Adventures in Jutland

Climate Change this week

I wrote this for our first year course in media, and it’s also an outline of some of my basic thinking … as well as a lot of links

I’m giving a lecture to the good people in ARTS1091 this week on the media and Climate Change, so I’ve been a little more attentive than usual to how the issue is panning out in the media right here, right now. This is emerging as a research interest for me (habit, everyday life, media and Climate Change). Although it’s a research interest for just about everybody else and their dog at the moment.

It’s interesting and perhaps revealing to take a fairly random snap shot. So this is a kind of ‘Climate Change this week’ (with a bit of my collection of links concerning events so far). Focusing on my own reading about the issue via a range of media (from online newspapers to Twitter) I’ve found it interesting to realise how much “heat” Climate Change as an issue generates now in media terms—across all media.

There are links throughout, and also quite a long list of links at the bottom of the post.

The Basic Info

If there’s anyone left out there who still doesn’t get Climate Change and some of the debates and interests involved, look at the video on this blog entry by George Monbiot.

One phenomenon in media coverage of Climate Change is that people are getting better at summing up the issues. If our local paper, The Sydney Morning Herald, is any indication, even scientists, including my university’s Matthew England and Andy Pitman, seem to be getting on top of their communication issues. This is one of the clearest pieces I’ve ever read in a newspaper on Climate Change—although Matthew England has written some other good pieces for quite a while. The piece is even accompanied by a context article, which is also good.

Science and Media; Climate Change, Media Ecologies and Us

Now for some quick generalisations—all of which have many exceptions.

First , there is the fact that journalism is often not great when it comes to science, and science often has a fairly basic idea of how the media works.

Second, thinking about the media’s involvement in the complex and urgent issue of Climate Change is one of the most best ways to understand a heap of things about the media in general. I’ll be suggesting in the lecture that they have some basic things in common as well: we’re deeply immersed everyday in both the weather and media “ecologies”; we talk about them all the time; we like to predict what’s going to happen; but both are getting more complex and unpredictable by the day, with deep social and political implications. And this means we really understand neither very well. Nor do we quite know what to do about them. In combination they’re dynamite to established social and political worlds.

The result of all of this … e.g. for quite a while, I’ve seen and read a lot of scientists valiantly trying to put their case in scientifically precise but media-obscure (and sound-bite unfriendly) terms. The issues are of course complex, and communicating this complexity has its own value. It educates the media and “punters” (people like me) into science (a hidden benefit of Climate Change in general!). And there’s little doubt in my mind that the mainstream media, as much due to cut backs, with journalists and editors losing their jobs, as due to editorial policy or anything else, is currently weak when it comes to most scientific issues, at a time when one would like to see the opposite. I’m not saying there isn’t some good science journalism around—there’s heaps. Just that, often when it matters, there are a lot of misunderstandings across these two very different worlds. This is partly because what counts as a “fact”—to put it bluntly—is very different for a journalist or a scientist (or editor, or politician, or businessperson, or you or I). It’s obviously a question of different “interests”, in more or less an innocent sense (to begin with anyway).

In the middle of all this, complex points don’t always help a debate about the reality of Climate Change within the public sphere. We know this debate should be over by now, but it doesn’t quite seem to be. The sceptics arguments are like zombies that keep coming back. Here a ‘quirky’ (if not corporate funded think tank fed) sceptic, with a few pat answers in nice sound bites, and what is usually some very shonky “science” will often win hands down (in media terms). This is if they can get a “seat at the table” (the first aim of sceptics and organization promoting them—see SourceWatch, by the way, for an account of who is behind many of these organizations and individuals) and “create a bit of doubt” (the second aim—especially when most of us don’t want to change things too much in our everyday lives, and politicians will use any excuse, emotionally, not to have to face the political changes required), selling a few books in the meantime.

Interestingly, for my money, the blogging community has been much better (and often much worse) on this issue—and for all sides of the debates (you can aggregate the blogs I read on this with this link). One of my favourite bloggers in the world for several years has been Deltoid (Tim Lambert, again at my university, UNSW). I was lucky enough to interview him recently for a research project on the social uses of new media. The combative side of me has very much enjoyed his engagement with mainstream media, especially his series of entertaining posts, ‘The War On Science’ (by another Australian newspaper), now up to post 39. Via Deltoid, this week I’ve read the blog Larvatus Prodeo’s wonderful send up of the “rules” that sceptics use for evidence relating to Climate Change, another good summary of how things work in the debate. Just as interesting of late has been the forced take down from YouTube of a video critical of many of the sceptic Anthony Watts’ claims. George Monbiot’s blog puts this in the broader context of claims of media censorship. Meanwhile, as always, if you want to read some real but accessible science about Climate Change, go to RealClimate.

This Week in Climate Change

Other discussions that I’ve come across in the past week:

* The military thinking hard about climate change in terms of the challenges to security it provides, leading to a ‘new security paradigm‘ (the article is interesting on the way that the military can think very imaginatively about the long term). This article is on the interesting OpenDemocracy site.

* From The Guardian, ‘Revealed: the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide‘. This is about spy satellite photos showing the extent to which polar ice is disappearing.

* Sociologists are starting to think seriously about Climate Change in the social context. Then there’s Elinor Ostrom call for analysts to take on board the full complexity of ’social-ecological systems’, something to which complex media events only add.

* A bit more off beat but related to the above—’ten thinking traps exposed‘.  It’s worth reading this, just to get thinking about the way in which media tend to reinforce common habits of thought, instead of working as critically as people sometimes claim. Of course, this is what is used by savvy persons wishing to muddy the possibility of action on issues such as Climate Change. Here’s a more specific article by George Lakoff on framing the Climate Change debate. More generally again, I think this is kind of interesting—‘why you’re stuck in a narrative’, about our need to turn everything into a story, and when this might be counter-productive. This seems very basic to media production, journalism and media engagements.

* Also off the beaten track perhaps, but I think relevant, is the question of affect and politics. I just found an excellent course online, with great links (this is not about climate change however—just generally about affect and politics .. but I digress).

* Some of the ways that university research and politics come together. Here the ANU determines that ‘current emissions targets won’t stop climate change‘. This seems critical of the government, but here’s how the government takes it up, as critical of the opposition. And there’s been a lot of debate about green jobs for young people, a promise with which Prime Minister Rudd opened the recent Labor Party conference.

What to do

Of course, the real problem everyone faces is how to reconcile all these complex issues and investments with the size and urgency of the problem (one that could easily be reaching a ‘tipping point’ of no return in which feedback amplifies the problem very quickly). The obvious issue is what to do—now—and how to do it (or for some, how to stop or delay something happening, if it damages their business interests, their jobs, or their political power). This is where things get really complicated, but very interesting. This is echoed in the media uses involved.

There are lots of groups, sites, collective, activists, concerned scientists, think tanks, industry lobbyists, individuals serious and wacky, institutes, research centres, political parties, local councils, etc etc … all trying to grapple with these problems. And all of these want access to the media. Some example of events/groups (some of the events here and soon):

* The United Nations Copenhagen Climate Change conference in December this year will bring all of these together. When I went to the front page just then I found a picture of the Australian Prime Minister, accompanied by a discussion of the importance of Australia’s commitment to action on climate change.

* In fact there was already a non-UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen this year, in March. It was at this conference that scientists suggested things were getting more worrying, and Climate Change happening quicker, than they thought (interesting discussion of this by Mike Hulme).

* The Copenhagen conference is going to be surrounded by analysis and activism. Here’s one short analysis from OpenDemocracy. Here’s one activist group. Here a group helping other groups get together—the Copenhagen Climate Network iForum.

* Activism, democracy and political organization: see for example Avaaz, and Get Up, Al Gore’s work, Repower America, Greening Campaign (UK), 100 months, Worldchanging, Care2Action, and many more .. then there are broader based groups/sites such as Evolver or Inhabitat

* At UNSW, August 26, ‘Climate Action: How Citizens Acting Together Can Save the Planet‘, Free Symposium and Book Launch.

