Science supports climate change reality: It’s time for the media to get on board

How times change.

It seems just yesterday when Al Gore was being vilified as America’s über-exaggerator for his warning in 2006 of the coming disaster that is climate change.

Although climate change is certainly no laughing matter, Gore certainly could claim to have the last laugh. In the years since Gore first entered the words “inconvenient truth” into our lexicon, the international scientific community has gathered hard data, put that data through state-of-the-art computer models, and concluded that human activity—specifically, our addiction to the burning of fossil fuels—contributes to the climate-warming trends being observed around the globe.

How overwhelming is the consensus? Let’s just say it’s hard to argue away the conclusions of the majority of climate scientists.  Sadly, it looks like we need to come to terms right now with the reality that we’ve already crossed the climate-altering Rubicon.  (Unless, that is, if your reality is the fictional world of FOX News and conservative media, and you take seriously the false claims of congressional climate deniers).  For those inhabiting a political/philosophical home on the far-right shore, propaganda, disinformation, and lies about climate crisis hold sway. Over there, confusion reigns about what’s fact and what’s fiction, much to the detriment of all of us and the difficult policy prescriptions that we should be actively pursuing.

For those of us inhabiting the world of facts, however, and looking for a nonpolitical, objective take on climate change, there’s no better place to look than to NASA. Can we all agree—no matter what our political leanings—that NASA, an agency of the federal government, is no leftie, tree-hugging group under the influence of Al Gore and radical environmentalists?

If we can agree on NASA’s bona fides, then how about visiting the scientists over there to get the facts?  What you’ll find on NASA’s official website is an unequivocal confirmation that 97% of global climate scientists looking at all the studies, computer models, and first-hand observational research data agree that the probable cause of climate-warming trends is human activity.

And NASA provides even more hard evidence right there on its public website.  The website refers to over 200 scientific organizations worldwide that have issued public statements on warming trends and human activity.

Let me repeat that number again: two hundred of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world.

Ask yourself. When was the last time FOX News invited independent experts on climate science—not scientists and pundits on the payroll of corporate interests—to sit down on one of their quasi-news programs?  Those would be reputable scientists from wonky organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association, the American Meteorological Society, the American Physical Society, The Geological Society of America, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, or the National Research Council.

The answer is, you won’t find those independent voices shooting the bull with Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly. But wherever or however the deniers derive their beliefs doesn’t matter.  The global climate crisis is real.  It’s happening now. What those of us who choose to live in the real world decide to do with the facts of climate change is what counts.

The first step is clearly in the hands of our media. Media should be, after all, a responsible gatekeeper for the accuracy of the information we get, the form in which we receive our information, and how we process with critical thinking that information.

Edward R. Murrow summed up the vital role of the media not only in his time but in ours when he said, “…To be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”

With such a solemn responsibility, isn’t it about time journalists and media outlets follow Murrow’s lead and stop giving climate-change deniers a pass and an uncritical forum for their fairy tales? It’s way past time to call out the deniers on their spin and their disregard for scientific fact.

On October 5, 2013, the Los Angeles Times took the lead and did just that. Paul Thornton, editor of the Los Angeles Times’ letters section, set off a firestorm when he announced the paper’s decision to stop publishing letters containing factual inaccuracies about climate change.  Explaining the policy shift, Thornton wrote,

Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists—said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming.  The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.

He concluded,

Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published.  Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.

Now that the Los Angeles Times has broken from the pack, the question is which other newspapers and media outlets will have the courage to follow?


Image information: Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere are rising. Both images show the spreading of carbon dioxide around the globe as it follows large-scale patterns of circulation in the atmosphere. The color codes in these two pictures are different in order to account for the carbon dioxide increase from 2003 to 2007. Image credit: NASA/JPL