4 Climate predictions and the media
The question ‘Should we engineer the climate?’ relies in part on public and policy-maker opinions about the topic. Does society think predicted climate change is an important risk? Do people trust climate model predictions of climate change (with or without geoengineering)?
The quality of media reporting is essential to this question.
The European project(Ritz et al., 2015) was tasked with predicting sea level rise from Antarctica over the next two centuries and held a press conference in May 2013 announcing their new results to journalists. The press release had the headline ‘Sea-level rise from Antarctic collapse may be slower than suggested’. But Figure 9 shows how the headlines that resulted reflected different media narratives about climate change.
How different are the tone and implications of the messages communicated by the two headlines?
The BuzzFeed headline communicates a reasonably neutral message, using the word ‘may’ to indicate scientific uncertainty, though the words ‘bad’ and ‘feared’ are emotive.
On the other hand, The Times headline stating ‘has been exaggerated’ implies a possible intention by scientists to mislead, contributing a far more negative message.
The BuzzFeed article is an accurate representation of the press release and study; in contrast, The Times implies that ‘has been exaggerated’ was a quote from the scientists (which it was not).
Clearly this kind of media environment is something for both the public and policy-makers to be aware of, especially so for the even more sensitive topic of global geoengineering. No wonder the public sometimes feels confused.