There's an old joke, maybe best known from Woody Allen film Annie Hall: "Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, 'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'"
I think about that when I see corporate media coverage of climate change. There's not much of it, and sometimes you might wish there was even less.
Take the September 26 CBS Evening News report about climate change, sort of sneak peek at the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
The tease at the top of the broadcast didn't sound good: "Is the world getting warmer? On the eve of a major new report on climate change, Mark Phillips reports a surprising discovery." And the headline: "Globe Not Warming as Previously Thought: UN Report" doesn't inspire confidence either.
Anchor Scott Pelley explained:
Scientists working with the United Nations have been poring over data on climate and greenhouse gases. Their report is due out tomorrow. But anyone expecting it to show steadily rising air temperatures could be in for a surprise.
Now it's not clear that anyone should expect that the report would show this. But suggesting that this is what you would expect to find serves to advance a long-running, completely inaccurate meme among climate change deniers–that global warming has stopped.
Now, a helpful report would debunk this notion. But CBS correspondent Mark Phillips doesn't really seem to be after that.
He starts off sounding, well, pretty cheeky:
Another inconvenient truth has emerged on the way to the apocalypse. The new UN report on climate change is expected to blame manmade greenhouse gases more than ever for global warming, but there's a problem. The global atmosphere hasn't been warming lately.
There are two problems here. The first is the notion that there hasn't been much warming "lately." That's misleading. As Chris Mooney explained at Mother Jones (8/28/13), temperatures have been rising every decade since the 1950s. He writes:
Okay, so it's clearly misleading to say the planet has stopped warming. What's actually going on? It's pretty nuanced: According to the leaked IPCC draft report, the rate of warming at the planet's surface (technically, the "global mean surface temperature") is lower over the last 15 years, kind of like a car easing off the accelerator. The draft states that the rate of surface warming from 1998-2012 was 0.05 degrees Celsius per decade. But over the entire period from 1951 to 2012, it was 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade.
CBS presented its own graphic to back up its claim the the planet's temperature isn't increasing–though, taking the long view, it actually shows the planet getting warmer.
After this misleading introduction, the show turns to Brian King of the National Oceanographic Centre in Britain to explain that, well, you can measure warming in more ways than air temperature. The world's oceans, for example, have warmed considerably.
At this point, we'd have a news report that started off with a false premise but more or less corrected it.
But CBS doesn't stop there. Phillips continued:
However the apparent pause in global warming is explained, it makes the task for the world's majority of climate scientists who urge urgent action now more difficult. For the skeptics, it's ammunition.
Now we already established that there is not "pause in global warming"–didn't we? Never mind, let's hear from a climate change "skeptic"! So CBS turns to British climate change skeptic Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who argues against cutting greenhouse gas emissions. His group uses a deceptive graphic to push the view that global warming has slowed down (Guardian, 12/4/09)–just like the CBS broadcast.
Phillips closed the segment by saying this: "Whatever happens to the temperature, the climate change debate is about to heat up."
With reports like this, that debate is bound to be pretty frustrating.