1638 Exaggerating Denialism: Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change

Monday, February 22, 2010: 10:05 AM
Room 11A (San Diego Convention Center)
Maxwell T. Boykoff , University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
This presentation aims to draw discussions toward more textured understandings of how and why disproportionate media visibility has been provided for outlier views on various issues in climate science and governance. For the purposes of this panel, I focus my attention on views often dubbed ‘climate denialists’ (or ‘climate contrarians’). Mass media are important interpreters of climate science and policy information. However, connections between media information and behavioral change are not straightforward. Coverage certainly does not determine engagement; rather, it shapes their possibilities. Media representations – from news to entertainment – are critical links between people’s everyday realities and experiences, and the ways in which these are discussed at a distance between science, policy and public actors. Amid these dynamics resides a set of questions regarding who are deemed authorized in the media to make sense of, translate and speak on behalf of climate change. Outlier voices have gained more prominence and traction in mass media over time through a mix of political economic, cultural, and social factors. Moreover, institutional workings of mass media – such as journalistic norms, values and practices – can contribute to such patterns. Through these processes, all too often many media reports – from daily print media to radio, television and internet stories – conflate the vast and varied terrain of climate science and policy as a unified issue. To the extent that mass media – and claims-makers (focusing on ‘climate denialists’) who find discursive traction here – fuse these issues into gestalt as ‘the climate change debate’, they contribute to ongoing illusory, misleading and counterproductive debates within the public and policy communities, and the collective publics are poorly served. There are issues within climate change where agreement is strong and convergent agreement dominates, while in other spaces contentious disagreement garners worthwhile debate and discussion. Clearly, the role of the journalist is not that of a parrot. Choices about how to represent various aspects of climate science and policy through the media are dynamic and subjective. Interpretations as well as perspectives – contingent on available information and contextual social factors – matter. Nonetheless, I will ultimately argue that many ‘climate denialist’ interventions have proven (often deliberately) detrimental to efforts that seek to enlarge rather than constrict the spectrum of possibility for appropriate responses to ongoing climate challenges.