Climate Change Denial

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December 2, 2010


George Marshall @ 1:48 am

How does one scientific report generate two entirely contradictory stories and headlines? This is a perfect example of how information on climate change is filtered by the newsmedia and distorted to fit the politics and worldview of their readers.

The report on temperature data was released by the UK Meteorological Office on 26th November to try and generate some discussion during the disastrously muted Cancun climate negotiations.

This is how The Guardian, the UK’s leading liberal environmentalist newspaper reported it:

I cropped the website image to include a typical juxtaphotisian (see my last post). Above the headline is a banner advert  promoting the Barclays ‘Fantasy Investment Portfolio’- as ever the climate news is enveloped with messaging reassuring us that everything is fine with the growth economy.

The Guardian based its headline on just one aspect of the report:  “that sea surface temperatures were higher than initially thought because of a change in the way the temperatures were measured”.

And here is how the Daily Mail, a right leaning anti-environmentalist newspaper reported exactly the same  Met Office report on the same day.

The Daily Mail does not deny that temperatures are still increasing (though it hardly goes out of its way to point this out) so draws solace and a headline from evidence that there has been a slight decline in the rate of temperature increase- it then labels this an ‘admission’ (as though wrung out of the Met Office through interrogation) that “will be seized upon by climate sceptics as evidence that man-made global warming has been overstated”

The stories are so different because the newspapers had already prepared their storylines before they even opened the report. The Guardian enthusiastically embraces catastrophic climate change stories, especially when framed as “you thought it was bad- actually it’s even worse”.  The Daily Mail’s stance is that climate change is being exagerated for political ends. It does not deny the problem but actively seeks out storylines that emphasise distortion and unreliability of the data.

The different editorial lines of the newspapers show the fragility of human belief in climate change and the way that people’s pre-existing worldviews intervene and mediate in their processing of information about climate change.

Thank you Jack Pritchard and Clayton Lavallin for sending me these.

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5 responses to “ONE REPORT- TWO HEADLINES”

  1. JunkkMale says:

    Thanks for that, even if it is such a clear demonstration of such a woeful situation.

    The state of our objective, professional ‘news’ media ‘reporting’, especially on matters of science, is a bad joke.

  2. Andy Parsons says:

    I’d say the Guardian’s report was close to the Met Office’s own interpretation of the data. See the Met Office press release here:

    In it they state ‘the evidence for man-made warming has grown even stronger in the last year’ but opt for a decidedly non controversial headline, ‘Scientific evidence is Met Office focus at Cancun’

    Let’s face it, it *is* worse than nearly everyone thinks, so I find it hard to criticise the Guardian for trying to tell it like it is.

    [George writes: I agree in this case that The Guardian’s reporting is an appropriate reflection of the Met Office, and the Daily Mail is not. By and large the Guardian is a more responsible paper than the Mail, especially on this issue- though on occasion liable to simplify the science and cut out the uncertainties. However, my observation about worldviews can be taken as a neutral statement of fact as well as a criticism: The Guardian does speak to a different worldview and does prioritise information that fits that – it just so happens that this fits with the current view of scientists]

  3. JeffM says:

    Everyone is missing the point. Cancun is a political convention. The Guardian and the Daily Mail have published political views on the global warming issue. So they differ. Science doesn’t matter any more on this subject and scientists have become irrelevant. I say this because science and scientists dutifully plod along with their studies that show the dynamics of warming, whether natural or manmade, yet remain silent on how to solve the manmade global warming problem that many of them claim to be real. Why this is so is beyond me. They live on planet Earth, too.

    Science is supposed to advise government as a crucial step toward creating public policy to deal with this (among other science issues). Scientists silently watch as government spends princely sums of money to subsidize wind, solar, and biofuels. Never have we been told by anyone in government or science what the effect on global CO2 reduction will be, in years to come, as a result of these part time technologies. Never have we been told how much global warming reduction will result from these technologies. Are scientists satisfied with government’s “solution”? They remain mysteriously silent on where government is taking us with all of this. Why?

    True or not, government has proclaimed that carbon fuels are a threat to humanity. It requires a suspension of disbelief to agree that wind, solar, and biofuels can replace carbon fuels. Yet this is all that government has offered for humanity’s salvation. Scientists seem not to notice that government has no interest in funding the R&D to find a new energy source that can replace carbon fuels.

    Scientists MUST prepare a CO2 reduction timeline that shows the yearly CO2 reduction targets that would take us to redemption, and offer ideas on how such reductions could be attained. It sounds like I’m describing a… a Plan. The politicians could really use a Plan, don’t you think, because they have done nothing that shows any real planning. And until they come up with a Plan, politicians must stop throwing our national wealth at technologies that cannot eliminate the carbon fuel devil.

    [George writes: I don’t like to refuse comments, so am letting this through, but I must says that this is a bit borderline- “True or not, government has proclaimed that carbon fuels are a threat to humanity”- well it’s the science that is saying that and sorry to say but it is true as far as I and this blog is concerned. And as for a plan- there’s a large number of carbon reduction plans that do exactly what you suggest. If you want it from scientists, one of the most impressive (and depressing) is from the UK’s Professor Kevin Anderson and published by the Royal Society which I just happened to be reading today. You can read the whole thing link or a summary powerpoint link
    Or try this from my colleagues in CAT and PIRC- the Zero Carbon Britain report that does exactly what you say link

  4. opit says:

    It seems odd to be writing a note here – as I have become convinced that climate change politicization has progressed for several years now to the point where blogs and organizations are promulgating viewpoints that are bought and paid for by either the Pentagon or Big Coal. Nor does a comment to a blogger decrying this framing who supports scientific climate change arguments seem promising to a nonscientist who frankly evaluates contention that there is such a thing as ‘climate science’ with vast cynicism; thinking promotion of ‘seeing the future’ more appropriate to a Psychic Fair or the Carnival.
    But the reason for a state saying one thing and doing another is simple : Politicians are Liars.
    The carbon credit idea had an initial evaluation back in 2005 as being a marvelous base for a background to establish a UN tax base and as an institutional scam with great potential.
    What would such be serious about ? Accumulating profit.
    I’ve posted many accumulated articles at an open file and will doubtless be having a look at your posts to see where you fit into the puzzle.

  5. Meme Mine says:

    “Distancing – defining climate change as far away, in the future or someone else’s problem.”
    -That’s why the “crisis” hides in faraway places like mountains, deep in the seas and jungles at both poles of the planet.

    “Compartmentalizing – finding ways to resolve the dissonance between highly polluting personal behaviour and knowledge of its impacts.”
    -Or in other words; “Ug ug. Cave man see strange thing. Cave man put out fire and sacrifice oneself to please the angry weather gods. Ug ug.

    “Positive Framing – how we seek to turn climate change into a personal advantage.”
    -That’s easy, we could just as easily be in the real killer environment, Nature’s “ice ages”. Our effect on climate flutcuation and varitaion is like farting in a tornado and 5 billion years of evoluton of the powers of the cosmos and 25 years of wrong IPCC predictions proves it.

    “Ethical Offsets – how we adopt the easiest behaviours as proof of our virtue.”
    -So if we just do less, buy less, consume less and BE less, the planet will be like in an indoor shopping mall. And “We must be having SOME effect on the plant.”…… not science. It’s superstition.

    “Cynicism- the commercial appropriation of climate change images.”
    How cynical can a real planet lover be about taxing the air we breathe with corporate run CARBONT TRADING MARKETS ruled by politicians.

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