Friday, September 21, 2018

Climate change is NOW

Before Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolinas, scientists were already prepared to state publicly that the storm's ferocity and potential damage were a result of climate change. Researchers were certain that the storm would drop 50 percent more rain than it might have in the past, because of warming waters. It did and those of us lucky enough not to be under the deluge can contemplate images of destruction.

Scientists know they have to be careful about making definitive statements of fact: they can't let their pronouncements get ahead of their data. But, on the other hand, excess caution has meant that studies which concluded that particular weather events were compounded by climate change have only emerged months or years after disasters. But this time scientists felt sure they knew what they were talking about and predicted extreme rains and flooding in advance. Media have been reluctant to link catastrophic weather events to human-induced climate changes, but this time the scientific conclusion broke through.

The new study addresses a psychological barrier that has long plagued climate communication: Rather than presenting climate change as a past or future threat, it portrays it as a present danger.

... So did the study have an impact? The research was covered in articles by the New York Times, National Geographic, Buzzfeed News, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and NPR, among others, and was mentioned on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story program and CBS’ online streaming news service.

But the media were still slow to connect the dots.

Even though the information was out there, the media did a shoddy job overall in connecting Florence to climate change. According to a new report from Public Citizen, only 7.5 percent of stories about Florence in the top 50 U.S. newspapers mentioned climate change in the week leading up to September 16. That’s actually a small bump: Less than 5 percent of these top newspapers mentioned climate change in articles about hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate last year.

Despite that mainstream media’s general neglect of the link between storms and climate change, extreme weather has become the No. 1 symbol of climate change (no offense, polar bears). Over the last decade, the number of people who name extreme weather as a knee-jerk association with climate change has quadrupled, according to research from Yale University and the University of Westminster.

“People think of climate change as something that’s either going to happen far in the future or far away,” Hunter Cutting says. “This kind of work [the Florence study] highlights that it’s something that affects everybody, whether you’re talking about wildfires in the West or coastal flooding in the East.”

Full disclosure: Climate change warrior Hunter Cutting is an old friend and a wise thinker when it comes to getting the media to tell unpleasant truths, whether about race or about climate.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

The weird part for humans is that anybody would deny climate change as a cycle of life on this planet, which has changed a lot even in the short time humans have a history here-- including our prehistory. Think of all the stories of gigantic floods in the Bible but many other mythologies. The big deal is what can we do about it. Then do what we can and prepare lowland areas, which will be far worse in poorer countries, and even we aren't doing enough. A lot that is talked about doing is just to make someone feel something is being done but won't really change the reality that more people-- especially more middle class people-- who make for more energy users-- means this isn't likely to turn around soon-- short of a super volcano or an asteroid hitting us-- neither of which sound good.