Climate change is probably one of the most discussed and argued environmental issues in the mass media today. Global warming is a phenomenon that is becoming an increasing threat, caused mostly by human movements. There are many groups involved who actively contribute to the climate change debates, including journalists, researchers, and environmental activists, and although there are many uncertainties around this issue, it is up to us to make our own decisions, whether its based on scientific fact or journalistic points of view. (Lyytimaki, 2009). Climate change is one of those issues that most of us know about and engage with through various forms of media, where it requires us to think globally and act locally because our own experience of climate change is highly mediated (Dreher, 2013).
There are two key challenges that are brought to our attention by Ward (2009), which were the ideas of rethinking journalisms traditional approaches to balance, or what he calls a ‘false balance’, and also providing journalists with a ‘voice for the voiceless’.
Reporting on climate change has shown to have this ‘false balance’ between what is scientifically correct and what the reporters have established as scientific judgement (Ward, 2009). More than 90% of scientists around the world surveyed by the UN are in agreement that climate change is real, and the earth is inevitably warming, significantly due to human activities. ‘False balance’ is a term used to describe giving equal time or equal weight to supporters of climate science, for example we could have 90% of opinions on the one hand, and 10% of the opinions on the other hand, and yet somehow the media portrays these as being equal, even though those opinions are actually extremely unbalanced (Dreher, 2013). The ‘voice for the voiceless’ was another key challenge that Ward (2009) highlighted in his article, which focuses on the human impacts of climate change and how the story of these impacts can be told or heard. Mary Robinson, who is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 1997-2022, stated that ‘a climate justice approach will amplify the voices of those people who have done least to cause climate change, but who are affected most severely by it’. An example of this is in the island of Kiribati, where they have very low carbon emissions, yet are very vulnerable to climate change due to flooding and coastal erosion. Climate change is not just an issue on environmental challenges, it is very much a cultural issue on human stories and human rights concerns, as well as a concern for our ability to maintain and sustain culture and community in this sort of context (Dreher, 2013).
The media is essential to our learning and it is essential to become actively involved in it. As humans, we cannot understand these climate change issues purely on our own individual experience. There are many issues that are still arising during this period of rapid change, both in the journalistic field, as well as in the global environment. It is uncertain how these issues will play out in future, both in relation to climate change, but also journalistic practices, and it could be years before we determine how best to support this changing environment.
Dreher, T 2013, ‘Lecture 9: Global Crises and Global News: Pacific Calling Partnership’, Lecture, BCM111, University of Wollongong, delivered 23rd September 2013
Lyytimaki, J 2009, ‘Mulling over the Climate Debate: Media Education on Climate Change’, Journal of Sustainable Development, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 29-32
Ward, B 2010, ‘Journalism ethics and climate change reporting in a period of intense media uncertainty’, Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics, vol. 9, no. 13-15, pp. 13-15