The Portrayal of Climate Change in Social Media and Traditional Media Outlets

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For years climate change, or as it’s more commonly referred to by the media, global warming, has been an issue that has been exploited by the media and governments around the globe. It is often either demonized and blamed for natural disasters, used as an example for why we should reduce our ‘Carbon Footprint’ or been blatantly refuted by politicians as a conspiracy or some kind of hoax. But you really don’t have to be a genius to notice that summers are getting hotter and lasting longer. So, with all of this confusion and misinformation being constantly presented to us, what are the undeniable facts of Climate Change? When did it first become an issue? What are the actual effects of global warming? Does it pose a threat? And are we to blame, or is it part of the earth's natural cycle of heating and cooling?

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These are all questions I will endeavour to address in my first chapter of my Personal Interest Project. Through research and interviews with experts in the field of environmental science, it has become very evident that, whilst ‘the earth (does have) a natural heating and cooling pattern, the recent spike in global temperature has been exacerbated by the behaviour of the global population’. However, the general public is not solely to blame for the damage done to the climate; ‘governments need to put more emphasis on lessening their carbon footprint’ is how all of the interviewees responded to the question i posed in regards to the governments behaviour towards greenhouse gas emissions. This is evidenced by the decrease in Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions during the years of the Carbon Tax, shown in Figure 1 of the Appendix.

Climate change has a variety of effects on the world, both positive and negative. The negative impacts which are constantly highlighted in the media and by politicians include rise in sea level and ocean acidification, increase in droughts, rainfall and storm severity, an increase in the global number of ‘climate migrants’ and several other ramifications to human health as highlighted in the responses my interview on climate change. However, climate change has also brought about milder winters in the north and better weather for most plants, which thrive as a result of the increase of carbon dioxide and temperature. Therefore, it is easy to see that the demonization of climate change by politicians and the media is, in some instances, extreme and untrue. The rise in sea level as a result of melting icebergs is one commonly discussed effect of climate change. Sea level rise is caused as a result of melting glaciers and snow caps, which not only raises the sea level, causing the potential for flash flooding, but also inflicts immediate danger on people who rely on glaciers and snow caps as a source of clean water.

In the last 25 years alone there has been a 7 cm rise in the Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) and the rate of increase is expected to accelerate as ‘as the melting of the ice sheets and ocean heat content increases as greenhouse gas concentrations rise’. Rising sea levels as a result of climate change is a topic which is often focused on by the media and by politicians, mostly due to the number of the subsequent issues that arise as a result of this issue. Based on the recent increase in the sea level, it is predicted that in the next century the sea level could rise further, anywhere between 50 and 200 cm. If the sea level rises 1 meter higher than its current height the damage could equate to anywhere between $270 and 475 million and would submerge 30,000 square kilometres of dryland and wetland equally, 1500 square kilometres of which are densely populated. The loss of these areas would cause an extreme loss of income of those regions. As such, it is obvious that the effects and reality of climate change, in relation to sea level, are very real and pose a long term threat not just to the ocean but to people across the world.

Moreover, climate change has also caused high levels of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is caused when carefully balanced oceanic ecosystems are altered, be it minorly or drastically, which can lead to coral bleaching and other similar detrimental changes. It has been occurring recently as a result of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration which has been on the rise as a result of climate change. The increase in ocean acidification can negatively affect the ability of oceanic calcifiers to create calcium carbonate which will increase the risk of bio-erosion already experienced in coral reefs internationally.

However, the studies which have been conducted in relation to ocean acidification look more at the initial shock reactions of specific species and don't take into account the potential for acclimatization, therefore at the present point in time, whilst we know ocean acidification is by no means a positive and is still potentially detrimental to the earth's oceanic biosphere, there is also a potential for adaptation from species thus, the negative effects may not be long term, and these studies have also predominantly focused on calcification rather than ecosystems as a whole, which would be necessary to form a holistic understanding of the effects of ocean acidification. Therefore, whilst we know that the effects of ocean acidification are by no stretch of the imagination desirable, there is also no conclusive evidence as to how destructive it will be in the long-term, as there is a potential for acclimatization to take place.

