How to find reliable information about climate change

climate_scan_consesus-1024x653It’s often difficult to know what news sources to trust on climate change, given the vast amount of disinformation out there. So we’ve worked to put together a summary of reliable sources.

The climate news and comment from the Guardian is particularly good, as is that from the Independent (UK).

The New York Times is usually trustworthy these days (after a dismal history of giving an undue voice to deniers), some comment pieces aside. The BBC is another overly esteemed news source, but has somewhat improved after finally adopting editorial guidelines stating that “balance” does not mean every statement of fact has to be paired with someone denying that fact. It’s worth reading about those guidelines, because it helps show how so much confusion has been created.

In South Africa, our news media continue to give an occasional voice to climate change deniers, though the tendency seems to be diminishing at last. The Daily Maverick, which has one of the worst records in this respect, is finally catching on – you can trust anything written by Kevin Bloom or Melanie Gosling. But to their shame, they continue to publish deniers, at least as recently as October 2018. Business Day is mostly fine these days, but dodgy stuff does occasionally crop up. The Mail & Guardian‘s coverage is good, and has been for a long time.

By arguing that these publications should exclude deniers, we’re not suggesting anyone should be “censored”; only that news sources concerned with accuracy need to reflect the overwhelming scientific and governmental consensus (that the breakdown of a stable climate is happening and is caused by humanity), as they do with other issues of settled science, such as the shape of the Earth and the causes of HIV/Aids.

Finally, it should be understood that the problem with climate change reporting these days is often that of prominence. Many media sources do report regularly, often fairly well, on climate change. However, climate change news that should make headlines (because it will affect many people for many generations) is usually downweighted or pushed to niche pages, while relatively trivial issues get the main headlines.

Reliable news sources on climate change

Dedicated climate change news

Popular environmental news sources

Cutting through the confusion

If you’re ever confused about a particular climate change issue,

  • Skeptical Science is a site hosting a systematic takedown of all the false arguments and misconceptions used by deniers to muddy the waters on climate change.
  • Desmogblog is dedicated to “clearing the PR pollution [from corporates] that clouds climate science”; it is an ongoing expose of the efforts of some leading fossil fuel companies to create confusion about the nature of climate change.
  • Real Climate is home to discussions amongst practising climate scientists. Extremely technical at times, but interesting if you have the time.

A note on deniers and denialism

It’s natural to be scared by climate change, and it’s a normal, often healthy, human response to want to shut out “bad news”. People can also “default” to denial because of their social identities – we tend, quite naturally, to share the beliefs of people we are close to, and social/political conservatives are more likely to have climate deniers in their social circles. One can probably distinguish several categories of denier:

  • Paid shills who get money from the fossil fuel industry to produce denialist articles and media.
  • Individual eccentrics who are on a mad march to actively deny that human beings have caused climate change/breakdown. These people don’t get paid by anyone, they’re scared, just bloody minded, or confused about science, in the same way as are flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers and HIV denialists.
  • People who just happen to be friends with people in the above categories.

Perhaps the most dangerous category of denier is not the active deniers, but those who do say they agree that climate change is happening and is caused by human actions – but then resist squarely embracing the actions – such as fossil fuel divestment – required to do something about it.

Science is not infallible of course, so it’s worth asking when we should and shouldn’t trust it. Historian Naomi Oreskes talks about this issue in a YouTube talk here.

Distinguishing between denialism and objective climate coverage

So, how as a layperson, can we make sense of the sometimes competing information out there? Below, we list some questions we can ask to help understand how reputable a source is.

But firstly, understand that journalism, indeed all writing and research, is a mix of facts, values and opinions. Facts, like the sun rising and setting each day, can be empirically verified. Values decide how much weighting we give to particular facts (and whether we decide to get up when the sun rises). For example, those who worry about the wellbeing of future generations are often more concerned about climate change than those who are not. Opinions are the ideas that emerge from the mix of facts and values. All journalists and scientists have their own values that influence the weighting they give to competing facts, so be cautious of those who do not recognise this, or who claim they offer represent perfect balance or objectivity.

(This website is a campaigning website. We aim to represent scientific facts as clearly as possible, in the interests of securing the optimum long-term wellbeing of humanity and indeed, all life on Earth.)

  • Is the source a reputable source? If it’s a news source, does it have a reputation for good quality journalism? Does it have its own ombud and complaints mechanism (as do publications like the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Mail & Guardian)?
  • Does the article you’re reading refer to original scientific sources, peer-reviewed journals such as Nature?
  • Is the article written by a named journalist? Almost every reputable publication, besides the Economist (also reputable), follows this practice. This helps you understand the interests and expertise of the journalist writing, and their particular biases.
  • What are the interests and values of the publication or source? Do they aim to serve the broad interests of humanity in sharing information, or do they serve a special interest group (such as the fossil fuel industry)? Do they give implicit preference to the interests of a particular nation, or do they give equal weighting and value to the lives of marginalised and distant people (such as indigenous peoples and Pacific islanders whose homes are threatened by sea level rise)?
  • Is it clear how they’re funded, or what political influences or pressures may sway their coverage?
  • Do they clearly separate fact and opinion, and provide references (reputable sources) for facts?
  • Are they implicitly arguing for or against action to help stop dangerous global environmental change?
  • Politeness, respect and the embrace of diversity can also be positive indicators.

Insights into denialism

Of course, separating fact from fiction in the realms of economics and finance can be even more challenging. We’ll address those issues in a later post.

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