Showing posts with label heartland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label heartland. Show all posts

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Linedancers avoid false balance

Responsible journalists try to present a range of views on a topic. Called 'balance', this has become accepted practice in mainstream media.

And a good thing too. Without balanced reporting, we would get only single-sided world views. Unfortunately, the principle of balance comes unstuck when lobbyists and extremists dominate the field of available commenters. We have seen anti-vaccination campaigners offering alternate views on vaccination, and we often see deniers offering alternate views on climate change.

This might not matter if the alternate view was clearly labelled 'unsubstantiated personal opinion' or 'industry spokesperson', but that is not usually the case. Most alternative views are presented as having some credibility.

Programs like I can change your mind on Australia's ABC that give equal time to climate change contrarians are accused of false balance because they give unrealistic prominence to discredited views. America's PBS Newshour attracted the same criticism after allowing the extreme right lobby group Heartland to give its point of view in a report.

The phenomenon of media "Balance as Bias" has been thoroughly documented by Max & Jules Boykoff, and others.

So, how should the media address topics like vaccination and climate change where there is, in effect, no credible and informed alternative to the basic science?

Nicole Hashem found a way in this Sydney Morning Herald article, Climate sceptics and sympathisers put heat on Flannery. For the climate contrarian view, she quoted a linedance teacher as saying,
I try not to believe [in climate change] because I don't like to believe the worst.
That works for me. Climate change contrarians who engage in denialism rather than good faith scepticism have as much credibility on the subject as linedancers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hug the monster

“Hug the monster” is a metaphor taught by U.S. Air Force trainers to those headed into harm’s way. It's a technique that helps individuals act constructively in terrifying situations by channelling their fear into action. Without a technique like this, fear can be paralysing.

Bill Blakemore on Nature's Edge, an American ABC News blog, uses the metaphor to observe that in recent years scientists and media have held back from talking about the dire consequences of unmitigated climate change. Perhaps the denier tactic of labelling honest discussion as 'alarmist' was a factor, and perhaps there was some concern about public levels of anxiety or panic.

To avoid the unpleasant, scary bits, the strategy has been to focus on the upside of mitigation and adaptation strategies, also call bright-siding. In this approach (there's an example here) the focus is on clean energy jobs, greater efficiency, and fuel security. 

Michael Tobis sketched this schematic in 2010 to illustrate the discrepancy between informed opinion and public discourse.

Schematic by Michael Tobis

Blakemore observes that the avoidance phase seems to be coming to an end with a turn towards more realistic discussion.
Established scientists, community and government leaders and journalists, as they describe the disruptions, suffering and destruction that manmade global warming is already producing, with far worse in the offing if humanity doesn’t somehow control it, are starting to allow themselves publicly to use terms like “calamity,” “catastrophe”, and “risk to the collective civilization.”
Of course, climate scientists have been 'hugging the monster' for the decades they have been working to collect the  evidence. Over time, they have come to recognise the catastrophic consequences of BAU climate change. Recently, their sense of urgency has increased and scientists like James Hansen and Jason Box have become activists, getting arrested in protests against fossil fuel mining.

I couldn't maintain my self-respect if I didn't go. This isn't about me, this is about the future. Just voting doesn't seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also, because this is a democracy after all, isn't it?
Jason Box, climatologist at Ohio State University, in the Guardian

Michael Mann's book about the The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars reveals the tactics that have constrained public discussion and public policy.

David Spratt observes that bright-siding is a tactical mistake because it leaves out the most compelling reasons for action. Why bother with solar power at all if you aren't aware of the dire consequences of business as usual fossil fuel burning?

He notes that all great behavioural change campaigns have two elements, first they point to the downside of current behaviour and then they recommend a feasible behaviour change.
  • Road accidents cause injury, seat belts save lives, buckle up!
  • Smoking causes cancer, take up <this remedy> to stop smoking.
  • Drunk driving causes car accidents, have a designated driver.

Now that the tactics of the denier camp are becoming more visible, thanks to books like The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars and Heartland's own-goal with unsavoury billboards, we can look forward to more forthright talk about the consequences of climate change.

We'll need to fortify ourselves to be able to look realistically at what lies ahead. There are monsters to hug.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Murderers, tyrants and madmen

Climate change deniers claim that "the most prominent advocates of globabl warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants and madmen".

Do they mean it literally or metaphorically? Who knows?

They throw caution and logic to the wind as they unleash these blind and crude insults in a living example of the Climate Wars.

How to respond? This is not a time for reason, or for the finesse of metaphor. The most effective retaliatory action is to demand that responsible corporations withdraw their financial support from the offensive Heartland 'Institute'.

Forecast the Facts has an online petition saying:
Below is the petition we will send to the CEOs of Microsoft, State Farm, Pfizer, and every other corporation that funds the Heartland Institute.
All corporations should immediately pull their funding from the Heartland Institute in light of Heartland's ongoing and extreme support of climate change denial.
You can add your name here. A previous Forecast the Facts petition was successful in getting General Motors to withdraw funding from Heartland, so there's a good chance that this petition will be effective too.

But only with your help!

And after you have done that, check out the parodies this foolish billboard has generated. Heartland pulled the billboard after 24 hours because it "angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters".  This lapse of judgement has associated them with the loony fringe and made them a figure of fun. Very satisfying. [You DID sign the petition, didn't you?]

UPDATE: Johnny Walker and Moet and Chandon owners, Diegeo, will no longer fund Heartland. (Why did they ever??)

Scott Mandia's open letter to his insurance company, State Farm, a Heartland donor, is eloquent and powerful.  Your letter can be as brief as a postcard. It only takes a postcard and a couple of sentences for customers to have an impact.

UPDATE: 8 May, State Farm announced on Facebook that: "State Farm is ending its association with the Heartland Institute. This is because of a recent billboard campaign launched by the Institute." They're getting lots of approving comments.

E&E Publishing report that this gaffe has cost Heartland hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies and alienated key staff. They quote Brad Kading, president of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, as saying:
The billboard just crystallized what the divide was. It just means the brand is tarnished and there really is no way to separate yourself without just leaving.
UPDATE 14 May: Eli Lilly, BB&T and Pepsi will no longer support the Heartland Institute. That brings the number of companies dropping Heartland to 11. According to Forecast the Facts, more than 150,000 citizens have weighed in against the organization’s messaging strategy. Board members, staff and 'Heartland Experts' have also left the organisation. Source: Climate Progress.

UPDATE 17 May: Peter Sinclair made this brilliant 11-minute video to debunk Heartland nonsense by presenting some of the key advocates for climate change since 1950s. The video is framed around Margaret Thatcher's key speech on global warming.

Click 'share'... it deserves to go viral.

UPDATE 24 May: The Heartland Conference (an annual gathering of climate change deniers and disinformers — mostly hardcore libertarians — who attempt to spread doubts about climate science) was a washout. Cancellations and no-shows resulted in attendance of about 170, compared with 800 in some previous years. Heartland announced that they will not run the conference again.