Opinion by Kip Hansen – 5 May 2021
If you’ve recently read a newspaper, popular magazine, science journal or watched a major television news outlet, you have probably seen news item after news item regarding the Climate Crisis or the Climate Emergency. Story after story, covering medicine, weather, ecology, biology, psychology, emigration, international conflict and pet care, all converge on the single story-line that there is an ongoing, ever-present terrifyingly dangerous Climate Crisis, affecting every aspect of human existence.
Where is all this coming from? One of the major sources is Covering Climate Now, which characterizes itself this way:
CCNow collaborates with journalists and newsrooms to produce more informed and urgent climate stories, to make climate a part of every beat in the newsroom — from politics and weather to business and culture — and to drive a public conversation that creates an engaged public. Mindful of the media’s responsibility to inform the public and hold power to account, we advise newsrooms, share best practices, and provide reporting resources that help journalists ground their coverage in science while producing stories that resonate with audiences.
Co-founded by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation in association with The Guardian and WNYC in 2019, CCNow’s 460-plus partners include some of the biggest names in news, and some of the smallest, because this story needs everyone. In addition to three of the world’s biggest news agencies — Reuters, Bloomberg, and Agence France Presse — each of which provides content to thousands of other newsrooms, our partners include CBS News, NBC and MSNBC News, Noticias Telemundo, PBS NewsHour, Univision, Al Jazeera; most of the biggest public radio stations in the US; many flagship newspapers and TV networks in the Americas, Europe, and Asia; and dozens of leading magazines and journals, including Nature, Scientific American, Rolling Stone, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, and Mother Jones.
You may have thought the news was produced by independent news organizations and journalists. That is simply no longer the case when it comes to climate news. The most powerful news agencies and news outlets are shaping and coordinating coverage of every news beat to include “the climate emergency” in every story – whether or not there is any factual basis to do so. It is not even any longer true the journals of science – Scientific American and The Lancet are both members.
Notably, The New York Times and the Washington Post reportedly declined membership on the basis that the effort “seemed like activism”. Both of these newpapers rightfully didn’t wish to appear to be engaged in activist journalism but both have their own Climate Crisis editorial narratives. Don’t be fooled though, both papers write climate activism – they are just not guided in doing so by CCNow.
Just how slanted, just how bizarrely biased, is the coverage promoted by CCNow? Here is their “Best Practices” list:
1. Say yes to the science. There are not two sides to a fact. For too long, especially in the US, the media juxtaposed climate science—a matter of overwhelming global consensus—with climate skepticism and denialism—seldom more than thinly-veiled protections of the fossil fuel industry. The resulting implication that these positions are equal, or that the jury is somehow still out, is in large part responsible for the public disengagement and political paralysis that have met the climate crisis so far. As journalists, we must write about climate change with the same clarity of the scientists who have been sounding the alarms for decades. Platforming those scientists’ detractors in an effort to “balance” our stories not only misleads the public, it is inaccurate. Where climate denialism cannot be avoided—when it comes from the highest levels of government, for example—responsible journalistic framing makes clear that it is counterfactual, if not rooted in bad faith.
2. The climate crisis is a story for every beat. At its core, the climate story is a science story. But whether you cover business, health, housing, education, food, national security, entertainment, or something else, there is always a strong climate angle to be found. And climate need not be a story’s central focus to merit mention. Also, journalists should be sure to emphasize the human-side of the climate story. For political reporters, for example, Biden’s climate agenda obviously deserves coverage. But audiences will likely be more engaged by stories that start with how the climate emergency is seen and felt by ordinary people — and then discuss how government policy can make a difference. In the words of renowned climate author Bill McKibben, climate change is “an exciting story filled with drama and conflict. It’s what journalism was made for.”
3. Emphasize the experiences—and activism—of the poor, communities of color, and indigenous people. Environmental justice is key to the climate story. The poor, people of color, and indigenous people have long suffered first and worst from heat waves, floods, and other climate impacts. Yet their voices and stories are too often omitted from news coverage. Good climate reporting not only highlights these people’s trevails, it also recognizes that they are frequently leading innovators at the forefront of the climate fight. Coverage that focuses overwhelmingly on wealthy communities and features only white voices is simply missing the story.