* 2 Degrees: Art, Activism and Climate Emergency—4.30-6pm, Wednesday 12 August, 2009 .. Gallery 4A, 181-187 Hay Street, Sydney (between Pitt and George Streets

* The exhibition Transclimatic about Climate Change and Design.

A more bizarre experience this week was the ultra-conservative LaRouche group campaigning at the front gate of UNSW, with placards reading “Carbon Trading Caps are Genocide”.(If you want to know what/who LaRouche is—and it’s a group that many people find worrying—check out

Thoughout all this it’s clear that the main questions are shifting towards what we can do, and this question in turn towards social organization (and new forms of this). Social media are proving to be particularly effective in this regard.

Industry, Democracy and Climate Change

There are of course problems when it comes to social change and Climate Change, as we all know but try to keep to the back of our thoughts.

I was reading Italian activist Franco Berardi (Bifo)’s book on Félix Guattari this week. Both Bifo and Guattari are/were long concerned with the environment. Bifo seems to capture both the history of our current dilemma and the complexity of the questions now involved when it comes to what we can do—with this, about the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992.

The alternative between returning to a livable dimension of the natural environment and maintaining the rhythm of development and consumption to which Western public opinion has become accustomed is a chokehold that the political class is absolutely unable to loosen. (Berardi, Franco Félix Guattari: Thought, Friendship, and Visionary Cartography London:Palgrave, 2009:25)

That’s it in a nutshell. I was talking to a friend on Friday about this (they will have to remain nameless) but we were suggesting that, especially in the light of the “financial crisis”, there is now a reluctance to criticise social conditions/economics assumptions etc on the part of many (including many scientists), when it comes to Climate Change. We “must” have the Capitalism we’re used to, the lifestyle we’re used to, our old habits, and make major adjustments at the same time. There is of course much anger about this series of attachments on the part of many others (generally speaking, the younger the more so perhaps).

Even this quick snapshot, however, shows us that in the end everyone is going to have to change habits, question assumptions, etc: politicians, business people, scientists and media. And soon ..

.. and of course much of this in the end relates to issues of habit, of affect, of how we come to do what we do in everyday life, whether we are politicians or just living our suburban life.

Many more links from my Delicious page on Climate Change, Media, Society and Politics

Some more links that I’ve found about very recent events, with some generally useful sites thrown in:

A very revealing “non-debate” between George Monbiot and Australian sceptic Ian Plimer. See also here and here (on how sceptic’s bad science is picked up in mainstream media)

SourceWatch’s Climate Change Portal (very useful, and includes a section on ‘becoming a citizen journalist on climate change’)

You might like to look up various institutions via Sourcewatch—try the conservative Heartland Institute (read the Sourcewatch account here, it’s very interesting)—this recently convinced Australia’s Steven Fielding to become a sceptic (this links to the interesting Crikey site—independent Australian news review); Science and Public Policy Institute (Sourcewatch account); Christopher Monckton (Sourcewatch account); or more pertinent to Australia’s interests, see this article on Jennifer Marohasy and the Institute of Public Affairs and follow the links through (Sourcewatch on Jennifer Marohasy, on the Institute of Public Affairs) .. to balance all this, even if you’re a sceptic yourself, you might also check out the Australia Institute and Clive Hamilton. Here’s a debate between Jennifer Marohasy and Clive Hamilton. And after all these sites—you can see how complex the various battles over “facts” are .. and why you need to do some delving deeper into claims and counter-claims, and some thinking about how you might get through to what’s really going on.

UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre

CSIRO 2007 report on Australia (see also this) (BBC on Sydney)

(map of world 4° warmer from New Scientist)

Climate Action Network (this page is on International Policy .. some explanations, eg of the Kyoto protocol)

Conservative rejoicing in the number of Americans who don’t think Climate Change is caused by human activity.

Animals are evolving already to try to adapt to Climate Change (seems too quick to me but I guess it’s a speeding up of natural selection in drastic circumstances)

Finally, here’s a good recent YouTube video, highlighting the  links between data, science, sceptics and politicians.

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