Media blackout on heatwave climate change link

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With Australia experiencing one of its longest, hottest heatwaves in history, you’d have thought there would be a resurgence in stories in the mainstream media about climate change and global warming.

Alas, no. A cursory Google News check reveals only one story linking climate change and the heatwaves (the same story, repeated in the ABC, Herald Sun and Sydney Morning Herald) reporting on a Climate Commission study:

The report – Off the Charts: Extreme Australian Summer Heat – warns of more extreme bushfires and hotter, longer, bigger and more frequent heatwaves, due to climate change.

It says the number of record heat days across Australia has doubled since 1960 and more temperature records are likely to be broken as hot conditions continue this summer.

The only other (related) story in the mainstream media is on the extreme comments by Warren Truss, deputy leader of the Coalition and leader of the National Party, who said:

”The reality is, it’s being utterly simplistic to suggest that we have these fires because of climate change,” he said.

”It’s too simplistic to link one hot spell to climate change.”

This kind of climate denialist extremism is getting repeated by conservative commentators across the News Limited stable of newspapers. Simon Divecha reports in The Conversation on the media silence and an article by ultra-right wing pundit Tim Blair:

Australia’s media largely fails to link climate change to the heat. There have been more than 800 articles in the last five days covering the heatwave. Fewer than ten of these also discuss “climate change”, “greenhouse gas”, carbon or “global warming” (from a 3 -7 January 2013 Factiva news source search conducted on 7 January at 4pm).

Even with the occasional mention, these articles often obscure the link.Tim Blair’s Carbon Kings story in the Daily Telegraph is a good example. It reports on a tweet from Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons:

Peter: Will the politics of carbon tax/climate change alter with this extraordinary, sustained heatwave hitting the southern states?

Tim: It’s called summer, Peter, and the carbon tax won’t make any difference.

Death caused by extreme heat is usually of interest to the media. For example 370 people died from extreme heat in Victoria during the same week that there were 173 deaths in the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

Meanwhile, the best scientific evidence says that it’s not just “summer”. David Karoly says:

“What we have been able to see is clear evidence of an increasing trend in hot extremes, reductions in cold extremes and with the increases in hot extremes more frequent extreme fire danger day,” he said.

“What it means for the Australian summer is an increased frequency of hot extremes, more hot days, more heatwaves and more extreme bushfire days and that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing typically over the last decade and we will see even more frequently in the future.”

Unfortunately, you won’t see that reported in many newspapers.

Extremist nutters like Tim Blair and Warren Truss are exploiting the complexity of climate science to cast doubt on the simply truth: dangerous global warming is affecting Australia right now.

At the same time that these carbon-lobby stooges are running around trying to mislead and foster doubt, so-called moderate conservatives like Ted Baillieu have enacted laws restricting the building of wind turbines — at the same time reducing barriers to the construction of risky, dangerous and polluting coal fired power plants. Their hatred of renewable energy will have long-reaching consequences for our community.

Of course we need every nation in the world to take real action to substantially reduce carbon emissions. But Australia must act now. As a nation, we are uniquely vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of dangerous global warming.

We must act not only to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate against further global warming, but to adapt. We are now facing summers where temperatures regularly exceed 40°C and where extremes reach 50°C or above. Our homes, our infrastructure are simply not engineered to cope with those temperatures.

More radical action is needed than currently being proposed. And action is not helped by the fact that major media outlets simply aren’t reporting on global warming. Even that apparent bastion of moderate news reporting, the New York Times, secretly dismantled its environment news desk over the holidays.

The pro-carbon lobby, the coal miners, oil companies and their cronies like Warren Truss and Tim Blair, rub their hands at tragedies like the bushfires, using them to bash “greenies”. The way that mainstream media deals with these issues is a national shame.

One response to “Media blackout on heatwave climate change link”

  1. Jan Powning Avatar
    Jan Powning

    I wondered why nothing had been printed or discussed since I heard the release of this report first reported. I mentioned the report to a switched on person and they hadn’t even heard tyhe first report. No wonder climate change is off the burner for many people. They haven’t even got the information to make informed judgements.

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