Reporting Climate Change – the Front Line Richard Black Environment Correspondent BBC News
Climate whinges • The public doesn’t get it • The politicians don’t get it • The media don’t get it • Because of the media, the public doesn’t get it • Because of the media, the public doesn’t get it so the politicians don’t give a damn • They’ve got a sceptic on again
The Fourth Estate “… there are Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sits a Fourth Estate more important than they all … Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, is equivalent to Democracy … Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government …”
The media reality • Privately-owned • Profit-led • Volume-led, not quality-led • Largely un-regulated • Puts novelty above depth, style above substance • Edited by generalists • Tailored to “consumers’ tastes” • Ultra-responsive to competitors • Herd-like, predictable and spoon-fed
Pitching stories • New study says we’re all going to die • We did ‘we’re all going to die last week’ … any more of us, or in more horrible ways? • New study says polar bears are going to die • Last week it was pandas, who gives a crap? • Government’s not doing what it promised • So what’s new? • Government isn’t promising what it ought to be promising • Who says so and who cares?
Choices, choices … • Hansen et al. 2005 • Hansen, J., L. Nazarenko, R. Ruedy, Mki. Sato, J. Willis, A. Del Genio, D. Koch, A. Lacis, K. Lo, S. Menon, T. Tovakov, Ju. Perlwitz, G. Russell, G.A. Schmidt, and N. Tauusnev 2005. Earth's energy imbalance: Confirmation and implications. Science, doi:10.1126/science.1110252. • Our climate model, driven mainly by increasing human-made greenhouse gases and aerosols among other forcings, calculates that Earth is now absorbing 0.85±0.15 W/m2 more energy from the Sun than it is emitting to space. This imbalance is confirmed by precise measurements of increasing ocean heat content over the past 10 years. Implications include: (i) expectation of additional global warming of about 0.6°C without further change of atmospheric composition; (ii) confirmation of the climate system's lag in responding to forcings, implying the need for anticipatory actions to avoid any specified level of climate change; and (iii) likelihood of acceleration of ice sheet disintegration and sea level rise.
The media reality News is a product, not a service “Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits, a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the side-walk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo cage.”
Top five selling newspapers in the United States – 2004 USA Today – 2.6m Wall Street Journal – 1.8m New York Times – 1.7m Los Angeles Times – 1.4m Washington Post – 1.0m World Association of Newspapers National Enquirer – 1.7m National Enquirer figures US population – 295.7m CIA - 2005 How many people are not reading a newspaper AT ALL????? Buying the news product
Does the public get it? • UK poll by YouGov for WWF • March 2005 • In run-up to general election but before election formally announced • 1999 adults • Online polling
Does the public get it? • Do you follow the issue closely? • 55% ‘closely’ or ‘fairly closely’ • Who bears the most responsibility? • US government 39% • Individual actions 21% • Large companies 14%
Does the public get it? • Are you worried about weather changes impacting the UK, or sceptical about the science? • 69% worried • 15% ‘sceptical about science’ • In the future will climate change cause the UK to experience • More floods? 75% • More storms? 58% • More drought? 39% • More uncertainty? 71%
Does the public get it? • Would you support the following actions: • Tough standards on industry 93% • Tax rebates for energy-efficient homes 83% • More govt. funding for renewables 85% • Tougher building regulations 92% • Increasing fuel & energy prices 16%
Does the public get it? • MORI Political Monitor February 2005 • 1948 adults face-to-face • What is the most important issue facing Britain today? • Pollution/environment 2% • Race/immigration 23%, health/hospitals 13%, defence/foreign affairs/terrorism 13% • What are other important issues facing Britain today? • Pollution/environment 6%
Swinging the mood MORI – Preferred Action on Climate Change - 1999, repeated 2004, in UK & US “As you may know, scientists are uncertain how much impact human activities have on the world's climate. Some people say we should not take major action to reduce human impacts on climate until we know more, because of the great economic costs involved. Other people say we should assume the worst and take major action now to reduce human impacts on climate, even if there are major costs.”
