Home > Energy Policy, Environment > Climate Change Voices – Scientists vs. the Media

Climate Change Voices – Scientists vs. the Media


Climate change, and the role of humans in it, was at the heart of carbon cap-and-trade bills in 2009 and 2010. It is also a substantial argument in support of the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide as a harmful greenhouse gas. But, there seems to be a disconnect between the main voices discussing the validity of climate change – specifically, between scientists and the media. And this disconnect has muddied the energy policy debate into a full-blown wrestling-match between those who believe that we should act to reduce climate change’s negative effects, and those who disagree with either the science or the response to it.

The result of this battle – policy that appears to ignore science.

Last Friday, I wrote about a session that I attended at the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, DC. Titled “Science Without Borders and Media Unbound,” this session pulled together scientists and science journalists to discuss the (lack of) acceptance of human factor in climate change by the public. According to members of the panel, while the vast majority of scientists (~98%) agree that climate change is real and humans contribute significantly to it, only about half of the public agrees. What is the root of this disconnect?

Throughout the session, there were discussions and debates on how the media had chosen to cover the topic of climate change (with a climategate, scandal focus) versus the calm, pragmatic (and at times, jargon-filled) approach to discussing the validity of climate change due to human actions, and the potential serious effects. The problem of the media as a truth-seeker versus the media as a ratings- and revenue-seeker came up throughout the discussion. But, more broadly, there seemed to be agreement that there was a disconnect between the two main climate change voices – scientists and the media.

According to David Wogan, who attended the same session, the disconnect might be due to a communication breakdown.

One of the benefits of climate change, as it turns out, is that it highlights how science communication leaves much to be desired. As discussed by the panelists, there are a lot of reasons why talking about science is a hard thing.

Scientists, for the most part, just aren’t good at explaining what they’re doing and why anyone else should care.

The lack of communication skills shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honor, as I’ve observed too many times, or awkwardly acknowledged then avoided. No, the modern scientist needs better communication skills. And stat.

On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget that, if adopted by the Senate and the President, could effectively eliminate the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases due to a severe lack of funding. This budget was passed with a majority of 249-177 despite the strong public support of the EPA’s actions under the Clean Air Act.  It was also passed in spite of the near-universal belief in our negative impact on global climate change.

How can we fix the disconnects in the energy and climate change debate and get these discussions back on track?

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