Why the media shares blame for our ecological mess

Natural disasters – no longer as natural as they used to be – are
rendered morally ambiguous as 'acts of God' rather than 'acts of man'

QUATHIASKI COVE, B.C. / Troy Media/ – Reports on sobering science confirm that the media has failed to reflect the seriousness of the unfolding climate crisis.

This incongruity between scientific assessments and the media coverage creates the impression that our greenhouse gas emissions are a manageable challenge, that our corrective measures are adequate, and that we can avoid ecological catastrophe.

The opposite almost certainly applies on all points.

The media is largely to blame for this misrepresentation of our predicament. Its efforts to provide balanced coverage are admirable when exploring the broad dimensions of controversial issues. But not every subject is equally controversial.

On climate change, the media continually juxtaposes messages of alarm with those of reassurance. That inflates the importance of minority opinions and gives the impression that the political initiatives being enacted are sufficient to address the problem.

But the science is conclusive. Climate change is happening, the consequences will be serious and won’t be averted simply by pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As extreme weather disasters proliferate and heat records are regularly broken, the searching reporter and inquisitive camera can always find someone who will attribute the cause to an El Niño year – only one-fifth the effect, by scientific reckoning – or some other extenuating circumstance. In the meantime, we lose valuable time and opportunities for corrective measures. So we enter further into the multiple and irreversible manifestations of extreme weather.

The media has the power to set the global climate crisis in its proper and serious perspective. It does this for declarations of war and terrorist acts, when headlines dominate the front pages of newspapers, special features consume radio, and extended coverage occupies television. These unequivocal events of human drama get special attention. The same attention could be given to issues relating to climate change but this option is subverted by the complex psychology.

Natural disasters – no longer as natural as they used to be – have become morally ambiguous. Media still conveys the impression that the victims are wholly innocent. Sympathy is implicit for those who suffer the effects of floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and the other expressions of extreme weather.

But so-called “acts of God” are increasingly becoming “acts of man.” What does the media do with the growing complexities of sympathy when the suffering is self-inflicted?

The obvious solution is to avoid the issue of human blame. So human-caused climate change is downplayed in respectful deference to the victims. The actual cause, the unmentionable that pervades every such news report, is silenced beneath the drama of tragedy. The cause and effect can’t be connected without violating our ethical sensibilities.

So the collective consciousness of our culture, as cultivated by the media, disconnects our behaviour from its consequences. This avoids a confrontation with the seriousness of the climate problem and impairs the possibility of implementing solutions. That which we should be saying remains unsaid. We don’t acknowledge the truth we know.

The full ramifications of our emissions escape critical examination. So our critical need for solutions is unsatisfied and the comfort of illusion persists.

Ultimately, science is undone by the media.

 

– Ray Grigg is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism.