Can Newspapers Stop Global Warming?

Newspapers are disappearing faster than alpine glaciers, and a new paper by journalist-turned-public-policy scholar Eric Pooley suggests the two may be related.

Pooley’s paper argues that newspapers have failed as referees of the public debate on preventing climate change, reporting junk economics and good economics with equal weight. In these muddied waters, Pooley suggests, it’s harder for the government to push sound policy to stop global warming.

As an example, he points to the failure, last year, of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. The bill was the most serious climate-change-prevention legislation ever to make it to the Senate. It failed, Pooley argues, in part because journalists emphasized dubious claims about the short-term economic costs of reducing carbon emissions over the long-term costs of doing nothing. More rigorous reporting might have sussed out those differences and translated into more public support for climate change action.

So why don’t newspapers do better climate reporting? Editors are devoting ever fewer resources to solid climate reporting, meaning fewer journalists can stay on the beat long enough to develop the nuanced scientific understanding necessary to report fairly and accurately. And with newspaper revenues shrinking, money for good environmental reporting will be even scarcer.

Why does that matter?

Print journalism has been in decline at least since newspapers began experimenting with online journalism in the early 1980’s. But whether print news survives is beside the point. The real value of newspapers, James Warren writes in The Atlantic, is as institutions that train and support professional journalists to referee our public debates and help us make sense of the complexities of modern life:

A very shrewd journalist-entrepreneur I know, Steve Brill, asks that one just imagine walking into a library and seeing the pages of all the books scattered on the floors and stairwells. To be sure, editors are human and subjectivity plays a role, but a newspaper places those pages — and thus the news — in some sensible order.

We’ve written before about how aggressive newspaper reporting can keep members of congress more accountable to their constituents — and more likely to break with party doctrine under scrutiny of their positions.

Engaged newspapers can keep local politicians honest. But can they shape better environmental policy and help stop global warming?

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  1. Allen Reynolds says:

    What a crock! Newspapers are supposed to, like, report the news. Not get bills passed. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act failed because it was a disaster and even congress wasn’t stupid enough to further kill the economy.

    That newspapers turned into advocates, pushing a particular partisan viewpoint on climate, politics, etc. is one reason for their demise.

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  2. Kenneth says:

    This is a reach. A huge reach.

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  3. econobiker says:

    “The real value of newspapers, James Warren writes in The Atlantic, is as institutions that train and support professional journalists to referee our public debates and help us make sense of the complexities of modern life:…”

    Sorry, too late, journalism is now just another profit centered industry that is beholden to the business interests which spend on advertising or own the media outlets or sponsor the media…

    Example: If reporters were really independant and editors interested in printing real stories, they would report on the sham presidential debates run by a partisan group with business sponsors which have turned the presidential debates into a big infomercial for both the two business funded political parties. “journalists to referee our public debates” – just ask the media talking heads who were the “moderators” at the debates about “real debates”.

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  4. Jeffrey says:

    Newspapers & global warming are connected. With the decline of newspapers we’ve seen the globe cool down. Since newpapers kill trees which are necessary to pull CO2 out of the air, their demise means more trees & less CO2. Causal or pure coincidence? You be the judge.

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  5. Greg says:

    I have always thought a lot of the difficulty in reporting technically complex issues is made up of a) the reporter has a limited basis of understanding (even scientific trained reporters can not be expert on all areas) and b) the media need to give equal time to opposing views. I recently saw a report on MMR vaccine and autism and once again, equal time was given to the scientists who had examined thousands of patients over years to say there was no correlation and the mother of one child with autism who was SURE that the vaccine was responsible for her childs problems.

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    I hear the telegraph has fallen on hard times too. And they don’t even teach kids Morse code. What’s the world coming too?

    Regarding Global Warming….two things are true:

    1) Science is not a matter of getting everyone to agree. Really it isn’t. Honest! Why this has become a political debate is beyond me.

    2) In the words of Dr. David Deutsch, it is too late to prevent a global-warming disaster. In fact it was too late to stop the global-warming disaster even in the 1970’s when the best scientific theory said that atmospheric polution was going to cause a new ice age that would kill millions.


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  7. a_c says:

    Amazing that this guy is bemoaning the fact that newspapers aren’t trying to push HIS OWN subjective viewpoint over all others. “Why can’t the press be my personal advocate?”

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  8. Brian says:

    I thought you guys were supposed to be economists. Think about the incentives.

    Newspapers prosper by keeping people glued to the news. They do this by stoking anxiety, not by allaying unfounded fears of environmental doom. So if anything, it’s in a paper’s interest to inflate the perception of dangerous climate change, not to reduce it.

    The media is mostly one big cheerleader for the alarmists, and give almost no credence to actual climate scientists.


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