Climate change is real, and we're causing it: Scientists are more sure about this than the fact that cigarettes kill, and one says the statistical probability that it isn't manmade is about 0.1 percent. So why does climate change denial persist in public discourse? A recent survey of nearly 1,900 climate scientists suggests that it’s the media’s fault.
The survey, published in Environmental Science and Technology, confirms what we largely already knew: Upwards of 90 percent of the scientific community agrees that climate change is happening and that it's being caused by humans. Previously, surveys of the published climate science literature have found that number to be as high as 97 percent.
Interestingly, however, it also found that the small minority of climate scientists who remain skeptical of the phenomenon reported being contacted by the media for comment much more frequently than the vast majority of those who agree that it is manmade.
This is a huge problem, for obvious reasons. For most people, what the media reports about climate change is what they know—not everybody is going to read the latest scientific paper on why we are all going to be certifiably fucked if greenhouse gas emissions continue apace. We, the media, have a duty to report the facts; when we give a platform to climate change deniers, we’re not doing our jobs.
Of course, some people disagree, but their public influence is getting an additional boost by a well-oiled PR machine and funding from the fossil fuels industry. Entertaining the opinions of climate change deniers is often a dangerous game that plays into business interests and obfuscates what the vast majority of climate scientists recognize as the truth.
In the name of balanced reporting, it appears as though some journalists are giving steam to a narrative that is patently false. This is a phenomenon in journalism known as "false equivalency," and it's a serious problem in climate reporting.
In the pursuit of presenting both sides to the story—as they should, in cases that don't deal in scientific fact—journalists are reaching out to the tiny minority of scientists who deny climate change, leading to their views being overrepresented in public discourse. Climate change deniers aren’t even a vocal minority, per se. If it seems that way, it’s only because media outlets are giving them a voice.
But climate change is not a matter of opinion. We need to follow the lead of media forces like the LA Times, which has a policy refusing to print climate denial, and the moderators at Reddit's science section, who banned climate deniers from its massive forum. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that climate change is a cold, hard fact, and to inject doubt where there is none does the public a serious disservice.