Climate change and the role of the media
Global warming affects us all and the media’s role in building courage, innovation and resilience, is crucial
An aerial view showing the Climate Clock — which indicates the alleged time left to act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — is projected onto the Christ the Redeemer statue, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 22. (Photo: AFP)
Every day and in various ways, our planet Earth is changing for the worse. But most of us don't believe it.
It is now late August — the rainy season in South Asia, with its scenario of floods, typhoons, landslides and droughts. It is summer in the West, with unprecedented heat waves, a scorched earth in many European cities, and with raging forest fires in Hawaii, Canada and the US.
But people grumble, complain … and adjust. They crank up the air-conditioning, but not for a moment will they change their >
Conditioned by social media
One of the problems we face is that increasingly today people get their information from social media.
Even if it is accurate, social media tends to be superficial, reducing all conversations to the simplistic format of a tweet.
The complexities of climate change go completely unreported while the attention is focused on the external description of a disaster, like a landslide, flood, or wildfire.
What is actually going on every day, and every moment of the day, is that huge human industrial and technological systems are fundamentally altering the very bio-geochemical cycles on which life on Earth depends.
Climate change is just one manifestation — we are also altering the carbon and the nitrogen cycles, and the phosphorous balance which have evolved over millions of years.
Scientists warn of thresholds — stages you cross over where you no longer have any control over what's happening. Recent events — like the wildfires and the floods — tell us that events are moving faster and over wider areas than we had predicted.
In fact, we're rapidly wrecking our life-support system. That's the big story.
But for their own selfish reasons, the mainstream media are not talking about it. They're far too engaged in reporting about local disasters, without ever reflecting on what makes these disasters happen.
The bias of social media
As mentioned earlier, people get their information via social media. There is a difficulty, however: the narrative through social media tends to be polarizing. For the social media take their models from entertainment, not from information.
Getting a grasp on the complexities of climate change takes time, but most consumers of the media are impatient, and want their news instantly, and in black and white. This is hardly helpful.
In any discussion, it is not too difficult to find some professional who disagrees with the data. Even a minority view can be presented — falsely — as two divided camps.
Thus the social media polarize, simply because such biased presentations are more likely to engage viewers and are therefore more popular.
This may also lead to another phenomenon called infodemic. This alludes to an 'epidemic of information' that disorients the user, forcing him to simplify his understanding of the world.
It does not help at all that very often this infodemic is based on misinformation and only increases polarization. Government policies regarding the environment are sadly often based on such specious claims.
Geopolitics decides what is shown
The truth is environmental policies are usually a reflection of geopolitics.
The Western media are not willing to be open to diverse perspectives on climate justice, environmental equity, or development, including the fact that many growing economies still depend on coal.
These views are not welcome to many Western governments.
Proponents of climate justice from the South often find themselves shut out of international meetings, where the discussions are shaped by geopolitical prejudices.
It is extremely important to understand the full nature of global warming, and to make essential connections between situations. But it's a mixed picture, and not hopeless everywhere.
It is important to notice those communities which are achieving a degree of climate resilience, to see whether these 'best practices' cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
But for this the media must report on global warming with clarity, offering to the public the best suggestions on timely action and sustainable options.
Global warming affects us all, there is no escape. That is why the role of the media — both mainstream and social — in building courage, innovation and resilience, is so crucial.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.