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Mental Stress: Is It Climate Change Or Climate Misreporting?

The Lukewarmer's Way

Major news organisations are contributing to what the Portland Press Herald describes as: “fear, despair, a sense of being overwhelmed or powerless.”

Maine’s Portland Press Herald published a long and thoughtful piece on the reactions of Americans to our changing climate. Unlike some pieces in the media that are dashed off with a couple of taglines, the story went into depth, did some research and accurately reported on the results. Although the central subject of the interview was a climate activist, the story did a fair job, noting that and the fact that most people are not like her.

The phenomenon the story reported was the negative mental reaction–the stress–some people experience as a result of climate change. With all due respect to the Herald, I think they could have explored another potential cause for this stress–inaccurate reporting of news about climate change.

As the story says, “When you’re feeling sad, mad or bad, reading about deadly heat waves in Pakistan and India, or flaming rain forests in Washington state, or the epic El Niño on the way is not a pick-me-up.” Bad news is never a pick-me-up. What makes these stories worse is the inaccurate tie-in to human caused climate change. Heat waves in Pakistan and India are hardly new. Neither are forest fires in the Pacific Northwest or strong El Ninos.

When Salon headlines a piece “This is a climate-change nightmare: Droughts rage and fires burn, while evil ALEC and hapless Democrats dither” it contributes to stress. Droughts don’t ‘rage’, and drought conditions globally have not changed over the past century. Our current plague of forest fires is partially due to drier climates, of course, but a major contributor has been the way we managed the forests in our care. Instead of blaming the reader for causing these events, Salon could have put it in perspective by noting the historical record–more and larger forest fires preceded the era of global warming. More and more intense droughts have occurred long before we started emitting CO2.

When the Canberra Times tries to explain ‘Why Climate Change Is Australia’s Biggest National Security Issue‘, it relies on a survey of students–and doesn’t report the results. It just declares climate change ‘should be our top national security concern.’ Why? Well, they redefine national security “as safeguarding the “wellbeing” rather than “survival” of Australia – “survival” being more relevant to the Cold War era.” Australia is indeed a lucky country. The story notes that the U.S. has made climate change a national security concern, but doesn’t explain why that is relevant to Australia. The story quotes the Brits: “The British Ministry of Defence’s Strategic Trends Program: Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045 notes that “climate change, a rise in sea levels, desertification and reducing biodiversity are all issues that could affect us even more over the next 30 years. They are likely to impact on agricultural production and fishing, and could exacerbate humanitarian crises. National security impacts of climate change include major population movements, changes in disease patterns, and climate-affected changes in economic development.”

But ‘could,’ ‘likely’, ‘could (again)’ without numbers don’t constitute a threat to a nation’s national security. Again, the paper is pushing a policy position, surely its right, but relying on threats to other countries and not saying anything about the country they’re in. The effect is to add to the mental stress of the reader–at the cost of being accurate.

Regular readers will know that I could go on for days citing stories like this. However, I think it is clear that the major media organizations are contributing to what the Portland Press Herald describes as: ”

“… fear, despair, a sense of being overwhelmed or powerless. From there, the path diverges. For some, being overwhelmed inhibits “thought and action” and the next step is denial, paralysis, apathy.

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