El Niño, 1997-1998: The Climate Event of the Century

By Stanley A. Changnon | Go to book overview

3
Was El Niño A Weather
Metaphor--A Signal
For Global Warming?

LEE WILKINS

This chapter reviews media coverage of El Niño 97-98 and identifies some significant trends within that coverage. The coverage analyzed includes that provided by the major American television networks, the elite press, and significant regional newspapers. During the early months of the study period, news coverage of El Niño was focused on the science of the prediction and was framed as an issue of risk with appropriate uncertainty. However, as the predictions themselves were borne out in real-world phenomena, coverage of El Niño became event driven, and the phenomenon itself was treated as certainty. The risks of climate change attributed to El Niño outweighed the potential benefits in many media reports. Coverage of El Niño was extensive, particularly on the West Coast of the United States, where many individual weather events were connected with the larger phenomenon. The chapter then explores the possibility that the totality of the media coverage may have two lasting impacts. First, on the basis of existing scholarship on mass communication and risk communication, it is reasonable to suggest that the extensive news coverage of El Niño may have had some influence on public perception of climate change, particularly the salience of climate change in discrete regions of the nation. Second, the chapter suggests that the mediated reality of the 1997-1998 event will serve as a signal event for popular and political understanding of the consequences of global warming.


WHO WROTE THE EL NIÑO NEWS?

Historically, journalism has been both hampered and helped by its definition of news. Previous studies of media coverage of a variety of "risky" events have noted that news accounts tend to be event focused, lack context, and treat science as a

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El Niño, 1997-1998: The Climate Event of the Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Contributors xv
  • 1 - What Made El NiñO 1997-1998 Famous? 3
  • References 26
  • 2 - Causes, Predictions, and Outcomes of El NiñO 1997-1998 28
  • References 47
  • 3 - Was El NiñO a Weather Metaphor--A Signal for Global Warming? 49
  • Notes 67
  • References 67
  • 4 - The Scientific Issues Associated with El NiñO 1997-1998 68
  • Appendix 103
  • References 105
  • 5 - Who Used and Benefited from the El NiñO Forecasts? 109
  • References 134
  • 6 - Impacts of El NiñO's Weather 136
  • References 166
  • 7 - Policy Responses to El NiñO 1997-1998 172
  • References 193
  • 8 - Summary Surprises, Lessons Learned, and the Legacy of El NiñO 1997-1998 197
  • References 209
  • Index 211
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