Sleepy people make more mistakes.
It’s harder to see things that are far away.
Being fired makes people sad.
No, these aren’t the thought-provoking and compelling statistics about creating a more sustainable world that readers have come to expect from the Worldwatch Institute. They are, however, actual findings from studies conducted in the last four years.
Climate scientists convinced by the climate change evidence have published significantly more related research than those who are still skeptical (click figure to enlarge). Source: Anderegga et al. 2010 with minor edits by author
Why highlight research that has seemingly obvious conclusions? Because a recent climate change study ought to fall into this category, too, but doesn’t. It doesn’t thanks to public misunderstanding of the consensus among climate scientists that human-made climate change is happening.
The study, from researchers with Stanford University*, the University of Toronto, and the Hewlett Foundation, shows just how strong that consensus is. It found that 97.5 percent of the 200 most-published climate researchers agree that climate data shows the average temperature of the planet went up over the last 50 years, and “most” of this warming was caused by greenhouse gas pollution from people. Or, written like the first three studies: Climate change experts agree humans are causing climate change.
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Photo courtesy mrfink/Flickr. A 2007 IPCC report predicted a 100-percent disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 based, in part, on faulty news reports in the Indian and British press. While glaciers are declining significantly, the IPCC cited a study that in fact estimated total extrapolar glaciation of the Earth would shrink from 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2350.
My feature article in the March/April edition of World Watch argues that the news media is no longer a bystander in the climate change drama that has prevented profound low-carbon progress across the industrialized world. Some journalism organizations, hampered by all-time-low revenues and large-scale layoffs, still do not understand, and are often unwilling to explain, the complexities of climate science and related policy responses. Climate change has become such a politically charged topic that many news organizations have not treated it as a scientific theory with widespread, authoritative support. Climate change deniers continue to gain media attention, even though the world is becoming hotter, faster.
In the weeks since I wrote my article, several mainstream media organizations have blown out-of-proportion inaccuracies published in past Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. The IPCC exaggerated Himalayan glacial retreat in its 2007 report, suggesting that the inaccuracies are indeed newsworthy and that the panel must do a better job of ensuring that all reports remain accurate, transparent, and credible. But the heated attack from mostly Western media also suggests that news organizations will continue to do what it does best: create drama. In my article, I said that many media providers lack the staff expertise needed to provide context and detail in complicated climate change stories. This continues to be true, but the recent IPCC criticism also suggests that editors need to understand that larger problems—catastrophic climate change—should not be discredited in favor of academic debates about the speed of glacial retreat.
After the article went to print, I’ve since come across some encouraging efforts to explain complex climate stories. The Guardian catalogued all of their stories about “Climategate”—the escapade related to climate science e-mails stolen from a University of East Anglia server—placing the stories on an easy-to-navigate Web page that demonstrates their reporting approach and allows visitors to read about the controversy from beginning to end. The conclusion: “Climate science emails cannot destroy argument that world is warming, and humans are responsible.” It will be a pity if media audiences worldwide, as a result of recent news coverage, are less convinced that the argument is spot on. Without serious, investigative, in-depth news reports, media audiences will continue to become more ill-informed, and efforts to avoid widespread environmental damage will falter.