Another of the effects of climate change which is widely reported on is the increase of natural disasters. Whist it is ‘undeniable that disasters such as drought and heavy rainfall are a potential result of global warming,’ (as several of the respondents to my interview pointed out) there are also articles which attempt to blame climate change for tectonic events such as volcanoes which is, quite frankly, not possible. Some forms of natural disasters which have become more common as a result of climate change are typhoons, hurricanes and torrential rain, this is because the rise in the temperature of ocean causes a spike in the ‘frequency and ferocity’ of extreme storms. This change in rain patterns can cause issues for agriculture and farming, as it may decrease the production of necessary crops such as grains which, for many, could lead to starvation. Furthermore, the melting of glaciers as a result of climate change also increases the risk of flash flooding which can damage homes and cause devastation to entire communities. However, if governments and individuals worked together it would still be possible to create positive change in terms of our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. But this is unlikely as, despite all of the scientific and real-world evidence to the support the real dangers and effects of climate change, there is still a widespread reluctance to act, with governments claiming that attempting to address this issue with any level of success would cause ‘economic hardship’, but given the alternative it is a small price to pay to ensure that the earth is a safe and comfortable environment for all to live in well into the future.

However, just because governments are not addressing this issue, does not mean that there aren’t organisations that aren’t trying to make a difference in this area. For example, the United Nations has launched an initiative to minimise plastic pollution by encouraging people to give up single use plastics and replacing them with reusable alternatives, such as fabric grocery bags, metal straws and reusable water bottles and containers. They are using social media to promote this through the use of the hashtag ‘beat plastic pollution’. This initiative is just one example of how individuals can move towards a more reusable lifestyle and offset the damage already done in the past. To conclude, whilst there is no denying the existence of climate change or its negative effects, it’s also important that individuals and governments address the issue by becoming more renewable and by petitioning governments to make policies which lower greenhouse gas emissions. This will help to lower the effects of climate change such as a rise in sea level and an increase in the frequency and ferocity of natural disasters.

For millennia in human history, we have been communicating events through stories. In this practice we find the basis of news reporting. There is a desire, inherent in human nature to intake information as often as possible, this desire lead to the creation and almost necessitation of journalism and news media. However, in recent history there has been a decline in younger generations interactions with traditional News Media, favouring their technology based counterparts, such as social media. So why has there been a shift away from News Media? Why has the media shifted their focus from providing the facts to creating a story and ‘Cherry Pick(ing) information to make a juicy headline’? Does Media portrayal of certain current events inform the opinions of the public? These are all questions I will endeavour to address in my second chapter of my Personal Interest Project.

Based on my primary research I have discovered that younger generations have had a disillusionment and dissatisfaction with mainstream News Media which has resulted in a shift towards unconventional news outlet in younger generations. 72.2% of people who completed my survey were between the ages of 10 to 25. Within this bracket 61.6% of people interacted with their prefered News Media outlet between 1 and 4 times a week. 53.5% of 10-25 year olds had their main interaction with current events taking place via social media and 35.4% opted for online news articles and the use of smartphone apps. These statistics have been supported by several academic journals which all outline that in recent years younger generations have been shifting away from traditional news media outlets and towards social media and other online news outlets. This recent spike is not only a result of ease of access but also to the kind of information which is available, the internet creates a global platform for sharing and receiving information. As such this allows consumers to access to information from international sources, not just those of their own country, which results in the prosperity of online media as it offers gratification by providing information to consumers that they may not have the ability to access otherwise because of the narrow scope of print and television media available domestically, this allows for a further understanding of current events around the world.

This access to a wider variety of reliable information are the main driving forces behind the spike in interactions with online media outlets over traditional news forms. In recent years there has been an obvious shift in the focus of the media from a factual news outlet to a corporation whose soul aim and purpose is to grab the attention of as many people as possible, regardless of what is lost in the process. As such the media has begun a tradition of ‘Cherry picking interesting information to create a juicy headline’ which has lead to an influx in members of the public believing false information and misunderstanding the facts of current events and issues. This is evidenced in the statistics I collected through responses to my questionnaire. When asked ‘To what extent have your interactions with News media shaped your opinions on Modern issues (e.g. political issues)’ 67.4% of people responded with between a 1-3 out of 5.