Swinging the mood • 1999 results – percentage answering “Assume the worst, take action now” • UK 63% • US 48%
Swinging the mood • UK … • “the single most important long-term issue that we face as a global community” – Tony Blair • “more serious threat than terrorism” – Sir David King, government Chief Scientist • a ‘priority’ for the UK G8 presidency – Tony Blair • 3 serious flooding incidents • EU emissions trading scheme initiated • UK ‘failures’ well-documented in media
Swinging the mood • US … • Kyoto treaty “fatally flawed” George W Bush – subsequent withdrawal • effective and vocal ‘sceptics’ lobby • “A piecemeal approach to climate observations and climate science will not provide the data needed to form the foundation to make sound economic decisions in a nation as large as ours and in other nations around the world.” Conrad Lautenbacher, Earth Observation Summit • “We must always act to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity for our citizens and for citizens throughout the world.” George W Bush
Swinging the mood • 1999 results – percentage answering “Assume the worst, take action now” • UK 63% • US 48% • 2004 results – percentage answering “Assume the worst, take action now” • UK 63% • US 46%
Shock and Awe Subjective probability of climate change before and after viewing The Day After Tomorrow Reusswig et al Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Shock and Awe Can mankind still hold back climate change? Reusswig et al Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Climate campaigning The classical method … • “First, prepare your arguments, drawing out the most emotional warnings • second, spread those messages so people take action - sign petitions, join groups, pressure the government and corporations, join protests • third, mix in some visible direct action to create a media buzz - what Greenpeace likes to call ‘global opera’.” • “For fifteen years, environmental activists, myself included, have been pursuing this tried-and-tested model. Our call to action has been made against a backdrop of serious warnings from scientists. And yet there is still no vocal mass movement against climate change in any country. Where are we going wrong?” George Marshall, Rising Tide
Climate campaigning “Because of the long time-frames involved, trying to convert it into something which people see as an issue now is very difficult. And I think that is one of the key issues for policy-makers and campaigners – how to create a message which has relevance for people today, rather making it relevant to them in the future, which is always going to be harder in terms of getting them to take action of whatever sort.” Mike Everett Managing Director MORI UK
Climate initiatives • Norway’s carbon tax • US north-eastern states • California car emissions • Iceland hydrogen economy • New Zealand carbon tax • UK ‘dash for gas’ • Germany’s industry after re-unification • London’s congestion charge
Iceland • Objective: eliminate fossil fuel use by 2030/2040 • Historically low fossil-fuel use • Geothermal provides 50% of primary energy • Hydro provides 85% of electricity generation • Substantial emissions from industry • 70% of national income from fishing • Some electrolysis for fertiliser
Iceland • Hydrogen powered buses on Reykavik streets and filling station operational • Obstacles: • Short-term costs • Technology bottle-necks eg hydrogen storage • Scaling up for fishing fleet • Benefits: • Test-bed for new technology = investment • Cost-saving • Hydrogen exporter
New Zealand • Introducing carbon tax in 2007 driven by Kyoto commitment • Expected to add ~NZ$4 to average bill for petrol, electricity, etc • Revenues to be ‘recycled’ • Will not apply to NZ largest emissions sector, methane from agriculture • May resolve into emissions trading
New Zealand • Opposed by business groups – “will harm international competitiveness” (Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr) • Methane exemption secured after protests by farmers – campaign group ‘Fight Against Ridiculous Taxes’ • Carbon tax not registering as election issue • Climate may not be top environmental issue
UK ‘Dash for Gas’ • Began in 1980s • Driven by: • Opportunity – discovery of North Sea reserves • Economics – gas cheaper than coal • Political dispute with coal-miners • Nothing to do with climate change
UK ‘Dash for Gas’ • Gas and coal usage now equal • Sharp decrease in emissions c.1990 • End of miners as a political force • Allowed UK to accept stiff target under Kyoto – 12.5% • Blair – international statesman • But … the era is ending … CO2 rising …
Which targets? • “Think globally, act locally” Rene Dubos, advisor to the UN Conference on the Human Environment, 1972 • “There are only five thousand people in the world, and only two of them are Chinese.” Paul Theroux, Half-Moon Street, 1984 • “Only push at doors which will open” Richard Black, Washington 2005
Pitching stories • Big new science with sexy angle • climateprediction.net • Iconic species • polar bears, pandas – not bacteria • Political ramifications • Local, national or international – timing is all • Genuinely new issue • Ocean acidity, legal challenges, carbon calculators • Talking points • Phil Space and Phillippa Programme head to head
Real life story 1 Cardiff Gets Climate Change Warning The Millennium Stadium is surrounded by water, train lines and city centre roads are submerged and shops are closed because of water damage. This is the Cardiff of the future if climate change is not addressed, according to the environmental charity WWF at a campaign launch. The "Stop Climate Chaos" campaign is backed by weather presenter Sian Lloyd. "If climate change is left unaddressed it will not only have global consequences but it will also have a significant impact on Wales," she said.
Real life story 2 Wolves Mitigate Climate Change By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News April 1, 2005 — Gray wolves play a crucial role in easing the effects of climate change on wildlife, according to a new study on animals at Yellowstone National Park.
Real life story 3 Climate change could sour US maple sugaring By Christa Farrand Case | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor Don Harlow, who makes maple syrup in Vermont, listens for a leak in a vacuum line. Some researchers believe climate change may cause syrup production to shift north to Canada.
What message? • “Climate change is definitely happening, humans are definitely the cause and if we don’t stop it there will be a global disaster of Biblical proportions.” • “There is little doubt now that humans are altering the climate. We’re not entirely sure what the final impacts will be, but acting now would certainly be the wise thing to do.” • “Depending on how we parameterise the models and what anthropogenic forcings we use, the projections for the thermohaline circulation in 2100 show variable degrees of diminution.” • “I can tell you the results of our experiment, but wouldn’t like to speculate on the implications.”
Conclusions … • The virtuous cycle between scientists, media, the public and policymakers is unlikely to work as you would want it to. But … • … it probably doesn’t matter • Don’t blame the public for setting different priorities from the ones you would set • The media is shallow and frivolous – however, you can come to use it effectively. But … • Do not leave the high ground of scientific objectivity