The US media provides a false balance on the problem of the climate crisis. Something similar happens in Spain.

Rachel Wetts researcher at the Institute of Environment and Society at Brown University (USA).

Which people are most likely to receive coverage in the US media for talking about climate change? This is the question that Rachel Wetts, professor at the Institute of Environment and Society at Brown University (USA), asked herself and with which she began an investigation whose results are not encouraging at all.

Messages opposing climate action have received roughly the twice the visibility in the US media, if compared with the messages that advocate the call to act against its devastating effects. This trend has remained the same for the past 30 years, the period covered by Wetts’ work published by the magazine PNAS.

However, this is not something that takes her by surprise. It is in line with a broader body of research suggesting that journalistic standards of equidistance and objectivity have led mainstream media outlets to provide a false balance on the problem of the climate crisis.

Is it a trend in both conservative and liberal newspapers?

Previous studies have shown that the print and television media have historically overrepresented the degree of disagreement on the scientific basis for global warming, giving a small number of opposing scientists greater prominence and legitimacy. However, it has recently been debated whether this pattern is a thing of the past, whether journalists have learned their lesson, so to speak. It has also been said that, in reality, this over-representation of opponents of climate action is limited to the conservative media.

My findings go against both of these conclusions. Opponents of climate action are overrepresented even in The New York Times And it continues even after climate change rose to prominence in the mid-2000s.

What reasons could be behind the low representation of scientific communications, compared to the messages that encourage not to act against this crisis?

The first thing you think is that organizations that specialize in science and technology would be considered more authoritative to speak about the scientific basis of the climate crisis and therefore would gain more visibility in the media. But it is the opposite. One possible explanation is that they may be using dry, technical language, which is unlikely to appeal to audiences. In this way, journalists would search other sources for messages that are more likely to attract their readers.

Is there a manifest interest of these newspapers with some of the companies that publish communication against climate action?

I did not investigate whether there were direct financial ties or conflicts of interest between the newspapers and the authors of these messages. That is an interesting question for future research.

What kind of news is it that encourages you not to act against climate change? Because, apparently, the newspapers echo the social movements and scientific news about it.

Of course. There are different types of messages that argue against climate action. The former question the reality or severity of global warming, or whether it is caused by humans. These messages say that climate change is not happening, that it is not a big deal, or that there is really nothing we can do about it. They imply that there is no need to take individual or societal measures to address this problem. It is a message that is not backed by climate science.

The other is to say well, maybe it’s a problem, but there are other reasons why we shouldn’t address it. For example, it will be bad for the economy, too costly for taxpayers, drive up the price of energy, or cost too many jobs.

Which in some cases is true, but with nuances …

It may be true, unlike the first type of message. Here it is a question of values ​​and priorities (and not scientific facts) whether we should take climate action despite the costs, in the interests of protecting human lives and the natural world. Furthermore, there are also some methods of tackling the climate crisis that try to deal with this criticism by tackling warming in ways that simultaneously create jobs and stimulate the economy to pursue economic growth, social justice and environmental sustainability at the same time. That is the central appeal, for example, of proposals like the Green New Deal.

Is the political influence of this type of message alarming?

Yes it is. Increased media coverage of the perspectives of the industry and opponents of climate action could lead to a decrease in the political will to act. They are one explanation for the stagnation of national policy on climate change in the US Broadly speaking, business interests have a disproportionate influence on shaping political debates in contemporary American democracy.

Have you been puzzled that this is the current trend?

The results are disappointing in some ways, but also surprising and encouraging in others. In particular, I find that there is a broad consensus that we should act as a society to address this problem. This includes businesses: more than 80% of those participating in the climate change debate want to see action on this issue. This consensus is hopeful and sadly being lost in the media, as journalistic accounts attempt to highlight conflict and opposing perspectives.

Are we distorting the message the media?

My findings indicate that media coverage distorts the range of civil society voices, who are trying to be heard and overwhelmingly supportive of the action. Opposing messages are quite rare, even among businesses, but they are twice as likely to be in the news. There is a distorted picture of what groups in American society think. This distortion may be one of the reasons why it has been difficult to maintain political will.

What kinds of companies and businesses have the most presence in this news against climate action?

Messages from business coalitions and very large companies receive more media coverage than those from other types of organizations. This finding is consistent with the idea that companies and industries that are perceived as important to the economy generally have greater power in American democracy.