Updated: Jun 14
Your content diet, daily newspaper or favourite reporter can shape climate change for you.
The environment has become a contending topic of discussion in mainstream media, especially in terms of the urgency and impact of climate change. In the recent past, several sources have illustrated the topic, through varying degrees of importance and information - from movies with a dramatic take to books with multi-dimensional subjects. Let’s dive into the world of news and see how the environmental demise of the earth is painted in print!
(Also Read: Climate Justice, Books and Power)
The news is an inevitable, primary source of information for a take on current events and new developments on an issue. It is a means to access both occurrences of past and live updates. Being a hub for the literal source of what is happening, where, why and how, news sources have the power to influence the understanding of almost everything. In this case, climate change. They influence aspects like the perception of the problem, its origination and the action required henceforth. This is the making of a ‘constructed reality’. For example, during the start and the apex of the pandemic, the reasoning given for the birth of the coronavirus was shown as both environmental disregard in some news stories, and as a political conspiracy and the use of a biological weapon by others.
(Also Read: Movies that Got Disasters Wrong)
Stories are oftentimes presented through a social, political, scientific or entertainment lens, which changes the narrative of the same story. This point of view is a result of the stakeholders behind the publication, regional differences and preferences of the viewers. There are extensive studies on the differences in media operations in the global north and south specifically. The global north, primarily consisting of developed nations, tends to focus on research-oriented, futuristic views of the environment. The global south, made up of developing and under-developed nations, shows climate change through an agenda-based lens- This could for example include political gains through campaigning about environmental goals or sustainable changes incorporated to solely preserve tourism. This difference provides a skewed understanding of the issue. Several factors affect regional disparities, like cultural understandings, audiences, resources to provide the information or lack thereof, etc.
By now it is understood that news stories have portrayed environmental topics through varying sides, but leading stories fall under the following categories:
Ecological or Scientific
An ecological take on a topic is an emphasis on the factual and academic understanding of it. This lens is written without much bias and purely provides the facts of the matter, without a detailed explanation of the extended effects, other than environmental, of the occurrence. A social take is one that focuses on the societal impact of climate change as well as the actions of a group or organization that caused it. It can be accompanied by an entertainment lens and is a take that possesses the quality of relevance and relatability, thus being accessed by most audiences. A political take is an influenced understanding of either the cause of the crisis or information about how political bodies are working to combat certain problems. This includes the agendas of environmental ministries or sustainability goals that a candidate might have.
Despite the budding representation of the climate crisis in the news, there are several inadequacies in environmental journalism. These factors can hamper the effective understanding of the climate crisis. The majority of news and research focuses on developmental issues and themes. Even if climate change is presented, it is shown in relation to social effects, contributions of industries, etc. This is a recurring theme mainly in the journalism of the global south. This leads to the understanding of the climate crisis from an industrial, political and profit-driven narrative. Many times, the general public, despite being aware of the climate crisis and its various repercussions, won’t know the scientific reasoning behind it or the pragmatic actions necessary to combat it. Another factor causing inadequacy is limited points of view and bias-ridden stories. Mainstream media oftentimes shows the impacts of the issues from an angle favourable to stakeholders and privileged strata. This helps in the selling point of the story, but in turn, ignores the holistic understanding of climate change and its dominant impact on the weaker sections of society. Lastly, a leading factor that causes an ineffective understanding of climate change is the glamorization and focus on sensational material when covering topics. Effects of climate change, natural disasters, causes and even actions to combat the same, are oftentimes only featured when they are on a large scale. This disregards harmful and unsustainable practices that take place on an everyday basis at the local level and is not effective in terms of timely reporting. The attention-grabbing nature of stories can also induce climate anxiety and paranoia in the audience, without offering adequate notice and precautionary measures.
Responsible journalism and the reporting of environmental issues, with regularity and transparency, can make the quest for sustainability more pervasive. The media holds great power in shaping and understanding everything around us, so let’s use that power to show narratives that need urgent attention and work towards a greener world!
(Also Read: This Is Not the Apocalypse - Flipping the Narrative)
Valerie Hase, Daniela Mahl, Mike S. Schäfer, Tobias R. Keller, Climate change in news media across the globe: An automated analysis of issue attention and themes in climate change coverage in 10 countries (2006–2018), Global Environmental Change, Volume 70, 2021
Simge Andi (2020), How People Access News about Climate Change, Reuters Institute