Media must stress the current effects of climate change


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Last week’s East Coast blizzard received the enormous amount of media coverage that one would expect for an event of that magnitude, occurring in one of the most populated and prominent areas of the country.

However, the intense coverage paid to a massive weather event like this only underscores the mainstream media’s problems with covering another nature-related story, likely the most important story of our time: climate change.

The need now is not just coverage that highlights the problem, but that makes the necessary connections to show people how climate change is already affecting their lives.

We are in an interesting time when most Americans profess a belief in climate change, but relatively few see it as a major problem.

A November ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 63 percent of Americans considered climate change a serious problem, a fall of 6 percent from the previous year.

In addition, the 47 percent of Americans who believed the federal government should be doing more also represented a drop from 2008 polling data.

While it is encouraging that many Americans believe in climate change and see it as problem, the fact that a notable minority does not means that we need to continue to find ways to hammer home the severity of the phenomenon.

A big part of the problem is that climate change is too often discussed in abstract terms that make it seem like a future problem, when in fact we are seeing our lives being affected by climate change right now.

The 2014 National Climate Assessment provides one of the most useful resources for seeing how climate change has already created problems for us, down to the regional and state level.

North Carolina is in the high range for states which have endured natural disasters causing more than $1 billion in damages between 1980 and 2012. The state had between 36 and 44 of those incidents, according to the report.

The report takes a broad approach, showcasing how weather events like heat waves and flooding are having negative effects on agriculture, sea level and human health throughout the country.

All of these things are happening right now and while the effects are different for people in different areas, the evidence shows the effects to be real.

To convince more people of the urgency of climate change, we have to start talking more about what is already happening, and connecting current problems of extreme weather and human health challenges to climate change.

We have the data. It is up to our media to give this issue the right type of attention.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is the opinion editor.