In March 2016, the BBC reported on modelling predictions that suggest melting Antarctic sea ice could lead to significant sea level rises. Now, in November the same year, the BBC tells us there’s hardly been any change in Antarctic sea ice levels in the last 100 years.
It’s no wonder people are doubtful about the causes and likely affects of a changing climate when reporting of the issues flip-flops like this so much.
Whilst it’s probably to be expected, given that climate change research is ongoing and new findings are emerging all the time, just look at the way in which the news is presented: contrast the stark, doom-laden headline back in March to the more recent article that gives no real clue about the subject under discussion.
It’s almost as if the BBC is wilfully downplaying the more recent findings whilst using ‘clickbait’ tactics to get more views of stories that portray climate change as a real and immediate threat.
I had to dig around a bit to find the more recent piece, after watching the report on the BBC’s 10 O’clock News last night. The report from March, however, was very prominent in search engine results.
The problem with this, as I’ve pointed out in the past, is that such negative reporting of the issues risks turning people off the topic.
See interest over time on Google Trends for climate change – Worldwide, Past 5 years – here, and notice how it peaks and dips to show people’s interest in the topic waxes and wanes and is neither constant or constantly growing (the latest spike appears to relate to the election of Donald Trump as US President and questions about his commitments to climate change and the COP21 Paris Agreement).
If we want people to buy-in to the notion that human activity is accelerating natural climate change cycles so that they feel motivated to play a part in the behavioural changes needed to achieve significant emissions reductions, it’s no good presenting the worst effects of climate change as a fait accompli – or they’ll just resign themselves to it and stop trying.
And when findings emerge that appear to question earlier research, they need to be given just as much prominence and not buried on page eleventy billion of Google and Bing.
There’s an old adage about news reporting, which is that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. It’s a truism, because people are generally more attracted to bad news than good news. But that doesn’t mean that respected outlets like the BBC should play on that when it comes to reporting on climate and other important environmental issues.
Overall, I suspect it does more harm than good.