I’m doing some research into why people don’t believe that climate change is happening or that it is anthropogenic. Aside from my own subjective observations about climate and weather I necessarily reply on what others are telling me about climate changes. Invariably these sources (scientists and politicians) are mediated by the mass media, so apart from the scientists I know personally, I’m somewhat removed from direct knowledge about long-term climate change trends. To accept that climate change is happening requires faith in what you are being told. This faith, by necessity, is based on confidence in the message and the messenger. I believe that therein lies a big problem. So before we accept individual apathy or the ‘consumer society’ as the root cause is worth considering how the issue is being communicated and mediated.
I wonder if public confidence in scientists, politicians and the media is lower than it has been. On a macro view we live in a world were a breakdown of authority is happening. Some would call this post-modernism, the fact that there is no truth any more, so there can be no-one with the truth and no authority. Furthermore, there is good reason why scientists, politicians and the media should not be trusted, since they largely serve big business and private profit rather than the public interest. Naturally there are exceptions, but who can tell who is whom any more, without extensive research.
As with the GE debates of a few years ago, we are finding that the public do not necessarily trust scientists. In some ways they only have themselves to blame. Firstly for their professions becoming increasingly subservient to big business and not working in the best interests on the public. Secondly for lacking ways of communicating their findings to the lay person. When did you last hear about a scientist turn down funding because the project was unethical or not in the public interest?See:
Journalists are committed to balance and objectivity more than the truth. It is my observation that journalists in search of balance have for too long given coverage to the unsubstantiated claims of climate deniers. If someone claimed the Earth was a globe I’m sure they would dig some flat earth society idiot for “balance”.
The American public ceratinly believes that the media are not doing their job, according to By the Project for Excellence in Journalism :
The public continues to be troubled about the news media.
Over the longer term, to be sure, the general trend in public attitudes has been downward. We reviewed the data in our original report two years ago, but since the early 1980s Americans have come to view the news media as less professional, less accurate, less caring and less moral. Pollster Andrew Kohut has concluded, summarizing the data, that Americans increasingly believe that news organizations act out of their own economic self-interest, and journalists themselves act to advance their own careers.
In our inaugural report, we suggested that the heart of that declining trust was a â€œdisconnectâ€ over motive. Journalists see themselves as acting on the publicâ€™s behalf. The public believes they are either lying or deluding themselves. There was further evidence of that skepticism in 2005. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 75% of Americans believed that news organizations were more concerned with â€œattracting the biggest audience,â€ while only 19% thought they cared more about â€œinforming the public.â€
Our scientists, politicians and media are up for sale. This is not surprising given that we live in a capitalist society. Why should the tools of capitalism be permitted to research, communicate and legislate against the harms of capitalist economy?
But it seems that where the problem lies is not within any of these professions but when they intermingle, as indeed they must. This blog entry ‘Sex up climate talk’ says Arnie makes the shrewd observation that:
even as the science has become increasingly certain, the public (and political) controversy has become greater and greater
The author writes that
The issue in my mind is that climate scientists need to be a little bit more aware of how the media works. Politicians are now acutely aware of the media machine, and most use it as a tool. If climate scientists want the evidence to keep up with the policy spin, they need to play the same game.
But a journalist would write that, wouldn’t they.
Science is also mixed up with politics. If the causes of climate change are tackled straight on then that means politicians need to make laws and regulations to change things, while not upsetting the economy and voters.