Background (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Modern media climate coverage dates to the 1890’s. In the late nineteenth century, The New York Times warned of a possible return to an ice age. That coverage continued until the 1920’s and 1930’s, when media outlets cautioned about a warming trend. The coverage again shifted in the 1950’s to global cooling, which lasted in some form into the 1990’s. The global warming focus, though, began in the 1960’s and escalated with publication of Al Gore’s book Earth in the Balance (1992). Since the release of Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the warming debate has become a politicized argument, in which media coverage is scrutinized as much as climate science.
(The entire section is 111 words.)
Media Coverage History (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
As far back as February 24, 1895, The New York Times was warning of the return of an ice age. The paper pointed to scientific concerns about a second glacial period following increases in northern glaciers. Fear spread through the print media over the next three decades. On October 7, 1912, both The New York Times andThe Los Angeles Times cited the worries of Cornell University professor Nathaniel Schmidt about a new ice age. Arctic expeditions added to media coverage and public concern about a cooling climate, but by the time The Atlantic was reporting on cooling in 1932, many other outlets had started reporting a warming trend.
The Post discussed a warming Earth in 1930. The New York Times told readers in 1933 that America was experiencing the longest warming spell since 1776. Both the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society and Monthly Weather Review printed articles about humankind having a role in making the planet warmer. Major news media continued coverage of warming into the 1950’s, when the trend shifted again.
In 1954, Fortune magazine reported that the Earth was growing colder. Science News described cooling as a major threat in 1969 and again six years later. The 1975 magazine cover depicted a city in a snow globe, as the magazine ranked the threat of a new ice age as high as nuclear war for...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
Spinning the Debate (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The two primary sides of the global warming debate agree that the issue is spun by the media, but they do not agree in what way. Environmental groups and liberal media critics claim that the traditional view of journalist as neutral observer has muddled the debate. They embrace a position often repeated by Gore that the debate is over. Conservatives point to numerous examples of activist journalism ignoring scientific disagreement. They complain that reporters hype weather stories as climate change and call for expensive global warming solutions without giving any time to the opposition.
(The entire section is 94 words.)
Mainstream Media (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
News outlets are the primary source of information about climate. Newspapers have lost their dominance as the primary news source, but newspaper Web sites have gained in popularity at the same time. Thus, newspapers have joined television news and the Internet as the major news media in the early twenty-first century.
Discussion of climate change became easy to find in major news outlets. It was featured repeatedly on the cover of Time magazine, on the front page of newspapers, and as the lead story of national network news broadcasts. In most cases, it was reported as an imminent crisis with potentially devastating results. Hurricanes, floods, drought, and a host of minor threats were linked in the press to global warming.
Skeptical scientists and public policy groups roundly criticized what they perceived as media bias in these stories. Journalists who covered the topic, from ABC’s Bill Blakemore to The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin, were often criticized for bias in their reporting. Prominent media watchdog groups and individual bloggers analyzed reporting, while scientists would dissect scientific claims in major news stories.
Other critics attacked any journalist who disseminated stories about climate change skeptics. A conference organized by the Heartland Institute brought together numerous scientists and public policy experts who raised questions about climate consensus in 2008....
(The entire section is 256 words.)
Alternative Media (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The alternative media—including talk radio and nonmainstream Web sites—have had a field day with climate change. Bloggers focus much of their effort on monitoring the news media coverage of the climate. Numerous individuals and groups on the Left and the Right maintain media blogs, and much of their focus has been on environmental coverage. The most famous of these, the Drudge Report, regularly links to climate stories. Whether the topic is snowfall during a global warming hearing in Washington or Gore’s own carbon footprint, Drudge and others have driven a significant news agenda. The biggest of such stories can cross over into the mainstream media.
Think tanks, environmental groups, and politicians have all participated in the news media debate on climate change. The ability to link from one to another helped further blur the lines of traditional journalism, as advocacy organizations left and right targeted the other side’s positions. The diverse voices also allowed readers and viewers to self-select the information they received. That caused ordinary information consumers to harden positions along ideological lines.
Talk radio also has a significant hand in the global warming debate. In 2008, much of private talk radio remained conservative. Criticism of Gore or climate science was commonplace. Often, talk radio would highlight a story made popular by bloggers such as Matt Drudge or would address a topic...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Entertainment Media (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Film and television played a big role in the climate debate. With the rise of global warming as an issue in the 1980’s, Turner Broadcasting responded with a cartoon called Captain Planet. The cartoon’s superheroes protected the Earth from evils such as pollution and global warming.
Several popular movies featuring global warming themes followed. The made-for-television movie The Fire Next Time aired in 1993. Kevin Costner’s 1995 disaster picture Waterworld depicted a world awash in a flood caused by warming. The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was one of the most controversial of these films. When it opened, the climate debate was in full force. The movie’s title was reminiscent of that of the antinuclear made-for-television film The Day After (1983), and it depicted a climate apocalypse brought on by global warming. In the film, the changing climate results in a rapid cooling of the Earth and the onset of a new ice age. The movie was criticized by conservatives for characterizations of a president and vice president similar to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. It also showed Americans fleeing the freeze being stopped at the Mexican border as illegal immigrants.
Also in 2004, science-fiction thriller author Michael Crichton released a novel critical of the environmental movement. State of Fear portrayed murderous environmentalists altering the Earth’s climate...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
Context (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Despite almost countless news stories, the climate debate remains a major issue in the mainstream media. Polls show a significant number of Americans remain skeptical both about media coverage and about climate science. Because of this, media coverage has become a major topic of concern. Environmentalists continue to criticize skeptics and challenge the media to disregard such voices. Conservatives are joined by a growing and vocal group of scientists who publicly challenge what eco-groups call a climate consensus. Each side tends to complain about the tenor of media coverage of both themselves and their interlocutors.
(The entire section is 95 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 2006. Discusses the dangers of global warming and links it to human production of carbon dioxide emissions. An appropriate companion to the movie of the same name. Illustrations, graphs.
Horner, Chris. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming (and Environmentalism). Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2007. Chris Horner, attorney and counselor of Cooler Heads Coalition, exposes the misconceptions surrounding the global warming hype. Explains that possible climate remedies may actually be worse than the effects of any theoretical warming. References, graphs, index.
McKibben, Bill. Fight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community. New York: Henry Holt, 2007. McKibben, a one-time writer for The New Yorker, describes the use of grassroots campaigns to fight for global warming legislation. The book teaches an activist approach, including ways to maximize use of the media.
Singer, S. Fred, and Dennis T. Avery. Unstoppable Global Warming: Every Fifteen Hundred Years. Rev. ed. Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues, and Singer, an atmospheric physicist, explain that global warming is a part of Earth’s natural cycle. They elaborate on the reasons for warming...
(The entire section is 222 words.)