If I could start a movement of a STOP SOPA nature, it would be to get every newspaper in the world to lead their publications on the same day with the same banner headline: CLIMATE CHANGE IS A FACT. Every news network would run a lower third stating the same thing for 24 hours. Because we need to set the record straight, once and for all, and it is a correction that is decades overdue.
Yesterday was Earth Day; since 1970 this date has been dedicated to appreciation and increasing awareness of the planet's natural environment. But the scientific community has been aware of climate change and the conditions that bring it about for much longer than four decades. Scientists recognized the greenhouse effect in the early 19th century and tied it to the paleoclimate. Calculations in the 1950s became increasingly convincing, and by the '70s and early '80s, consensus among experts was completely clear: human activity on a global scale was warming the climate.
But somehow, journalism as an industry didn't get this critical fact of nature across to the people it claims it serves. Instead, it presented it as one side of an argument, where the other side was a position of human belief to the contrary. The decades-long perpetuation of the false debate over climate change in the interest of fairness to sources has been ultimately unfair to the entire world and the natural reality we all need to exist.
In practice, journalism as an institution treated the fact that humans burning fossil fuels change the climate in the same way it treated the fact that smoking causes lung cancer. For decades, it presented the information created by special interests as equivalent to scientific data and absolved itself of responsibility of creating confusion via a shield of ethics, fairness and objectivity. The principles of journalism put the truth above all, but scientists know that "truth" is the aggregate product of belief and knowledge -- truth isn't real, it is what we perceive to be real.
Epistemology is the philosophy of understanding knowledge. It takes into consideration that you know things to be true and you believe things to be true, and in the intersection of that Venn diagram's two circles lies a zone of contact called knowledge. The field that encompasses those objects is reality: That which we may not understand or have defined or have observed or even imagined, but exists all the same.
Let's be rational now: How can any person be expected to trust the news media on any rational level when the news media cannot clearly delineate between human ideology and natural reality? Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, I stop listening to you.
Today, as the news industry is crumbling around us as information technology changes the culture, the news media's credibility is such that only about 20 percent of the audience trusts it. When your main product is truth, and 80 percent of the market doesn't trust or believe you, that's not a technological problem or a business model issue. The product isn't good for the customers. The Internet isn't killing news; the people are using the Internet to make choices -- choices that do not include the traditional industry. That industry is shaped by power and wealth, those who have been able to afford the billions of dollars to buy presses, antennas and cables, the infrastructure necessary to broadcast a version of truth as reality. The customers of the journalism industry aren't people, they're other industries who seek to use journalism to shape perceptions of reality.
But reality is inescapable. It doesn't matter if people believe in reality or not, it happens regardless.
Your body is made up of DNA. That's not a belief. That's a proven fact. DNA has been mapped. Climate change is real. It is not a belief. It is a proven fact. We have measured exactly how much carbon is in the atmosphere and we know exactly what is happening because of it. Carl Sagan, the scientist and author of Cosmos, was awarded an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize for his work communicating these issues to us more than 30 years ago. What have the broadcast and print media done to inform their audiences of these facts since recognizing the greatness of Sagan's work? Why is belief in creationism even considered alongside science in school curriculum? Why do people deny the evidence of climate change?
Look around you and you will see what has and hasn't been done. You will feel it in the air, which is warmer and wetter and no longer as effective at keeping the sun from burning your tender skin. You will touch it in waters unsafe to drink or swim in, and in the Gulf of Mexico or the Kalamzoo River or the Bering Sea, it still weeps oil from year-old spills. At our present rate of consumption, many of the fish we eat today will not exist much longer. At the current rate of warming, the Arctic Ocean will be a navigable waterway in just a few decades.
A person may choose to believe that life was made in seven days by a God instead of accepting the evidence of four and half billion years of evolutionary processes without affecting another person. But if the aggregate activity of all the humans on this planet melts the polar ice cap that cools the planet and makes it habitable for the existence of life as we know it, there is no other refuge. We have no where else to go.
We all need this planet to survive. Our children will need it. No one can afford to own it. There is no amount of wealth -- public or private -- that is enough to make an ice cap for our spaceship Earth. There is not enough wealth to build the dams and dykes to keep the rising seas from washing over the coastal land where our cities are built.
So, journalists, we need you all to stop and issue a correction. I must ask you all today, in honor of Earth Day, to raise your hand and show the world that you know the difference between what is real what is believed to be real. You need to ponder how your ethics have reached a point of harming the world and threatening our very ability to exist. If you want to keep the power of the press, you must take responsibility for it.
Yes, there has been amazing and tremendous work done covering this issue, but the persistent public perception of this issue is evidence of the mainstream industry's convenient denial. We have clouded clarity with contradictory information. We have brokered our honesty and sold ads to special interest groups knowing the messages were suspect. We have perpetuated a debate that prevents our addressing this critical issue and prolonged it until we passed the point of reversing it.
How did we justify this to ourselves? If the public holds something to be true that isn't, and we the news media regard ourselves as the almighty arbiters of truth who are necessary to the continuance of freedom and democracy, then how can we not also take our share of responsibility for this perception?
If any journalist is still willing to look right in the face of all the evidence, all the science, all the data, all that is palpable in the air around you, and say that they don't accept that climate change is happening, then I cannot accept that person as a credible journalist or even a rational person.
Only an irrational person would be so self-assured to risk the future of life as we know it when faced with a risk of this magnitude. Only a non-empathic person would force the rest of the world to take that gamble with them. Any source that represents this point of view and is not qualified or contextualized accordingly is not being presented accurately. More than any sense of objectivity or fairness to the perception of truth, we can't contribute to the denial of reality and still call ourselves journalists, not if the word journalist really means what we think it does.
The news industry owes the world a correction on the level far and above what "This American Life" did when it devoted an entire program to misstatements made in a show about Apple Computer's manufacturing practices. We do not owe the world a glib eulogy to "Facts ." We need to set the record straight.
If journalism can't help save the world, then why in the world should the world care about saving journalism -- at least this kind of journalism? Prove that you are smart enough to be trusted with the shield of humanity that you say you deserve. Prove that you are ethical enough to know when to say you have been wrong in doing what you have done. Prove you are rational and empathic beings.
Print the headline. Run the screen. Declare the fact. CLIMATE CHANGE IS A FACT. Make it crystal clear and correct the record, so journalism can start contributing to and covering the conversation about coping and adapting, instead of perpetuating and profiting from the constant dialogue of denial.