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Climate Change in Media

Updated on March 6, 2018

As the world becomes more digital people have a vaster array of information sources available to them than ever before. The sources of the information that we consume have a very direct impact on the way in which we structure our world views. In order to see how different sources of information can alter one’s opinions on a subject I have chosen to look at how different news sources address the issue of climate change. This topic was chosen at it is a worldly issue with a wide variety of opinions on the subject. The purpose of the following is not an assessment of the issue itself rather a view on the ways in which different sources present information and the manner in which they do so.

The Wall street journal

Starting the journey into how our view on a topic may be shaped by the source of our information is The Wall Street Journal. What the Wall Street Journal does well is what one would expect, they take a stern feeling fact-based approach. In one article weighing the cost of climate change stating that fiscally any measures taken to prevent it should not outweigh the cost if it occurs. The author mentions that some areas may be hit harder than others but human propensity for migration has been seen in the past as in moving to major cities. In another article the tone is the same and the message being delivered is that we should not over hype the effects of climate change when addressing it, Lomborg brings up an argument that "climate change increase child marriage rates" as an example of the runaway thought process that some people may have. In the last article I read when talking about climate change itself the information presented was all peer reviewed scientific research not subject to political bias, the information was presented in a clear factual and approachable manner. The Wall street journal does well to promote facts on the subject all while not letting the subject itself be blown out of proportion and fall into a slippery slope fallacy while equally addressing the economic impact of the topic.

The Economist

The second news source evaluated was The Economist. The tone of the articles felt very different than the Wall street journal, while still presenting sound information. The way in which the articles were written felt more personable and approachable than did the sterile and corporate manner in which the articles in the Wall Street journal were written. As expected in a publication called “The Economist” there were several pieces of information about the economy and its relation to global warming measuring potential cost of combating global warming and cost if it occurs. Several references were provided to support each topic as such the general tone from the articles was along the lines of “Global warming is happening, here’s what countries are doing about it, and here’s what it cost.” Like in the Wall Street journal the authors do a good job at presenting both sides of the argument while remaining within the realm of scientific facts. In one article stating that the 2-degree ceiling countries are setting as a maximum for global temperature increase is unrealistic and arbitrary, and in another article stating how different studies can come to different conclusions about a specific country’s carbon emissions. I was surprised by the Economist in how approachable the information was and how personal the articles felt, also pleasantly surprised at their succinct nature. The Economist then does a great job at presenting facts as well as bringing economic impacts to mind all while remaining very readable, non-biased, and interesting.

Fox News

Thirdly I chose to read several articles and watch videos from large television-based source, Fox News. Initially when searching for climate change, several of articles on the “Paris Climate Agreement” were the result. Reading through the articles on this topic one sees that Fox’s view is very much in favor of independent American economics. The tone of the articles is one that pro Americans can rally behind, wanting an America first attitude and not wanting to be economically outbid by China or Russia. Of the articles on climate change I found there were a few that seemed rather satirical, good for entertainment purposes poking fun at Hollywood stars and a video in which a reporter in New York during winter asked people about their views on climate change. This seems as I said to be for entertainment purposes as one could expect from a large news organization such as this. One article I found informative was one that was critical of a report on sea level rise that had skewed data, it is important to call out incorrect information to ensure accuracy of world events. Citations were used in some articles albeit not as often as I felt sometime necessary in one instance referring to science that “We think” is the very best while providing no reference to an outside link. Amid the Paris articles one that stood out was rather critical of the administration stating that if climate change mitigation was not to be funded that climate adaptation programs should be, this struck me because it was the first acknowledgement of climate change I came across on the website. As expected from this source, unlike the previous two the opposite view is given little credence. Fox does well to present its message in a very Pro-America manner although at times it seems as if the articles are attacking rather than debating the opposing side.

Cable News Network

The next source of news I looked at was the Cable News Network or CNN. Of the first things to notice while looking through CNN articles concerning climate change is the up front and matter of fact way they state that climate change is occurring. The tone is in contrast to the previous source in that while in one article they did acknowledge climate change many of the articles skirted or dismissed the issue as one that has no credibility. CNN states very boldly that it is real, it is happening, and we need to do something about it or face the consequences. In some instances, they bring up that we are already reaping the results of climate change in that warmer sea water may have intensified hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Much in the fashion of Fox and in contrast to The Economist and The Wall Street journal typically just the one side is mentioned. Briefly brought up in one article was a NOAA blurb about how it may be too soon to measure the impacts of man-made climate change. Overall CNN was very candid about sources they derived their information and used plenty of links to those sources and additionally had several graphs in their articles to visually drive home points they were trying to make. CNN also made mention of the Paris Climate agreement but was much more critical of the decision to withdraw but at the same time made little mention of the potential economic impact it could have had. Economics was very scarcely mentioned in the articles I read, CNN seemed to write more about the impact that climate change could have on people living in coastal areas and the impact it has already had by way of the aforementioned hurricanes. Overall CNN’s coverage on climate change seems very heavily fact based but does not present the issues that may arise with climate change mitigation, also I did not see any articles weighing mitigation costs against adaptation costs. CNN does well to present scientific research and a view on the here and now effects of climate change.

