I’m anguished. For almost six weeks I’ve been meaning to post on Cold Facts About Our Warm Planet, a four-part TV series from Seattle’s KIRO that you can view online. But I couldn’t decide what I wanted to say.
On the one hand, it’s terrific. The series is some of the best local TV coverage I’ve ever seen on climate. Focusing on disruptions to the Northwest’s natural heritage, it includes great photography, good reporting on a range of issues, and unusually clear explanations of how climate change disrupts snowpack, forests, wildlife, and so on. So there’s that.
On the other hand, some elements stink. I almost stopped watching after minute or two when the narrator intones, “Is it real or is it a hoax?”
A hoax? Seriously?
Are we still doing that? Or is that just what happens when a writer phones in a hackneyed script ?
Look, I hate to sound pugnacious—no, really—but in late 2007, framing a climate change series under the banner of “possible hoax” is just stupid. It’s a bit different, I might add, than simply questioning the scientific veracity of global warming. That would a stupid exercise too—forreasonstooobvioustopointout—but it wouldn’t be nearly as obnoxious as calling it a “hoax.” Is climate change really in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster?
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On balance, the series is still worth recommending. (Andrew Engelson also gives it props, over at Washington Trails Association’s blog.) The series includes interviews with many of the best local minds on climate impacts—people like Phil Mote, Nathan Mantua, and Dave Peterson. For network TV, it devotes a remarkable length of time to its subject. And it covers the topic in a way everyone can understand. It’s a heroic effort.
But it also has some glaring flaws, including a jaw-dropping amount of air time devoted to some climate skeptic dude who’s a retired geology professor from Western Washington University. And no, he’s not an atmospheric scientist.
KIRO lets Phil Mote fillet the guy, but it’s just plain bizarre that the script never definitively says that the vast, huge, overwhelming, tidal wave of scientific consensus is with Mote. A typical viewer—the very audience this series is aimed at—could well think that, hey, it’s just one scientist’s word against another’s. Who can say what the truth is?
The answer, of course, is that KIRO can say. And they don’t say it clearly. The result is not balanced journalism, it’s just misinformation. And it’s especially depressing because the series—and the effort behind it—is otherwise brilliant.
Interesting that the web page you link to is much less ambiguous about things: “There’s little argument anymore about the Earth getting hotter… Global warming isn’t a belief system as it once was; it has become an observable scientific fact.” Perhaps their reporters aren’t knowledgeable but their web designer is?
Eric de Place
Michael,Good point. In fact, even the documentary is a little like that. At times, it seems to be 100% on track, acknowledging magnitude of the problem and so on. Then, at other times, it would lapse into a bizarre skeptic’s rhetoric that seemed circa 1998 or so. I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening.
I view the documentary as more a reflection of our culture and our media practices. It’s what happens when a for-profit opinion-taker addresses a sociologically complex and uncomfortable topic. Overall, I see two things in the documentary. One is that we are transitioning from an ecological paradigm that K. Boulding called the ‘cowboy economy’, where we view sources and sinks as infinite. Our lone dissenter in the documentary mentioned as much himself: the earth is so vast, so large, how can we possibly have an effect on it? The second is that discussing and trying to resolve anthropogenic climate-disruption can produce an intolerable level of cognitive dissonance. Simultaneously, we are told we’re at fault, we believe we’re individually incapable of making a difference and we are provided no vision of a desirable future. It seems quite reasonable to respond, “We’re screwed, so I don’t want to hear the message or even think about it. Someone shoot the messenger”. This is certainly what I’ve been reading in many corners of the blogosphere and comments pages of the PI, for example.