The Clash Over Climate Change
The earth's temperature hit a new high in 2016, breaking all previous records. At the same time, rapid acceleration of melting Arctic sea ice, a searing drought in Africa, and increased bleaching of coral reefs sounded the alarm that radical action is needed to avert disaster.
With such evidence continuing to mount and so much at stake for the future of the planet, nothing less than a complete overhaul of our resource-depleting, carbon-spewing economic system is needed. As Naomi Klein writes in her seminal work on climate change, This Changes Everything: "because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us."
While many people today accept the scientific evidence that climate change is a grave threat that requires immediate action, there are still those who ardently deny that it exists. A recent example is found in an article by James Delingpole published in the British journal The Spectator last year.
Delingpole focused on the climatological issue of ocean water becoming more acid, a phenomenon considered a key indicator of climate change. Delingpole quotes a variety of sources who disparage the whole notion of ocean acidification as a hoax. He thus argues that millions upon millions of dollars have been wasted on bogus research by those simply seeking to enrich themselves.
When Anything Goes
Phillip Williamson, a scientist with the National Environmental Research Council with considerable expertise on the topic of ocean acidification, was outraged by Delingpole's article and demanded that The Spectator retract the errors. When his demands were rejected by the magazine, Williamson lodged a formal complaint with the International Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent newspaper and magazine regulator in the UK.
Williamson’s complaint was rejected by the IPSO on the grounds that The Spectator article was not a news report but a “comment piece.” The IPSO also responded that it was not in the business of resolving conflicting evidence for contentious issues, and that the author was entitled to express his point of view in a commentary.
Frustrated by this assessment, Williamson voiced his objection in “Science Loses Out to Uninformed Opinion on Climate Change – Yet Again" published in The Conversation. Williamson explained that the ISPO’s conclusion that Delingpole's article was a "commentary" came at the expense of accuracy and journalistic responsibility. “Does this really mean that anything goes if it is presented, however tenuously, as ‘comment’ or ‘opinion’?” he wrote.
Williamson cited the IPSO’s "Editor’s Code of Practice" as something to be taken seriously. This policy recommends that, “The press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.” Delingpole's piece made no such distinction, and was published as a feature report rather than an "opinion" or "commentary."
How can it be that such a serious issue as climate change can be so thoroughly dismissed in such a widely circulated publication as The Spectator? According to New York Times writer Amanda Taub the problem is part of a growing form of partisan tribalism, where allegiance to one's group and vilification of the opposition is all that matters. "Partisan tribalism makes people more inclined to seek out and believe stories that justify their pre-existing partisan biases, whether or not they are true," she writes in "The Real Story About Fake News is Partisanship."
In short, deeply entrenched biases are causing every fact to be viewed and evaluated through a "partisan prism," contributing to vastly different realities. This not only applies to the heated disagreements over whether climate change is real, but just about everything else!
Society is being made up of a growing number of "true believers" who vociferously ignore or reject facts that disagree with their group's beliefs, and accept everything—no matter how unsupported—that is in line with those beliefs. Naomi Klein had explained how this reality-shaping phenomenon works in terms of not just political interests but economic interests. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something," she writes, "when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
In the meantime, the world hurtles toward oblivion.
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