US media wakes up to climate change

Posted: 29 March 2006

The media worldwide is paying more and more attention to the realities of climate change, with the London Independent newspaper, for example, giving it front page and lengthy inside page coverage in recent days. Now, it seems, the US media is finally waking up, as the Worldwatch Institute reports.

In a remarkable shift with far-reaching policy implications, prominent US news organizations are declaring the debate on climate change "over." This week's cover story in Time magazine and all-week coverage by ABC News' 'World News Tonight' both acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming. As the Time story says, "By any measure, Earth is at the tipping point.... Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us."

Melting glaciers and mounting scientific evidence appear to have persuaded many journalists and editors to abandon their tendency to portray the issue as an unsettled controversy. Revelations that the Bush Administration altered government studies and muzzled experts also spurred the media's conversion, along with reports that ExxonMobil and other oil companies sought deliberately to convince the public of ongoing scientific uncertainty.

The media now notes that many climate 'sceptics' are funded by the fossil fuel industry, and that oil company lobbyists have assumed key positions in the White House and government agencies in recent years. Yet some groups are still fighting to convince the public that the climate debate is justified, in response to a recent partnership between Environmental Defense and the Ad Council to run public service announcements on the crisis.

Focus on solutions

Now that the US media is declaring the climate debate dead, policymakers in the world's largest carbon-emitting nation must focus on effective solutions. Worldwatch's State of the World 2006 report notes that the United States must work with the international community, and with China and India in particular, to ensure adequate energy supplies for all while simultaneously transitioning away from fossil fuels.

At last year's World Petroleum Congress, Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin announced that the world is at an "energy tipping point," with production of biofuels, wind power, and solar energy all growing at rates of 20-30 per cent per year, compared with growth rates of 2 per cent for oil and gas.

Increased policy support for renewable energy, together with high oil and gas prices, could provoke a true energy revolution in the next few years. According to a recent Stanford University poll, the American public is ready: 85 per cent of respondents agreed that human-induced climate change is occurring, and 65 per cent believed the government should do more to stop it. Another poll by the Pew Research Center found that 82 per cent of Americans support increased federal research on solar and wind energy-with Republicans voicing even greater support than Democrats.

Worldwatch Institute's website can be found at www.worldwatch.org