On Friday, the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment showing what scientists understand about climate change. There are a number of important takeaways from the report, like establishing a limit on carbon emissions before the world crashes through 2°C of warming. And the IPCC notes scientists are more certain than ever that humans are behind it.
The scientific understanding of global warming is old news, but it’s a debate fossil fuel groups and climate deniers have forced in the U.S.
Many media outlets missed this point with headlines that continue to frame climate change as a contentious science. Here are five examples of headlines that should never have run:
Despite the headlines — particularly from conservative outlets — the so-called warming slowdown never happened when accounting for heating oceans over the past 15 years.
Not all the coverage was like this. Without a nod to climate deniers, The Economist told readers, “The IPCC climate-change report: It’s still our fault;” E&E News‘ said, “U.N. climate change group releases strongest statement yet linking humans to rising temperatures;” and Accuweather’s said, “IPCC Report Reenforces Idea of Human-Caused Climate Change.” (Meanwhile, here’s Climate Progress’ post).
There is a subtle reason why this focus matters. The most comprehensive report on climate change in existence describes how humans are primarily responsible for warming since 1950. Climate deniers like to capitalize on the gap between scientific understanding and public confusion, even if they can’t seem to pick a concerted response. With this report out, it’s time the media move on from the false-balance discussion of whether climate change is established by science and onto the action and impacts.
The Associated Press’ Seth Borenstein explained what “95 percent certainty” means in layman’s terms. “Will the sun come up in the morning?’” Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Thomas Burke told the AP. “Scientists know the answer is yes, but they can’t really say so with 100 percent certainty because there are so many factors out there that are not quite understood or under control.”
Experts liken the certainty over climate science to the science that says cigarettes kill. In fact, the Heartland Institute, a think tank at the center of the climate denier movement, has questioned both climate change and the dangers of second-hand smoke.