A dancing elephant. A hurricane covering half of Earth’s surface. Al Gore with a laser pointer. Unprecedented bushfires ripping into Melbourne. Cracked soil on a drought-stricken farm. Images of Hyde Park filled with a shanty-town of climate refugees. Who cares?
Climate change is boring. It’s a problem caused by almost everything we do, but that happens everywhere, in a way that’s almost impossible to detect, over a long time and will harm other people or future people more than it will harm us. Randy Olson and Andy Revkin have given the idea airtime: booooring.
A polar bear on an ice floe? Cheesy. Not that important. A flood victim in Pakistan? Floods happen anyway. Bleached coral? Sad, but I’ll just take a holiday somewhere else. Species going extinct before we even discover them? Well, what we don’t know can’t hurt us.
I’ve mentioned before that ‘big’ climate change images tend to be paralysing and ‘small’ images, like CF lights or bike riding, are boring, because they’re already in our daily lives. Combined with a news cycle which will prioritise unambiguous stories which are happening at a news-y time scale (breaking or fresh off the scientific press), climate change is looking pretty hard to cover.
Let’s look more closely at some of the news values of climate change. It’s unambiguous, in the respect that we’re responsible and are making it worse (despite the media being off on a different tangent for the past 20 years). It’s relevant for the average person, in the same way ‘smoking causes cancer’ is relevant: the likelihood of adverse health outcomes in the future is increased by our actions now (let’s not even talk about the future of children…). It involves powerful people and organisations; politicians, big business, celebrities who are concerned. It can offer good or bad news, depending on the angle a reporter takes. It has enormous magnitude and is an ongoing story.
However, it isn’t particularly surprising or entertaining, and won’t fit with the news agenda of many papers (cough, cough, The Australian, you bunch of cranks). Plus, it’s hard to understand the breadth of the issue, and don’t think I’m being condescending here: I’ve spent thousands of hours reading about or listening to lectures on climate change and its possible effects and it’s still huge and confusing to me. It often takes a climate scientist to pick the holes in a well-presented skeptic argument; until exposed, they may seem plausible.
What’s the solution? Listen. Watch. Read. Comment. Get involved. Think critically, ask what expertise a commentator has and why they’re talking to the press. Ask yourself if you can accept changes to society that might benefit other people, in other places, more than you. At the other end of the scale – the people making the news, or advocating – tell a better story. Find the champions and villains, look for the narrative and bring people along for a wild ride that’ll keep on twisting and turning for decades.
Now, to practice what I preach…
Also, get your nominations in for tomorrow’s Photo Roulette day! So far only #666 has been picked up; any number between 1-10000, and here’s a random number generator for help if you need it.