Separating Fake News from Facts: How to be a Smart Consumer of Climate News
By Julia Renner, Programs Fellow
A few fast facts:
97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
58% of Americans believe that humans are causing climate change.
57% of Americans are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ worried about climate change.
…but only 13% are aware of the strong scientific consensus about human-induced climate change.
Where is the disconnect coming from – why aren’t Americans receiving accurate information?
Climate Science or Climate Silence?
In spite of the fact that climate change-related natural disasters have become more common and climate change is accelerating, major TV news outlets have decreased the amount of time they spend covering climate change, and some prominent channels present misleading information 81% to 93% of the time. Is the media presenting climate science, or climate silence?
With the range of viewpoints presented in the media and the rise of “fake news”, it can be difficult to know what news to trust. Becoming a smart consumer of climate change news empowers you to think critically about the media that you encounter, and to draw conclusions based on the facts.
Media Reporting: The Facts and the Consequences
The media often strives for ‘balanced reporting’: presenting arguments from both sides of an issue. However, when scientific consensus is as overwhelming as it is with climate change–97% of climate scientists are in agreement–presenting it as a controversial issue is more like biased reporting than balanced reporting. Climate change skeptics cited in the media are often linked to the fossil fuel industry, and benefit from sowing doubt about the reality of climate change.
Inaccurate reporting is harmful because media serves as the main source of information about climate change. It informs how we think about these issues, how we talk about them, and how we vote. Inaccurate media messages and false balance in journalism result in confusion and uncertainty about climate change–an issue that impacts our environment, economy, and society.
What Can I Do? Steps to Being a Smart Media Consumer
To be a smart consumer of climate news, ask yourself some of these questions when you encounter a story:
- What source is the story coming from? Is it academic, a government site, an organization pushing for a specific viewpoint or cause?
- Who is the audience of this media? Who is the speaker?
- What biases or assumptions might the creators of this media hold?
- Is this a story about objective science, or about policy and values?
- Who stands to gain or lose something from the message this media is sending?
- What sources is this media citing? Are they generally respected? Do these sources have a financial or political agenda?
- Do the claims this media is making line up with claims made in other, non-partisan sources?
Be on the lookout for these red flags of bad reporting:
- Providing statistics, graphics, or visual aids without giving context or explanation
- Failing to provide sources for claims
- Using non-credible or biased sources like opinion pieces
- Referencing an ‘expert’ without giving their credentials
Even of Americans who are concerned about climate change, only 33% regularly discuss it with friends and family. Help increase that percentage by talking about the news you read with friends and family, even if they haven’t expressed an interest in learning or talking about climate change. Being a smart media consumer empowers you to be a resource for other people.
About the author: Julia Renner is a senior at Northeastern University, majoring in environmental science with concentrations in marine and conservation science and a minor in English. She has previously worked as a Commonwealth Wind Fellow at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and conducted ecological research at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center and the Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute in Galway, Ireland. Julia is interested in climate policy, carbon pricing, and climate adaptation and resilience. In her free time she can be found outside running, biking, scuba diving, and spending time on the seashores around Boston.