Canadian media continue to air the opinions of climate deniers and, as is more often the case today and during the upcoming election, the opinions of those who oppose taking significant steps to reduce carbon emissions. Regrettably, they rarely provide Canadians with the proper context to assess those views: We’ve left acting on climate so late that Canada needs to cut emissions between 50 to 80 per cent by 2030 to keep global warming below 2C. Saying — or more likely screaming — that this is impossible or unrealistic doesn’t change the climate math. It is what it is.
If someone wants to dispute the evidence that we already have enough fossil fuel-using stuff to push global warming beyond 1.5C, they should collect the proof and publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal. Otherwise, they’re just the crazy guy on the corner claiming gravity is a hoax. And yet media do allow those guys — and they’re usually men — on their pages and in their studios.
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All of this matters because “…a public that is unaware of the realities and risks associated with climate change poses a threat to society and planet by undercutting strenuous global efforts to rapidly mitigate threats to the planet’s biosphere,” according to a new study of media coverage of climate change in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. The main recommendation is for media to ignore “climate change contrarians” and focus coverage on “career experts and relevant calls to action.”
That seems unlikely to happen in the Postmedia chain of publications, which includes the National Post, Financial Post, Toronto Sun and dozens of others, amounting to 30 per cent of Canada’s newspapers. Former journalist Kevin Libin, who defamed Canadian climate scientist Andrew Weaver, according to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, is now in charge of all political reporting and analysis in Postmedia newspapers. This appointment was made to ensure the newspapers became more “reliably” conservative, the National Observer reports. Unfortunately, “conservative” no longer seems to include views that are pragmatic, fact-based and risk-averse.
There has been a marked increase in climate coverage by other Canadian media over the past year. That looks to continue, with some joining Covering Climate Now, a project co-founded by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation aimed at strengthening the media’s focus on the climate crisis. [Disclosure: I’m one of the participating independent journalists]. More than 170 media outlets around the world agreed to intensify their coverage in the lead-up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept. 23. However, The Toronto Star and Maclean’s are the only traditional Canadian media currently involved.
Basic climate science is simple and unarguable: The more carbon emissions we pump into the atmosphere, the hotter the climate is and the worse the impacts are. Stop adding carbon and the climate will gradually stop getting hotter. Climate change is affecting the lives of every Canadian, but our media have largely failed to convey the extent of the consequences of inaction. Some of these, like the melting of Arctic sea ice and the thawing of permafrost soils, will soon be irreversible.
There’s also been a widespread failure to plainly explain to Canadians the full extent of sweeping changes needed to avoid the most dangerous consequences. Although Canada’s carbon price is still being hotly debated, it is hardly a sweeping change. It’s a bailing bucket on a sinking Titanic: We’ve left taking action so late that bucket would have to be enormous to keep the ship afloat.