Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Mainstreaming climate change: The issue of our age

April 10, 2014

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Photo: NASA

Years ago, Gannett pioneered “mainstreaming” of minorities and others on the margins of conventional news coverage. For example, instead of having a minority business beat, newspapers should integrate minority owners, workers, customers, analysts and other experts into as many stories as possible.

The term has probably fallen aside but the idea is still a good one. We need to start using it on the most important issue of the age, climate change.

There’s no disagreement among the vast majority of scientists who are actually experts on the subject that climate change is real, human caused and happening now. The arguments, as always happen in science, are about how fast it is happening and how severe the consequences will be.

A few thoughts:

  1. Every major company (and the Pentagon) outside the fossil fuel sector is taking climate change very seriously. Most are studying it and formulating plans to address it. Find out what’s happening at the companies you cover.
  2. Climate change will bring a variety of economic costs and dislocations. Many of these are discussed in the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Read about it here. This is the gold standard, the work of hundreds of climate scientists.
  3. Every industry will be affected, from those involved in the carbon-spewing 10,000-mile supply chain to agriculture as drought brings the risk of food shortages. This will not be something that only affects people in the Third World. Look no further than California’s historic drought or the fisheries destroyed by ocean acidification.
  4. There will be some winners, such as navigation of an ice-free Arctic Ocean. There are definitely adapters as companies and industries innovate and seek work-arounds. Many universities are studying technologies intended to ease the consequences. Don’t report this with false equivalency — container ships across the Arctic won’t make up for millions displaced by rising sea levels — or gullably (gee, “cool concrete” will save us!).
  5. Avoid alarmism. Base your coverage in sound science. Some major natural disasters may be partly or wholly caused by climate change, but don’t make unnecessary leaps.
  6. On the other hand, we’re way past the point when the voices of “deniers” need to be included. Indeed, doing so is irresponsible. Beware of Astroturf “think tanks” bankrolled by the fossil fuels industry or such groups as Americans for Prosperity, supported by the Koch brothers.
  7. Bookmark and read the best sites for solid, science-based news and analysis. Climate Central is one of the best.
  8. Intelligent coverage of energy is an entirely separate blog post, but this sector must not be allowed to sit in a silo protected from reality. Every story on fracking, tar sands, coal, a supposed 100-year American supply of natural gas, etc., should include at least a paragraph about the degree to which these are contributing to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Yes, the “deniers” will attack you. So what? We don’t doubt the science behind fracking, which the media cheerleads almost daily without including its devastating environmental costs.

This isn’t merely the biggest story of our time. It is the biggest business story. We do our readers a service by remembering that every day.

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