4. Ditch the Beltway “he-said, she-said.” There are of course plenty of urgent climate stories to be told from halls of government. But when we treat the climate story first and foremost as a political dogfight, we give the narrative over to the same intractable partisanship that so degrades the rest of our political coverage. (One side wants to act. The other doesn’t. Looks like nothing can be done.) By foregrounding partisanship in our climate coverage, we also risk losing huge swaths of audiences that likely feel they get more than enough political news as it is. And, for those readers, viewers, and listeners whose political views are ensconced in one camp or the other, we forego opportunities to challenge assumptions.
5. Avoid “doom and gloom.” We can and must understand the epochal consequences of climate change. If our coverage is always negative, however, it “leaves the public with an overall sense of powerlessness,” in the words of former NPR reporter Elizabeth Arnold. “It just reaches this point where people feel hopeless and overwhelmed,” Arnold told Journalist’s Resource in 2018. “And when we feel that way, psychologists say, we tend to just avoid and deny, and tune out.” Indeed, for every wildfire or galling instance of denial by the powerful, there are untold multitudes of innovators and activists who are pioneering solutions. By elevating those stories, we show that climate change is not a problem too big to understand—or to tackle.
6. Go easy on the jargon. This is a tried and true tenet of journalism generally, but it especially applies here. The climate story is chock full of insider-y verbiage—parts per million of carbon dioxide, micrograms of particulate matter, and fractions of degrees Centigrade. The meanings and implications of these terms might be familiar to those who’ve been on the beat for decades, but they may be quite unfamiliar to some who are reading or watching our coverage. Always assume that your target audience is not scientists or fellow climate journalists and ask yourself: How can I help someone new to the problem understand it easily and accurately? Where possible, avoid clustering technical terms. And when attempting to quantify climate change, try to employ simple analogies. For example, when explaining how global warming contributed to the record wildfires in Australia, John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, likened it to baseball players on steroids: a great slugger will hit plenty of home runs in any case, but a great slugger who takes steroids will hit more of them.
7. Beware of “greenwashing.” Companies around the world are waking up to public demands for eco-conscious business practices. Pledges to “go green,” however, often amount to little more than marketing campaigns that obscure unmitigated carbon footprints. So shun the stenography and cast a skeptical eye on grand promises of net-zero or carbon-negative emissions, especially from big-name companies that have historically been a big part of the problem.
8. Extreme weather stories are climate stories. The news is awash in hurricanes, floods, unseasonable snow dumps, record heatwaves, and drought. They are not all due to climate change, but the increased frequency and intensity of such extreme weather certainly is. Yet much news coverage makes little to no mention of the climate connection, leaving audiences without context and unaware that humanity is already experiencing climate disruption. (Worse still, some coverage greets this bad news with cheer. An alarmingly unseasonable heat snap, for example, is “a much welcome break from the cold.”) The climate connection need not dominate coverage, nor distract from the vital information audiences need in the face of emergency weather conditions—but mentioning it is a must.
9. Jettison the outdated belief that climate coverage repels audiences and loses money. Climate stories have a bad reputation as low-traffic ratings killers. This might have been true in the past, but demographic shifts and growing public awareness have brought increased demands for smart, creative climate coverage—especially from young audiences, for whom the climate emergency is often top-of-mind. Indeed, there’s good evidence that strong climate coverage can actually boost a news outlet’s bottom line.
10. For God’s sake, do not platform climate denialists. We understand as well as anyone that opinion pages occasionally need to push the envelope with unpopular takes. But there is no longer any good faith argument against climate science—and if one accepts the science, one also accepts the imperative for rapid, forceful action. Op-eds that detract from the scientific consensus, or ridicule climate activism, don’t belong in a serious news outlet.
Note: Some of the bolded intros to each section are in newspeak, in which the words used don’t necessarily mean what they say. The “Say yes to the science”, for instance, really means “only speak of science that dictates a climate crisis – never mention contrary facts or opinions”. Worse than that, CCNow recommends that if contrary science must be presented, then it should be framed as “inaccurate” and “counterfactual, if not rooted in bad faith.” It is forbidden by CCNow to report facts or opinions not in alignment with the Climate Emergency meme. This is reinforced in item 10: “For God’s sake, do not platform climate denialists.” Insisting that “there is no longer any good faith argument against climate science—and if one accepts the science, one also accepts the imperative for rapid, forceful action. Op-eds that detract from the scientific consensus, or ridicule climate activism, don’t belong in a serious news outlet.”
This whole CCNow effort is the very definition of the antithesis to journalism. Journalism is meant to inform the public of the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of issues facing the populace. CCNow wants to propagandize the public.
