Media and Climate Deniers

Editors often look for two sides of a story, and they also look for certainty. But when covering climate change you can’t really include either of those things. Scientists always have some margin of error, and even worse, their findings comes incrementally — climate change science is hardly a breaking news topic. The two “sides” of the climate change story are generally thought to be those saying it is real and anthropogenic (caused by humans) and those that say nothing has been proven (the deniers).

The problem with presenting both sides of this argument is that 97 percent of climate scientists agree on climate change. To make matters worse, the other three percent often have some ties to Big Oil or Big Coal. So my point is, how can you be an honest journalist by giving deniers a voice?

The answer is you can’t. When talking about the science of climate change, there is only one side to covered — it is real and caused by humans. There’s really no disputing that at this point. Bud Ward, an expert in media coverage of climate change, says Andrew Revkin would quote deniers on policy issues, but not on the science issues.

So room for debate is open on the policy side. How we choose to address climate change is a story that has many sides — carbon tax, cap and trade, investment in research and development, do nothing, etc. And that’s where coverage is generally geared these days. But still for some reason, less than half the population is convinced climate change is real (see recent survey of western states). Perhaps the science does need to be covered more — covered in ways that don’t give credit to skeptics, but rather explain the science and start the debate on solutions.

I’m paraphrasing Bud Ward here: Science isn’t about beliefs, it’s about evidence. And the evidence on climate change is compelling. So journalists, let’s cover it that way.

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