Breitbart

A web-based news source, started by Andrew Breitbart, I next examined was the site Breitbart. One of the first things that stood out to me about this site prior to even clicking any links to go to a page was that for every link to the site there seemed to be another link claiming to debunk an article that was posted there. When looking at articles involving climate change on the site it seems to have a very concise message, that it isn’t happening and that it’s a hoax, or if it is happening than so what? When an opposing view point is mentioned it is not done so in a constructive way but rather to point out how flawed it is. One article claimed that government agencies falsify data then supported that claim with a graph from one of the government agencies they were accusing. If this site’s world view and message are taken at face value it sends a very grim message, that Americans are being scammed out of trillions of dollars and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The Huffington Post

Another web-based source, The Huffington Post offers a dramatically different view than did the previous site in the issue of climate change. The Huffington post, much like CNN, makes no qualms about stating that climate change is in fact occurring and having real world effects. It takes a multi-pronged approach in its manner of addressing climate change speaking about varying topics from being highly critical of the current administration’s actions on climate change, to the differences in weather, as well as current events such as the Cape town water crisis. The Huffington post has many articles that speak to the ethos nature of the issue while bringing up such real-world events as hurricanes Irma and Harvey as well as the financial impact and death toll that each had. In one article it was stated that the climate is the responsibility of everyone, which seemed a nice way to try and unify rather than divide. The Huffington post breaks down the categories under which each article lays in a convenient way from world, to US, to politics, and opinion. In all the Huffington Post has a large breadth of information on the topic while presenting it’s impacts on many different levels.

National Geographic

Moving away from strictly news sources I viewed National Geographic and it's way of reporting on climate change next. In a letter from the editor on the subject I was ensured that National geographic, is “On the side of facts” this assuring message was welcome. Of the immediate differences I noticed was a simple breakdown of the mechanisms behind how climate change occurs and the way in which man-made factors contribute to it. The tone is approachable and the writers do well to blend occurrences with a scientific relation to the events. National geographic brings the topic at hand home to it’s readers in an easy to follow animated infograph about how climate change affects “You.” Making the issue all the more personal. Additionally, adding to the realness of the issue was an article about “climate refugees” here in the United States about a tribe whose island is being swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico a new aspect this article brought up was beyond monetary losses we could lose aspects of human culture to climate change. Like previous sources the issue of economics is also brought up in that they state climate change costs billions of dollars per year, but also how going green can improve the U.S. economy rather than just how mitigation tactics would hinder our economic growth. Also interesting were two lists one showing the vast effects of climate change and another of the ways in which Trump is changing the environment. An aspect of National Geographic that was a nice change from the message in other sources was the glimmer of hope that some of the articles provided saying there is still hope to prevent the maximum extent of damage caused by human driven climate change. Being a source driven by science not a need for viewers or ad traffic National Geographic felt less like it had an agenda than some previous sources which allows readers to not feel as if they’re picking a side by choosing what to read. Coupled with a user-friendly site UI, informative videos, and articles National Geographic provides a comprehensive look on the topic and confidently provides the facts to back up its views.

Scientific American

Last among the sources I looked at was Scientific American. As the name would hope to imply this source based its articles around scientifically verified sources and peer reviewed research. The sheer number of articles that come up when searching for climate change is vast to say the least, with 321 pages and 20 articles each page the amount of information is staggering. Despite this I tried to find the articles most relevant to the topic. The way in which information presented leaves the reader very confident that they are receiving the best most factual information possible. Again, a multi-faceted approach on the subject covers numerous aspects of climate change and its affect on the world. In each article there is a large amount of research back data to support ideas. In regards to opposing opinions they are often brought up but claims that the opposition uses misleading and out of context information and in some cases conjures facts leave one convinced that what they are reading is the truth. On topics in which there is still room for speculation on either side however, both arguments are brought up and given equal credulity. Again, this approach to information leaves the reader confident that if either side had valid arguments they would be mentioned, and if not, they are to be dismissed. Scientific American also tries to educate readers on how contradictory events may seemingly occur if the globe is really warming. The difference between climate and weather is emphasized and how we may see more snow as a result. The importance of the best available data under the most critical of review is of great significance when tackling a topic such as climate change and Scientific American does well to deliver under these criteria.

In Closing

Having read through various sources interpretation and presented information on the topic it is clear to see just how essential it is to keep an open mind about world views. If a person were to only read from one source or one side of the argument they may live their whole lives with their eyes closed. Even if one feels they are completely correct in there view I challenge them to read the other side so to better understand the view-points of those with which they disagree. Especially in the case of large new companies sometimes only a half truth is presented. Dividedness and bipolarity will not help anyone to better communicate with those around us, only knowledge understanding can do that.

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