Propagandize? Yes, precisely the correct word.
- promote or publicize a particular cause, organization, or view, especially in a biased or misleading way. Similar: advocate
- attempt to influence (someone) with propaganda.
“people who have to be emotionalized and propagandized by logical arguments”
Whenever there are demands to present only one side of any issue, and to actively denigrate opposing views and those who hold those views, one is dealing with propaganda. The rules and methods of effective propaganda have been honed over the decades:
Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence an audience and further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts in order to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language in order to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented. Propaganda is often associated with material which is prepared by governments, but activist groups, companies, religious organizations, the media, and individuals also produce propaganda. [ source ]
CCNow acknowledges that it is a propaganda effort in its own words.
Are these people just a bunch of liars? No, I suspect that many of them are “True Believers” having grown up and been (mis)educated during the Global Warming/Climate Change era since the late 1980s. They want to believe and they want everyone else to believe too. They seem willing to do and say anything to make others believe. Unfortunately, they seem short on critical thinking skills, stubbornly remaining ignorant of any opposing facts, and suffer from varying degrees of Jor-El syndrome. They’ve been trained in a type of non-journalism, in which they are all imaging themselves to be the new “Woodward and Bernstein” — exposing the evils of society and – in this case – Saving
Krypton The Planet.
This article is an introduction to the story-lines being pushed by CCNow and their partners. I will be analyzing many of these stories over the next few weeks, but I start with this one simple example (out of many) from the CCNow page intended to assure their partners that there really is a Climate Emergency: “Who Says It’s a Climate Emergency?”
In early 2021, two-thirds of the world’s people think climate change is a “global emergency,” according to a new poll, the largest ever on climate.
Shocking news – two-thirds – two out of every three – “of the world’s people” (all 7.7 billion of them) “think climate change is a ‘global emergency’”. Really? Let’s see what this is really about. Let’s find out: what have they really counted?
The Guardian (a founding member of CCNow) published this:
Biggest ever survey finds two-thirds of people think climate change is a global emergency”
This headline and subsequent story are based on a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) survey. Here’s what they really did (please, don’t laugh, this is serious!):
“The Peoples’ Climate Vote was conducted from 7 October to 4 December 2020 by distributing poll questions through adverts in popular mobile gaming apps to 50 countries. When a person played a popular mobile game – such as Words with Friends, Angry Birds, Dragon City or Subway Surfers – the poll would replace the traditional in-game advert. This innovative approach led to a huge, unique, and random sample of 1.22 million people of all genders, ages, and educational backgrounds. It also meant that the Peoples’ Climate Vote reached people who are sometimes hard to reach in traditional polling, such as those below the age of 18.”
“Voters were first asked two questions about whether they believe climate change is a global emergency and, if so, what kind of action they think the world should take (see Box 1). Then they were asked a series of questions about the different kinds of climate policies – across the six key policy areas of the Mission 1.5 game – that they would like their government to enact. The data were collated and processed by analysts at the University of Oxford, who used official statistics to weight the data to create representative estimates of public opinion. With such a large sample size, and rich socio-demographic information, the margin of error of the results is on average +/- 2%.” [ source – full report pdf ]
Stop laughing, please.
Having collected 1.22 million responses from kids playing silly, online video games on their phones, every one of whom gave their serious and well-considered and true answers and never ever lied about themselves having a college degree or their age, the United Nations Development Programme, after “analysts at the University of Oxford . . . used official statistics to weight the data”, concluded confidently that:
“The Peoples’ Climate Vote found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of people in 50 countries believe that climate change is a global emergency”
Not one of CCNow’s partners have mentioned the absurdity of the finding and seem perfectly happy to pass it on as a Scientific Fact. The survey results are being used by CCNow and their 460 news partners to show just how real the Climate Emergency really is – after all, a lot of videogame playing kids say so.
Watch this space for further examples of what other propaganda is being churned out, and echoed again and again and again, in the world press.
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This propaganda effort is playing on and amplifying – in a feedback loop similar to the one that occurred with Covid-19 — the Mass Hysteria surrounding the weather.
I could spend the rest of the year exposing both the subtle and the egregious lies being foisted off on the public through this pernicious effort.
I don’t hold out much hope of making a difference by doing so.
I do hope that I can offer little bits of Propaganda Fighting Tidbits to your personal arsenals.
Address your comment to “Kip…” if speaking to me.
Thanks for reading.
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