Two related pieces in the Columbia Journalism Review over the past week on energy, climate change and the press’s role in covering the issue. And in my mind it is one issue, not two. This is a great example of what makes CJR such a great resource.
They have the ability to step back and look at the media landscape as it pertains many subjects in politics and finance asking the questions of journalists and bloggers that we don’t ask ourselves enough.
Curtis Brainard pulls apart pieces from the Pew Research Center, the NY Times, the LA Times and PBS. His thesis, that it may now makes sense for journalists to pull back from making planet saving proclamations in support of climate change action and instead frame the discourse around helping keep the pennies in the pocket of Joe the Plumber and other downstream media consumers.
Brainard pulls through some useful looking data from Revkin in the NY Times illustrating this. The fact of the matter is that people have bigger financial worries all of a sudden. In Brainard’s words:
A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center found that addressing the nation’s energy problems ranks sixth among a list of twenty voter concerns, with sixty percent of those polled agreeing that it should be a “top priority” for government. On the other hand, concern for protecting the environment and dealing with global warming has declined precipitously in the last few years, with those issues ranking seventeenth and dead last, respectively. The takeaway message for journalists is that those “stewardship” frames will not be sufficient in terms of galvanizing support for clean energy. In the pursuit of public engagement, the press would be better advised to link sustainability issues to economic growth and “green” jobs.
There’s plenty of other good shout-outs in the piece but here’s the real take-away:
The economics of sustainability is clearly a frame that is of particular interest to readers and audiences these days. Nova spends relatively little time discussing the impacts of global warming, which are presented only as contextual background. Though there remain many points of climate science that the media can and should explore, this seems a positive development because it implies that the press has accepted the basic threat of warming and is now prepared to address the cost and feasibility of various solutions
So far so good (perhaps). Brainard returns to a similar theme a few days later on CJR.org. Now here’s the really interesting part from my perspective.
One of the things that history will remember about the coverage of climate change is that, not unlike the Iraq War, the press itself became an important part of the story, largely due to faulty reporting at its outset….But, as CJR contributing editor Cristine Russell pointed out in a recent feature story, the fine points of science and technology must now be communicated to the political and business reporters who have been assigned to the coverage of climate solutions.
There’s no arguing that our business reporters need to know these points inside out. In fact, more importantly, the men and women inside the Treasury making the decisions these reporters report on need to know the facts. But all that doesn’t hide a big question that arises from the above thesis. Should be we be allowing the business pages abstract the world’s climate change problems into a more palatable, or certainly more applicable, problem for our media consumers. In other words should we concentrate on a set of self-centered reasons and try change human behaviour by appealing to people’s financial interests?
Many would argue that the end justifies the means, and in the case of climate change the situation is so dire and so urgent that we can dismiss only a very few options. But the media has a role to tell it like it is. To inform us that our actions and in action are having a direct and catastrophic impact on the world. If an Obama stimulus promotes green jobs and clean tech all the better, but let’s keep the climate change horse running in front of the economic cart.