trade benefits for those countries to take the lead in climate business."
More and more, we're seeing references to a "new industrial revolution" or a "race" to the future -- in other words, a paradigm shift.
But when it comes to climate reporting, I pointed out that the media is lagging behind, and is far too obsessed with the deniers-believers circus. An editorial in this week’s issue of Nature talks about this discrepancy:
"Too many of those responsible for news and current affairs at the BBC, and across other media, consider themselves primarily in the entertainment business. It is generally not a lack of scientific understanding by reporters that produces poor science content, as often alleged, but that straight news coverage of science is often thought to make for poor entertainment.
“This is why the signal of the climate-science story, the steady accumulation of evidence that points in the same direction, is too easily drowned out by the noise — criticism and hype of individual papers, statements from high-profile individuals and spurious dissent. Against that background, the uncertainty of climate science becomes a story in itself, not a crucial footnote to the main narrative."
Thinking about this in the context of the US midterm elections, where climate skepticism has become a badge of honor for candidates supported by the tea party movement, I came to the conclusion that journalists should tear a page out of the book of the medical profession. Just like the first rule for physicians is to "do no harm" I suggested that conscientious journalists should adopt the same creed. This suggests that the role of journalists to educate, to get at the truth of the matter by digging deep into the best available facts, science, expertise, etc. There are, of course other codes of journalistic practice such as the need to provide "balanced" reporting. Genuinely balanced reporting should be done in service to the truth, not as a spurious attempt to provide “another side” to the story, when in fact none exists. At the very least, as the Nature editorial suggested:
"If BBC staff want to use non-experts to criticize widely accepted science, they must explain this lack of expertise to the audience, and why the BBC has invited them to participate."
My take-home point was this: in 10 or 20 years time, the journalists who recognized the new climate zeitgeist and found ways to communicate it are the ones who will be remembered. Non-stories such as the so-called Climategate will be minor footnotes in the history books of the future.