When compared with the 106 people who responded with ‘Media Reports’ when asked ‘How have your opinions on Climate change been formed?’ these responses show that whilst the public may not fully realise the effect of the media on their general understanding of current events, there is certainly evidence that, consciously or subconsciously, the information taken in by the public affects their view of current events. Climate change is not the only instance of this. For example, there is a largely negative view on asylum seekers and refugees. Among both the Australian public and mainstream Australian journalism there is a highly negative view towards asylum seekers. They are widely referred to as illegal immigrants which is not only rude, hurtful and discriminatory but also wildly incorrect. Under international law there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant and yet this is a term that the Australian public, Australian politicians and Australian journalists have latched on to. The widespread negative treatment of refugees and the popularity of the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ should be enough on its own to convincingly support the fact that the public can be drastically swayed by the media portrayal of a certain event.

In Newspaper articles I read on the topic of refugees in Australia the phrase illegal immigrant appeared at least (Insert number of times) times within the article. Moreover, Only some % of articles reported on the appalling treatment of asylum seekers in detention camps or on the fact that the practice of mandatory detention goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights Of the Child, which the Australian government helped to construct. The media has, in recent years, moved away from an outlet of reliable information and is now more focused on creating a story designed for maximum consumption. This practice is something more akin to the behaviour of tabloid magazines which have notorious reputation for spreading gossip and rumors about celebrities and other high powered members of society. The fact that news outlets are widely accepted as trustworthy despite no longer presenting the facts in a truthful and unbiased manner is disquieting. It means that massive amounts of people are trusting information published by an organisation which has, at best, spun the facts in a manner that miscommunicates the truth of an event and at worst purposely leaves out information, vital or otherwise, for the sake of catching public attention and conveying a certain point.

Based on this information it takes no stretch of the imagination to say that news media is no longer the trustworthy As expressed in chapter 2, traditional news media outlets are shifting from factual representation of current events and issues to one which is overly informal and reads more like a magazine or a narrative and titles which sound more like they belong in tabloids then in reputable news outlets. This treatment is extended to articles about global warming and climate change. In this chapter I will be looking at the media's treatment of climate change and how this treatment has shaped the public's view of this issue using a culmination of the information collected throughout this pip. In this chapter I will attempt to answer the following questions. How does the media portray climate change? How is this portrayal perceived by the public? And how does the portrayal and perception shape the understanding of climate change in the public? To gain an understanding of the media's portrayal of climate change I conducted a content analysis on news articles about climate change. Throughout conducting this research i viewed the articles in the context of the factual information collected in the completion of chapter 1.

I started out my Personal Interest Project with the intention of looking at climate change as a whole and touching on media portrayal, however as I began my research, I became interested in the prevalence of ‘climate change denial’ and climate change demonization in the media which prompted me to further look into media representation of a variety of different issues and found that these issues were often misrepresented. This discovery lead to a desire to address the issue of the media and how they can alter the opinions of the public, keeping climate change as a case study. My first step, after completing my introduction, was to conduct a survey to gain an understanding of people's interaction with the media and their opinions on the nature of the issue of climate change. I then did some content analysis and used this to come up with the questions which I posed in the interviews which I conducted with several environmental scientists to gauge the extent of the issue of climate change and if the media’s representation was at all accurate. The results of these interviews lead me to more secondary research into topics which I had originally not considered, which truly highlights the nature of the media representation of climate change. My primary research highlighted issues such as the infamous carbon tax and the importance of the reduction of individual and national reduction in our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, I must admit that prior to completing this research and beginning my Personal Interest Project as a whole I did not fully recognise the effectiveness of the carbon tax or the importance of reducing one’s carbon footprint. I was aware that climate change was and is an issue but I was under the impression that we were past the proverbial point of no return and would be unable to rectify any of the damage done, but I was very wrong.

When I began my second chapter I was already aware of the shift from traditional media to online media outlets but I had no understanding of the complex myriad of reasons behind this shift, which extend beyond the ease of access and cover issues such as reliability and a wider scope of information which is available thanks to the internet. Throughout the course of completing this chapter of my personal interest project I discovered that almost all the articles I read had titles which are designed to attract as much attention as possible, titles which could be considered clickbait.

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Grade set by Eduzaurus experts:
Focus/Thesis and Introduction 4 | 4
Organization 4 | 4
Voice/Word Choice 4 | 4
Sentence Structure/Grammar 3 | 4
Evidence and Details 4 | 4
Total Essay Score: 19 | 20

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