Don't give equal time to climate-change deniers

By John Cigliano

Let's be clear: Climate change is real, it is happening now, we are the cause, and it will be worse than we predicted.

We know beyond not just a reasonable doubt, but all doubt, that human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change is a fact. Even as a scientist trained not to speak or think in such an absolute way, I am very comfortable stating this. This conclusion is backed by thousands of research articles from hundreds of scientists around the world from academia, think tanks, government, and non-governmental agencies. The latest National Climate Assessment report has confirmed this, and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have documented it.

Just as important, we know the climate is changing "in our bones." How many times have you heard or said, "That was a crazy winter" or "I don't remember rain like that before"? We are experiencing climate change now.

Is it too late to do something about climate change? No. What can we do to slow it down and eventually stop it? Cut down our use of fossil fuels. Use alternative energy or less energy. Persuade local, state, and federal governments to mandate strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Eat less meat. Buy local and in season. Reduce/reuse/recycle, etc., etc.

You've heard all this before, but here's a new one: The media must stop providing ink and air time to climate-change deniers.

Sure, they want to provide a balanced view. But not all stories have two sides. Does the press seek out HIV-causes-AIDS deniers for AIDS stories? Does it seek the other side on stories about President Obama's citizenship? Of course not. Because the "other side" is known to be untrue.

We know climate change is real, yet the media still seek both "believers" and "nonbelievers" for stories. This happened to me firsthand when a local news organization sought comments on the just-released National Climate Assessment. It contacted my college for comment on why we should be concerned or why we shouldn't. The lead-in at 6 p.m. said, "Some call the report a big wake-up call, but others aren't buying it." The report that followed was pretty good, but the 10 p.m. report focused on critics questioning whether humans cause climate change and calling the report "overblown." But the critics were never identified. Were they scientists? Doubtful. Do they have any expertise to back up their assertions? Also doubtful. Do they have a financial or political stake in continuing our current energy consumption pattern? Likely.

Why is this is an issue? Because it validates the misrepresentation that climate change is nothing to worry about. Ultimately, validating that belief, or the claim that climate change is not caused by us, works against calls for people to change how they use energy and hinders advances in our fight against climate change. Why should people change if there are "experts" who argue against climate change? If the press gives equal time to this view, there must be real and valid doubt about climate change.

One of the most important strategies we could employ to stop climate change is for the media to stop giving time and space to climate-change deniers. There is only one side of this story: Climate change is real, it is happening now, we are the cause, and it will be worse than we predicted.

The real story that should be covered is why, in the face of overwhelming, unequivocal evidence, do people still deny climate change? Is it lack of environmental literacy? Is it due to either political or financial self-interest? Why?

So, please, stop giving time to climate-change deniers. Stop using them as experts and start using them as topics for a story.


John Cigliano is director of the environmental conservation program at Cedar Crest College in Allentown.

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