Scientist and Journalist: are they speaking the same language?

The first time anything about climate change or global warming was noted was in 1896 when Arrhenius published the first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the scientific community really started to show more evidence that global warming and climate change could actually impact our earth. And it then wasn’t until the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 that climate change was brought up as an international concern and that humans need to change their ways before we burn our home. Since then though, our population has increased by about 2 billion people, CO2 concentrations have increased about 50 ppm (parts per million)since 1992 and about 85 ppm since the 1950’s and fossil fuel companies are continuing spending more money each year on developing conventional and unconventional methods of fossil fuel extraction.

According to a survey by Fact Tank in the summer of 2014, only 61% of Americans believe that there is “solid evidence that earth has been warming” and only 48% believe that “global climate change is a major threat to the US.” And this is despite the fact that according to the IPCC’s (International Panel on Climate Change) last report, over 97% of climate scientist say that climate change is happening and is caused largely by anthropogenic factors which, by the way, is higher than the rate of scientist that say smoking cigarettes can lead to cancer. How then, despite this consensus among the scientific community, is there such low acceptance among Americans?

Most scientist aren’t producing commercials, holding press releases or going on Ellen to talk about climate change. Except for the exception of Bill Nye, the reporting of these findings is left up to the media and its journalist. Since the main vein that people get their information from is from various media outlets, there has to be some disconnect between the scientist, media and the people that get their information from media about climate change. If there wasn’t, wouldn’t more Americans get the picture that climate change is happening and the “debate” around climate change has been long over?

Where did the disconnect occur? Why did it occur? Do you think this could have been prevented or do you think the way media and journalist portray issues such as these that this disconnect was inevitable? Or do you think the media and journalist have been doing a good job and there are other reasons for the low numbers of American belief in climate change? Take a look at John Oliver’s outtake on the issue and let us know what you think!

Also, please share your comments on this article by NPR:

It addresses the urgency of the latest IPCC report, do you agree it was too harsh? Do you think that this is an instance of not fully listening to what the scientist say? Or do you agree?


About njansen16

My name is Nicholas Jansen and I'm entering my fourth and last year at the University of Michigan. My major is Program in the Environment (PitE) with a specialization in water.

6 Responses to “Scientist and Journalist: are they speaking the same language?”

  1. The fact that 1/4 Americans are still skeptical about climate change may be a result of them not witnessing any of the effects themselves and therefore not believing in it or a result of media reports that give the idea that the climate change debate is not yet settled.
    To me it seems logical that 97% of scientists supporting human caused climate change and evidence such as rising temperatures and melting polar ice is proof enough the debate is settled. However it is possible the disconnect arises from fear of journalists reporting something that later turns out to be inaccurate and feeling more secure on reporting about the “possibility” of human caused climate change. At the same time, at this point and with this much evidence I feel it is safe to report confidently climate change is happening, and personally do not remember recent incidences of the debate being reported.

    • Although the report was harsh, and I believe that it was, some people will only listen to scientific reports if the report directly affects them. Sure, global climate change affects everyone, but some people are reluctant to believe that. Actually hearing the worst-case-scenario of what is able to occur because of global warming may strike an interest in many skeptics to actually start to believe what they have been hearing. A farmer will most likely not ignore a natural disaster that is going to destroy a large amount of his crops, so they’re probably not going to ignore climate change after hearing its consequences as presented in the harsh report. Global climate change is placed in a light that is seen as a source of fear and unknown for many. This fear will hopefully cause many skeptics of global climate change to research it further and begin to understand the effects that humans are having on the planet.

      I especially liked John Oliver mentioning the part about how climate change and its effects are occurring NOW, as opposed to in the future when humans living in the present will not be alive. I think that comment placed its realness in a more relateable light.

  2. Where did the disconnect occur?
    I think it occurred when we stopped investing in scientific literacy in our public education system. The anti-climate change arguments and ads are so flimsy that even the most rudimentary understand of the climate could deny what they say.
    Why did it occur?
    That is probably a mix of different factors.
    Do you think this could have been prevented or do you think the way media and journalist portray issues such as these that this disconnect was inevitable?
    I think it could be prevented: just like vaccinating kids against disease, we can vaccinate them against pseudo science. I think after a certain level of intellect is reached, people stop being swayed as easily by the mass media.

  3. Oh my gosh, John Oliver’s show is awesome! It comes back this week!!! (this is not my real comment for this week…see the other student post by Jill for my longer comment on science/journalism )

  4. West Virginia’s Board of Education has been trying to change the new science standards in order to discredit climate change. As Nicholas and John Oliver have it iterated, there is a major flaw in society that created such propagation of the blatant lie that climate change does not exist. I agree with Jill. In my opinion, Americans are hesitant to accept climate change because they do not see it in there daily lives. They have no economic incentive to accept climate change, and when people see things like the polar vortex and the most snow on record in many places, they question the reality of global warming. Also, even if people do accept global climate change, many are not keen on changing their ways because they don’t think that they can have any effect on the environment, rather people blame it all on factories in China. There needs to be a shift in media coverage of global climate change in order to get everybody on board. As John Oliver said, the debate should no longer be on whether climate change is real, but what we as a society should do about it. The only way to stop the climate change is to have everybody on board, and that will only happen if the mass media changes the way it covers the topic.

  5. I think the disconnect occurred when the issue of climate change became politicized. When politicians pertaining to one party support policies to combat climate change on one extreme, and on the other want to invest in passing policies that further economic agendas over the well-being of our earth, party members of the latter have the tendency to blindly follow their leading politician’s views and decisions, without considering the opposing view. It’s also common for one group to oppose the other’s perspectives on a given issue, just to counter them solely for being on the other team, the competition. This is not to say all politicians and all politically involved citizens encompass these characteristics. However, one powerful aspect of politics is it’s ability to be non-transluscent (I’m sorry this isn’t a real word, I couldn’t think of a better fit). By this I mean that politicians have the money and power to hire fake scientists and use politically skewed media platforms to effectively push personal agendas and gain more support. It saddens me that something as urgent and important as climate change has become so strongly attached to politics.

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