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Mixed Messages: Navigating Climate Change Coverage

Posted: June 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm by , in Breaking News, Feature Story News, Featured, Morning Magazine

“If we are only focused on the economics and only focused on the disasters, we’re likely to build higher flood walls and do disaster mitigation and preparation rather than get to the core of some of the things that may be causing climate change.”

How climate change is covered in the modern media landscape is the topic under discussion at the Alliance Center in Denver on Tuesday June 21st.

Recent studies suggest that climate change doesn’t receive adequate coverage in the media. In 2015 major news networks collectively spent even less time covering climate change than they had the previous year. And yet 2015 was the hottest year on record for our planet, with greenhouse gas emissions reaching record levels.

Deserai Crow, Associate Director for the Center for Environmental Journalism at CU Boulder says that in the past mainstream have given equal weight to both climate science and climate skeptics. She says that has changed for the most part, but a new problem that has emerged is journalists linking every individual weather event or natural disaster to climate change. “I think that as journalists become more confident in talking about, discussing climate change and understanding that it is an important component of so many of our stories, whether it’s transitions to a new energy economy, whether it’s natural disaster events…sometimes they even get it wrong when they put it in there.”

Crow says that media’s coverage of climate change tends to be on either end of the spectrum of over attributing climate change or totally ignoring it. “The truth is somewhere in the very messy complex middle.”

Crow points to coverage in Colorado of floods and wildfires as an example. “While the climate science and climate scientists argue that those events are consistent with what we’re likely to see in the future with increased climate change, we can’t say that the 2013 floods in Colorado were caused by climate change for example. Even when they do try, it seems to me that they’re either leaving out that part of the complexity, that it could be climate change…it also could be that we’re building more houses in flood prone and fire prone areas.”

In terms of the impact of how mainstream media covers climate change, Crow says that it impacts everyone because media sets the agendas that our policy makers pay attention to. It does this by framing the discussion and highlighting certain issues and ignoring others.

“In policy we like to talk about, how problem definition is at the core of what we do about a problem. For example climate change is this huge beast of a problem and it’s not just one problem, there are myriad of problems associated with it, whether it’s extreme events and natural disasters, whether it’s about refugee populations and conflict and stability. Whether it’s simply about our ecology and the changing nature of the world around us, there are so many things that are part of this huge problem but depending on how we choose to define that individually and as a society, it’s going to lead very directly to how we choose to solve it. So if we are only focused on the economics and only focused on the disasters, we’re likely to build higher flood walls and do disaster mitigation and preparation rather than get to the core of some of the things that may be causing climate change.”

How climate change is covered in the modern media landscape will be discussed at the Alliance Center in Denver from 5.30-7.30pm on Tuesday June 21st with Deserai Anderson Crow, formerly assistant professor and faculty at the Center for Science & Technology Policy Research and Associate Director for the Center for Environmental Journalism at University of Colorado Boulder, recently joining as faculty at the School of Public Affairs at CU-Denver; and Michael Kodas, journalism instructor at the College of Media, Communication & Information and also Associate Director for the Center for Environmental Journalism at CU-Boulder.

The forum is part of the Truth in Media series.