Media and Climate Change: A strained relationship

Beware the power of the flippant headline writer.

The Metro News is certainly not the place to look for in-depth news, I know. But I must comment on this morning’s Toronto edition of the paper, which had a story about the warm and, so far, snowless spring unfurling in southern Ontario.

The story was generally about the perils of an early spring on insects and the birds and mice that depend on them. Fair enough.

But the headline to the story was Don’t Blame Climate Change.

Why was that the headline? Because buried in the last few lines of the story, a University of Toronto professor claimed, with obvious justification, that you cannot easily link climate change with short-term weather events and stories like this.  

Most scientists would be careful enough to make the exact same point: One should never pinpoint a weather event and claim it is specifically caused by a longer term climate process. However, as we now know despite a gaggle of deniers (hello Heartland Institute), most scientists agree that our climate is warming. As a result, scientists can and do speak of weather trends like, you guessed it, earlier springs and snowmelts.  

Which brings me back to that headline this morning.

Scientists and environmentalists have always had trouble with the media’s treatment of complex issues, while ‘headlines’ are usually sensationalist by definition. But in the Metro‘s article linked above, the headline is not just an oversimplification of scientific notions to attract readers, it doesn’t even relate to the rest of the article.

Some adventurous backroom editor decided that ‘Spring comes early to Toronto’ wouldn’t have enough impact, and borrowed from the controversial topic of the day for a bigger splash. It’s up to us to read between the lines for substance, buried in there somewhere.  



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