Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Troubles in Climate Journalism

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Troubles in Climate Journalism

Article excerpt

Matthew Nisbet's column, "The Trouble With Climate Emergency Journalism" (Issues, Summer 2019), highlights two persistent problems at the heart of public debates on climate change over the past three decades: the relentless pursuit of consensus and message-discipline, combined with a flinching from the difficult political arguments that are required to move on climate policy.

The recent gilet jaunes protests in France against fuel tax increases are instructive of the difficulties of climate politics, and how public support for climate policies can be upended when those policies exacerbate economic inequalities. A recent editorial in the supposedly standard-setting Guardian newspaper belittled fuel tax protests as "support for the destruction of the planet" rather than acknowledging how climate politics needs to engage with the unequal resource consumption that is driving climate change. The declaration of a "climate emergency" reinforces this disavowal of politics, as science-inflected urgency displaces inclusive debate about what transition to a zero-carbon society means for citizens who are more concerned about the end of the month than the end of the world.

Hand in hand with this aversion to political argument is the promotion of consensus in climate politics that, the Guardian claims, "must ultimately transcend left-right distinctions." Such a view is a logical extension of Nisbet's observation that climate journalists "portray science and scientists as truth's ultimate custodians," but displaces the values-first discussion we need in order to imagine what zero-carbon societies will look like and, crucially, how we can get there. …

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