Max Boykoff

The Climate-Media Paradox: More Coverage, Stalled Progress

For those of us who care about global warming, 2006 and 2007 felt like pretty good years. Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for An Inconvenient Truth, sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Media attention to the issue soared, and it was positive attention. Given all the buzz, I—and many others—figured the problem was all but solved.

The next steps appeared deceptively simple. Elect Barack Obama, pass cap-and-trade, go to Copenhagen in the snowy winter of 2009 and take it global—or so I advised in Scientific American. I didn’t expect “ClimateGate,” or the dramatic consequences that an overseas non-scandal (for so I perceived it to be) could have for U.S. climate policy.

Nor did I imagine that virtually the entire Republican Party, rather than just some part of it, would come to reject climate science on this flimsy basis. I expected out-and-out climate change deniers like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe to be further marginalized, not mainstreamed.

Needless to say, I now look back on all this and shake my head.  Clearly, I–and many other people who felt the same way–was missing something rather big. We were far too optimistic in thinking that our governmental and media institutions were up for dealing with this type of problem.

Recently, a new book has helped bring the nature of their failure–and particularly the media's failure–into sharp focus.

Media Loses Interest In Climate Change

Updated research from Max Boykoff and Maria Mansfield suggests that the world’s media have lost interest in climate change, regardless that the evidence of potential catastrophe becomes more clear by the day - and that last year was tied as the hottest on record.

World news coverage spiked in late 2009, corresponding with the intense interest among politicians, bureaucrats and activists in the Copenhagen conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This study, however, is quantitative rather than qualitative. Boykoff and Mansfield have scoured the electronic sources and found how many stories appear in prominent global newspapers. But this graph doesn’t answer whether what was being published was stupid or wrong. And previous Boykoff studies - beginning with the landmark 2004 study that he conducted with his brother Jules - have demonstrated that a stunning amount of media coverage was presenting an imagined version of reality that was not reflected in actual climate science.

Clumsy Media Bias Dwindling, But U.S. Still Behind the U.K.

A new paper (attached) by Oxford Research Fellow Max Boykoff shows that phony media balance has almost disappeared in U.S. climate change coverage.

But Boykoff's paper also shows an embarrassing difference in the extent and quality of climate change coverage in the United States, compared to coverage in the United Kingdom. For example, he found that between 2003 and 2006, UK papers covered the story three times as often as U.S. papers and were significantly more likely to present it accurately.

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