Global Warming and the ABC: A Pernicious Mixture of Science and Environmentalism

By Oakley, Aaron | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Global Warming and the ABC: A Pernicious Mixture of Science and Environmentalism


Oakley, Aaron, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


GLOBAL warming is arguably the most significant environmental concern of the '90s. Some argue that greenhouse gas emissions (a consequence of human activity) are resulting in global warming and that this will lead to environmental catastrophes in the next century. Some believe that we are already experiencing catastrophic climate change, with any unusual weather patterns (be it record high or low temperatures, storms or snowfalls) being attributed to humaninduced climate change. The Kyoto Protocol (to which Australia is a signatory), drafted at the Kyoto conference in late 1997, sets various countries mandatory targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The ideological goal of this is to reduce global warming. Mandatory greenhouse gas emissions and climate change would have potentially serious impacts on the Australian economy and environment. As our publicly-funded national broadcaster, the ABC should be expected to provide Australian citizens with high-quality information about these issues. Thus, it is pertinent to examine the ABC's coverage of the global warming issues, the Kyoto conference and its Protocol.

I searched the ABC Website (http://www.abc.net.au) for items dealing with the Kyoto conference, global warming and other related topics. Relevant items were analysed to determine if any assumptions (implicit or explicit) were made about the certainty of global warming. Items describing the potential impacts of global warming were categorized as being positive, negative or neutral. Furthermore, a list of parties quoted or interviewed by ABC reporters was compiled to determine if there was any bias in the selection of interviewees. A total of 28 news and commentary items dating back to 1996 were retrieved. In those news items and commentaries describing potential impacts of global warming, almost all focused on the negative aspects. Examples include the increasing frequency of drought in Eastern Australia, the deleterious effects on ocean circulation and sea life, and the death of corals on the Barrier Reef. In total, 13 of the recovered ABC reports featured discussion of negative impacts that might result from global warming.

Commentary from climate and meteorological scientists that was featured in ABC reports focused on the mechanisms of climate and weather pattern change, the greenhouse effect and global warming. By and large, their commentary was restrained and sensible. There were frequent references to the gaps in the scientific understanding of global climate and the provisional nature of climate-change projections. Scientists who made statements on the negative impacts of global warming were not, however, subjected to critical questioning by ABC reporters. This might have been expected considering that these scenarios are at best speculative. …

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