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The Reporting of Global Warming by the Media

Shrinking polar ice caps, retreating glaciers, and changing weather patterns may all point to ‘’global warming’’; a potentially catastrophic increase of worldwide temperatures linked to the human activities of deforestation, and fossil fuel combustion, that increase atmospheric levels of so-called ‘‘greenhouse gasses’’ (including carbon dioxide and methane).

Vast amounts of experimental data have enabled supercomputers to predict the possible scenarios arising from this, which are then reported in the media to a mostly ‘’non-scientific’’ audience that require a ‘’translation’’ of the facts, a process that may result in misleading ‘’sensationalism’’ that could, in time, desensitize the public, encouraging a ‘business as usual’ attitude. This paper comments on 4 articles covering global warming and highlights the problems of reporting the issue.

Global Warming 3 Global Warming Flash floods, severe droughts, and ice-free Polar Regions, not a great diagnosis for our planet, but this is what could occur if climate change proceeds unchecked. The term ‘’Global Warming’’ has become firmly established in everyday use, with governments and scientists debating the causes, effects and possible outcomes whilst working towards realistic solutions, during which, they are followed by the world’s media who inform the general populous of the latest developments.

However, the evaluation of 4 articles on climate change in this report highlights the ways in which this issue is handled, and although most stick to the scientific ‘’facts’’, variations in their analysis of future events can occur. This discrepancy may be due to the computer-generated models that rely on input data, the choice of inclusion of the most relevant datasets being difficult, and thus leading to differing predictions, with questions over which is the most reliable.

Two simulations, for instance, could disagree on the timescale for the disappearance of Arctic summer ice by as much as 30 years. Other factors such as human activities – how we respond to global warming, can also have a bearing, if we simply do nothing, then the Arctic ice cap may shrink by up to three quarters by the year 2100, and still be melting, but if we act now by cutting greenhouse gas emissions then only a quarter would be lost, and the rest would stabilise, other unknowns, such as how the planet will react, though, for example, altered cloud cover, could also affect predictions.

The articles agree that urgent action is required with the best solutions aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reducing deforestation rates as they all acknowledge the weight of scientific evidence in support of global warming arising from increased amounts of ‘’greenhouse gasses’’ in the atmosphere caused mainly by the loss of rainforests and the combustion of fossil fuels. They also accept that rising sea levels, disappearance of polar ice caps, altered meteorological patterns, and changes in human-disease distribution will occur, however, it is the precise details of ‘’what is to come’’, that continues to be debated.

Howden, 2007 (The Independent) addressed deforestation, claiming that the burning of rainforests to clear land for agriculture produces around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so curbing this practice may provide a ‘’cheap and immediate solution’’ to the problem, and that if we ‘’lose the rainforests, then we lose our fight against climate change’’. A questionable point, for instance, the oceans contain a vast abundance of microscopic photo-synthesisers that may, along with tree replanting programs (discussed later) may be sufficient to reduce the effects of the diminishing tropical forests.

The solution of reduced deforestation may not be so simple; many political, financial and social problems arise. Some countries are not ‘’well off’’, having few natural resources, with ‘’standing trees’’ providing no income, thus making farming a far more attractive option, especially through international markets. A cessation of agriculture would therefore require financial compensation; however, the farmer may employ many local people, thus helping sustain the immediate economy.

Socially, employment brings more than just money, it provides a feeling of self worth and purpose, not to mention respect and hope for the future, the political map will also alter; new administrations may take alternative views and demand changes to previous agreements. Global Warming 4 A UCAR (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research) report, April 2009, used computer models to highlight that a 70% cut in greenhouse gases this century could greatly diminish the threat of global warming, so saving polar ice and permafrost, and reducing predicted sea level rises. But implementing this could be difficult as the around ?

of all emissions come from power production, and so, ‘’greener’’ alternatives would be required, a huge task, but many developed countries have already signed up to pledges that reduce their carbon emissions, instead, it could be the financially impoverished, or developing countries who may be unable, or, reluctant to sign treaties as alternative ‘‘cleaner’’ forms of energy production may be inappropriate for their region (wind or wave power), insufficient to meet their energy needs, require the installation of the relevant infrastructure, or require the updating of aging industrial equipment, all of which would call for huge foreign investment. Additionally, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions may have to go hand-in-hand with reduced deforestation and extensive tree replanting programs before benefits are realised.

O’Driscoll & Vergano, 2007 (USA Today) reported the ‘’virtual certainty’’ that the combustion of fossil fuels are to blame for global warming, citing many research articles, and claiming that some warming is ‘’inevitable’’ even if we stopped burning these fuels now. Some American states are reducing automobile emissions but the benefits may be insignificant as the emissions from burning large quantities of fossil fuels for power production may easily conceal any gains, therefore, moves towards cleaner, greener forms of energy such as tidal, wind, and solar power are welcome but cannot at present, or possibly ever, provide sufficient power to totally replace the current system, a problem that has led some countries to increase investment in the less socially popular nuclear power production. Butler, 2009 (Mongabay.

com) reports many grim figures from the 1990’s and points to it being the warmest decade of the millennium, however, early meteorological records and past climate assessment methods may not be as accurate as modern instruments, but regardless, a period of warming did occur in this period, but was this a ‘’blip’’, or an unexplained phenomenon conveniently blamed on global warming. The article suggests more tree planting, but admits there is no quick fix. However, reforestation could cause problems as many countries have cleared forests for development and agriculture so may lack the space for such projects, the remaining areas may be unsuitable (bog land, mountains, tundra) and with more deciduous varieties at the higher latitudes, being dormant for part of the year, the overall carbon-consuming rates may be lower than occurs at the tropics – growing trees consume more CO2 than mature ones, so replanting forests with saplings may be helpful.

In conclusion, global warming is a widely accepted phenomenon with governments and scientists working towards workable solutions, the media also play an important role relaying information to the public, but exactly what is reported and how, has a bearing on how it is perceived, with misinformation and sensationalism causing concern, but in the long term, people ‘’get used’’ to hearing such stories and tend to ‘’switch off’’, thus reducing the seriousness of the issue to the general population, therefore, there is a strong requirement for accurate and careful reporting on this topic. Global Warming 5 References Mongabay. com. (2009, May 14). Impact of deforestation – Atmospheric roles of forests.

Retrieved May 18 2009, from http://rainforests. mongabay. com/ The Independent. (2007, May 14). Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming. Retrieved May 18 2009, from http://www. independent. co. uk/environment/climate- change/deforestation-the-hidden-cause-of-global-warming-448734. html UCAR. (2009, April 14). Cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would save Arctic ice, reduce sea level rise. Retrieved May 18 2009, from http://www. ucar. edu/news/releases/2009/greenhousecuts. jsp USA Today. (2007, March 1). Fossil fuels are to blame, world scientists conclude. Retrieved May 18 2009, from http://www. usatoday. com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2007- 01-30-ipcc-report_x. htm

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