Jennifer Good is a communications professor explaining how the media is expected to mold public opinion in favor of climate activism. Her article in the Toronto Star Putting hurricanes and climate change into the same frame is revealing, especially the subtitle A study shows network Hurricane coverage this month did not link an increase in extreme weather to global warming.
The prof is disappointed that climate change was not more frequently mentioned in stories about the recent hurricanes. She considers it an opportunity missed. Some excerpts below with my bolds.
I have analyzed two weeks of broadcast news stories that appeared on America’s seven largest TV networks as well as Canada’s CTV network. In just over 1,500 stories about hurricanes, “Trump” was discussed in 907 of those stories (or about 60 per cent), while “business” was discussed in 572 of those stories (or about 38 per cent).
“Climate change” was discussed in just 79 of the hurricane stories — or about five per cent.
What’s Wrong with Professional, Objective Reporting?
The fundamental answer is that climate change and extreme weather (i.e., hurricanes) need to be framed together more often. As scientists have pointed out, while climate change is not causing the weather, it is definitely exacerbating the weather. But increasingly adding climate change to the extreme weather frame is only the tip of the (yes, melting) iceberg. Alternatives to “business as usual” need to be part of the media’s, and our, extreme weather frames.
Of those 1,500 broadcast news stories involving hurricanes, only four also mentioned “fossil fuels,” and not a single news broadcast discussed “alternative energy.”
Similarly, while “economy” is discussed in 187 of the hurricane news stories, only 18 stories discussed hurricanes, the economy and climate change together; and not one story explored the links between an economic model based on endless growth, and the implications of this endless growth for the planet and climate change.
The Purpose of Media is to Manipulate Public Opinion
In his seminal 2010 paper “Why It Matters How We Frame the Environment,” published in the journal Environmental Communication, the American linguist and philosopher George Lakoff offered that the world is made up of frames. “Framing” is how our neural system defines a concept by grouping together what goes with — or gets framed with — that concept. Our brains are wired this way.
For example, when you read “climate change,” your brain immediately frames the concept of climate change with certain words and concepts. Everyone cognitively frames “climate change” somewhat differently, but there might also be large overlaps. Terms like “fossil fuels” and “human activity” might be in many people’s climate change frames, although frames can differ widely. (Think, for example, of climate change skeptics.)
Not surprisingly, the news media plays a significant role in how our brains frame concepts. The more the media frames a story by associating it with certain words and concepts, the more likely we are to use those same words and concepts in our own framing.
And conversely, if the news media never framed a story using certain concepts, there is “hypocognition,” or as Lakoff proposed, a “lack of ideas we need.”
In times of crisis, there are many immediate and urgent stories that need to be told about lives and loss, bravery and struggle. But crisis also provides an opportunity for change — an opportunity to shift our frames and include the ideas we desperately need.
So far, that opportunity seems to have been missed. Meanwhile, the oceans get warmer.
The Other Side of the Story
While the prof is totally convinced she knows what the public needs to know about weather and climate, actual weather scientists disagree with her. In fact, the efforts to link storms and fossil fuels were present way too often and hindered the public from understanding these events.
For instance, Hurricane scientist Dr. Ryan Maue ripped climate ‘hype’ on Irma & Harvey in his WSJ article Climate Change Hype Doesn’t Help.
As soon as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in the U.S., scientists, politicians and journalists began to discuss the role of climate change in natural disasters. Although a clear scientific consensus has emerged over the past decade that climate change influences hurricanes in the long run, its effect upon any individual storm is unclear. Anyone trying to score political points after a natural disaster should take a deep breath and review the science first.
As a meteorologist with access to the best weather-forecast model data available, I watched each hurricane’s landfall with particular interest. Harvey and Irma broke the record 12-year major hurricane landfall drought on the U.S. coastline. Since Wilma in October 2005, 31 major hurricanes had swirled in the North Atlantic but all failed to reach the U.S. with a Category 3 or higher intensity.
Even as we worked to divine exactly where the hurricanes would land, a media narrative began to form linking the devastating storms to climate change. Some found it ironic that states represented by “climate deniers” were being pummeled by hurricanes. Alarmists reveled in the irony that Houston, home to petrochemical plants, was flooded by Harvey, while others gleefully reported that President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago might be inundated by Irma.
By focusing on whether climate change caused a hurricane, journalists fail to appreciate the complexity of extreme weather events. While most details are still hazy with the best climate modeling tools, the bigger issue than global warming is that more people are choosing to live in coastal areas, where hurricanes certainly will be most destructive.
Actual scientists are calling for less, not more manipulative journalism.
And as for the oceans getting warmer, Prof. Good, that is due to the oceans storing and releasing solar energy, nothing to do with burning fossil fuels. The oceans heat the atmosphere, and not the other way around. See Empirical Evidence: Oceans Make Climate
Footnote: If Framing doesn’t work, what’s next?