The past couple of years have provided many examples of extreme weather events that, according to scientists, were exacerbated by climate change.
These events, which used to be featured in the back pages of newspapers or during the final moments of newscasts, are now in Canada. British Columbians endured an extreme heat wave in July, which has been followed this month by heavy rainfall and severe flooding.
Research Co. recently collaborated in the creation of The Climate Coverage in Canada Report, which sought feedback from scientists, journalists and Canadians to figure out where we go as we tackle one of the most compelling stories of our time. The results of the survey outline a public that is slowly embracing the idea of climate change as “a crisis” and becoming tired of skeptics who have taken advantage of ancestral editorial guidelines and contemporary online platforms.
The survey was conducted immediately after a federal electoral campaign where the issue of the environment was particularly salient in Quebec.
The environment, for the most part, was not treated differently in 2021 than in previous electoral contests. One has to wonder if the situation would have been the same had the campaign taken place in July or November.
In our survey, overwhelming proportions of scientists (91%) and journalists (93%) state that the news media should cover climate change as a crisis – a view shared by 73% of Canadians.
“Strong agreement” with covering climate change as a crisis reaches 66% among scientists and 76% among journalists but drops to 34% among all Canadians. British Columbians are more likely to believe that climate change should be covered as a crisis (41%) than residents of Quebec (37%), Atlantic Canada (36%), Alberta (also 36%), Ontario (30%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (25%).
The events of the last few days have brought more attention across Canada to the direct connection between climate change and weather events. This is an issue where there is practically universal agreement, with 95% of scientists and 94% of journalists saying that news stories about natural disasters and extreme weather should include information about how scientists say the likelihood and severity of those events are increasing as a result of climate change.
For decades, the search for objectivity in media coverage has compelled producers and editors to solicit views from a wide range of people, even if their statements contradict scientific facts. In our survey, 73% of journalists and 63% of scientists think news outlets should not publish columns, editorials op-eds or guest essays that reject climate change. It is important to note that the people responsible for ink and airwaves are more likely to abhor the presence of this type of guest than those who study science.
There is one area where scientists and journalists do not find common ground. While 79% of scientists want to be allowed to review stories about their findings and conclusions prior to publication, only 19% of journalists are willing to grant that privilege. Understandably, the country’s reporters and editors want to continue to have an unencumbered process of story preparation. Almost three in five Canadians (59%) would like social media companies to suspend or ban users who reject climate change – a course of action endorsed by 64% of journalists and scientists.
Most Canadians believe it is time to stop the media – mainstream and social – from becoming a repository for the musings of the uninformed. Online commentary about climate change cannot be treated with the same lackadaisical standards as a discussion about the state of local professional sports teams. •
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on online studies conducted from October 8 to November 3 among 1,006 adults, 143 scientists and 148 journalists in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.