The media’s schizophrenia on climate change

For those of us who follow these things, it was not really a surprise to see a headline in the Journal, over Christmas, claiming that Irish winters likely to become wetter and warmer without significant climate action:

IRELAND CAN EXPECT more intense storms and wetter winters as global temperatures rise due to climate change, according to a meteorologist.

Overall, as greenhouse gas emissions push up the temperature of the planet, Ireland is gradually seeing hotter weather on average in all seasons, with winters likely to become warmer and wetter if the climate crisis is not mitigated.

This makes sense, to some extent, until you remember the golden rule: Climate Change, when reported from the media, will always make whatever the present trend in the weather is much more regular and extreme. Are you having a hot summer? Then it is a racing certainty that you will get an article suggesting that Climate Change will bring warmer summers. Are you having a cold winter? Then be prepared for many more cold winters to come. Are you having a mild winter? Well, just read the Journal.

Is it windy? Climate change will deliver more wind.

There’s no rule to it, except whatever people are talking about at the time: If people are talking about the heat, then it’s climate change. Cold, climate change. Rain, climate change. Drought? Climate change.

The paradox here, of course, is that all of this is activist journalism, with an activist intent. The idea of it is to connect, in your poor, fool mind, the current weather you are experiencing with the bigger picture. The purpose of the articles is to make the connection in your brain between a wet day in June, and the need to pay more carbon taxes. The objective is not really to tell you what scientists think. The objective is to make you think the way the journalist thinks.

Why is that a paradox? It’s a paradox because, ultimately, when you play the same trick for too long, people start to notice.

We can say, for example, with some certainty, that Climate Change will not deliver progressively warmer winters, as reported by the Journal in December 2021, and progressively colder ones, as reported by the Irish Times in August 2021. Those two articles, just four months apart, can definitionally not both be right. It is also very hard to believe that the timing of the December one was coincidental, given the unseasonably mild weather over Christmas.

If both articles can not be right, and both articles were also drawn up by reporting the views of climate scientists, it also follows, by definition, that at least one climate scientist must be wrong.

The problem, of course, is that saying in any media outlet that a climate scientist, of all people, might be wrong is about as close as we get in Ireland to modern heresy.

The truly progressive position is to believe the science. And if the science says warmer winters, it must be right. And if the science says colder winters, it must also be right. And if both of those cannot be true, and you say so, then it is possible that you might be a climate denier.

This is schizophrenia. It is a disorder. It is an almost frantic obsession with connecting whatever the facts on the ground on a given day are (the weather) with what you expect the facts on the ground to be in thirty years (everything ranging from mass extinction, to mild discomfort).

What it is not, though, is intellectually honest or consistent journalism.

Consistent journalism would not just echo these contradictions, but push to explore the reasons for them, and explain them. The answer, if you push scientists for the reason behind the contradictions is likely to be “well, there are a range of possible outcomes from climate change, and we are not really sure”.

But that poses a problem for journalists, because unlike the scientists, the journalists are sure. They’re sure a disaster is coming, and they need you to act.

And that, my friends, is why the golden rule of climate reporting in Ireland will endure forever: Whatever the weather is this week, climate change is causing it, and it will get worse.

It’s not journalism at all. It’s something a lot more like those end times preachers who insist, perennially, that the world is on the brink of an end. And it is already undermining confidence in journalism itself, and will continue to do so.

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