All too often, the largest problems that we face and the most urgent questions get swept under the carpet. Sometimes, this is because of a lack of political will to discuss them, or, indeed, a lack of media will. If the issue affects one of these two spheres negatively, then it will be cast aside from the news cycle.
However, the major cause isn’t so sinister: the vast majority of the time, problems such as climate change are ignored due to the lack of newsworthy progression, or regression, to report.
For example, to take the issue of climate change further, the majority of developments are small and incremental, as opposed to having lots of huge developments. As compared to healthcare and medicine — which has both political wars and major changes — the field of climate science seems relatively inconsequential.
We hear about it only when there is a large shift, such as the Paris Climate Accords or a new technology emerging such as solar panels. We often hear more about passing certain unwanted milestones (such as the “point of no return” and 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) than about advancements.
That is the unfortunate reality of the media: they can only afford to report stories that are genuinely going to attract interest. However, if background, but important issues like this are going to become more apparent to the public, the media needs to find a different way to bring them into the limelight.
It isn’t just climate change and environmental science that suffers within the media.
Often, economics is neglected within the media due to both the lack of major newsworthy stories and public ignorance of the field. News outlets struggle to report on subjects that are ill- and misunderstood by the public in an effective way.
As such, important fields are put to one side, with detrimental effects. Obviously, the largest of these is that the issue isn’t talked about and debate around the issue is rare.
However, by doing this, a self-perpetuating loop is created in which the media doesn’t show stories about a certain subject due to public ignorance, and so the public is kept in the dark. This provides extra incentive to diminish the ability of this subject to dominate the news cycle.
The loss of economics, climate science, and many more fields is politics’, sport’s, and health’s gain, of course. Politics has come to completely dominate the news, with both domestic and geopolitical stories often reaching the headlines.
This, in turn, leads to an ill-formed perception that the direction of global change is controlled by politicians and governments, and their interactions. This is blindingly untrue.
Politics controls but a fraction of our lives, and, interesting and important as it may be, wields far less power that science and large corporations such as Apple, Google, and Amazon.
(It’s rather frightening that a few unelected billionaires have more influence than our elected officials.)
Indeed, climate scientists and economists hold more power than politicians, and yet their work is heavily under-reported.
Even when there are stories in the media about these fields, the important information is either disregarded or “dumbed down” too much. This further fuels public ignorance of and, by extension, disdain, for climate science and economics.
The lack of care for these fields can be seen best in the example of climate change.
Initially, when global warming was coming to the forefront of the media, people were consuming tons of news stories about it. They were becoming well-informed on the subject, and so everyone cared about it.
The Republican party in the US, and their corresponding Presidents such as George Bush Jr., at the very least recognised the threat of climate change, and implemented some reform.
However, as big developments have become more scarce, the public has forgotten about climate science, with many losing all interest entirely. This has allowed many to turn against scientists and the Republican party has followed suit.
Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords was symbolic of this shift, and his decision to not introduce a new scheme (as Bush did when he pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol) was even more indicative of the transformation.
It is clear, then, that something has to be done to re-ignite the media’s will to report on these issues.
Perhaps climate scientists should try to build up excitement about new technologies in order to get more coverage.
Perhaps economists should create controversy around the issues to get them closer to the public’s field of view. (We know this works as politicians can get the economy to be debated very easily by creating controversy.)
Perhaps, though, the media need to do something instead. This could be funding and commissioning more documentaries and educational films about climate science, or trying to create tools to educate the public about the economy.
Whatever happens, there needs to be a more balanced news diet for people to consume, because when people become unaware of a problem, they disregard its threat entirely. That means that politicians don’t focus enough on solving these very problems, and nothing gets done about them.
That’s not something we can afford — especially with climate change.