Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Knowledge Based

Which is better: A short news story with an increased probability of leaving listeners (especially motivated ones) with misconceptions, or a long new story that people don't take the time to listen to all the way through?

Now, this is somewhat of a leading question, and I suspect you understand what the "correct" answer is. I was listening to Morning Edition on the radio this morning, when a story cane on about geoengineering to reduce global warming. Morning Edition is intended to be "drive time" radio, and so the stories are short. And that brevity can sometimes work against a full understanding of the issue at hand.

This morning there was a story about climate engineering in the service of cooling the planet, and how the researchers involved are weighing federal funding for their research. Whether or not climate engineering is the best way, or even a good way, to combat the overall warming of Earth's atmosphere is certainly open to debate, especially given that it's never been attempted on a large scale. So one can understand the importance of researching the issue. But now that President Trump is in office, backed by a Republican Congress, researchers have become more leery of accepting funding from the federal government.

Many environmentalists are suspicious of efforts to deliberately tinker with the climate. They think just talking about the possibility of cooling the planet will threaten the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So the last thing [Ted Parson] would want is for this research to be associated with the Trump administration.
Scientists Who Want To Study Climate Engineering Shun Trump
I pulled this particular quote from the story because it points to a particular facet of the climate change debate and its goals. Namely, the issue with carbon. For many people in the fossil fuels business, especially the rank and file workers whose job it is to help extract, process and transport the materials, climate activism seems like a direct attack on them and their livelihoods, hence the rhetoric of a "war on coal." From the environmental activism side of the equation, things look a little different. Workers in the fossil-fuel industry may be being asked to sacrifice their careers in the name of cleaner energy, but that's a means, not an end.

To the uninitiated, given those positions, climate geoengineering seems like a win-win. Energy workers can keep their jobs and the temperature of the atmosphere can be controlled. One can have one's cake and eat it, too. For climate scientists to appear to back away from an idea they saw as promising a year ago, simply because the current administration is more committed to fossil fuel industry employment than the previous one seems to undercut the idea that the problem is the effects of fossil fuels, and not the fossil fuels themselves.

Here is another quote, this one not taken from the radio piece, but from the accompanying article on NPRs website:
"I am more comfortable," [David] Keith[, a climate scientist at Harvard University] said, "taking money from clearly environmentally aligned philanthropies or philanthropists than I am taking money from the administration."
For someone who sees money as money, something that spends the same no matter where it comes from (or who writes the check), this statement could easily stoke their suspicions that climate scientists have an agenda, and that they are being less than honest about their findings. Why, after all, should money from a Clinton administration or "clearly environmentally aligned philanthropies or philanthropists" be any better than money from a Trump administration? It doesn't require a particularly suspicious mindset to suspect that climate scientists are more comfortable taking money from those they agree with ideologically, because they'd be more likely to accept ideologically-driven results.

All of this is not, I suspect, the intended takeaway from this piece. But if you know little to nothing about climate engineering initiatives other than you heard/read in this story, it could easily be the message you're left with, especially if you already think that something's not on the up-and-up. On the other hand, the alternative may not be workable. Giving an audience a working primer on the scientific concerns about climate engineering and then discussing climate scientists concerns about the current administration is a tall order of a drive-time news story with a three minute running time. I'm a fairly regular NPR listener (whenever I'm commuting) and I'm somewhat up on the debate over climate engineering. But NPR, and media outlets in general, can't count on their audiences always knowing the greater context. And it does their audience a disservice to leave it out.

No comments: