The Controversial Media display on Global Warming
Global warming is the increase in the temperature of the earth surface air resulting from the concentration of greenhouse gases. These gases mainly consist of water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide and ozone. The amount of greenhouse gases has been increasing due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation which increases carbon dioxide in the air.There is a controversy on whether global warming is caused entirely by human activity or is it just the result of a natural cause. This natural cause is associated with the suns magnetic field and solar wind that together change the intensity of the higher energy radiation that comes from outside the solar system. This change in intensity causes variation in the amount of water vapor and in turn controls the change in climate.(“The causes of global warming and climate change”, 2010). Global warming is likely to cause a rise in the sea level resulting from the melting of glaciers in the Arctic, expansion of deserts and extreme changes in weather conditions. The opponents of global warming have another view and believe that the changes that we observe around the globe are simply climatic adjustments.History is evidence on the theory of global warming. Timothy F. Ball, former Professor of Geography, University of Winnipeg believed that there has been an increase in temperature in the 20th century which is just the reverse of a decrease in temperature known as global cooling in the 19th century. “The temperature hasn’t gone up. … But the mood of the world has changed: It has heated up to this belief in global warming.”(Ball.T 2006).While Garth Paltridge, Visiting Fellow ANU and retired Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research and retired Director of the Institute of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre claimed that there is enough evidence to believe that human activities are causing global warming but the impact of its effect is unpredictable. (“List of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming”, 2010)
Global Warming, to me, is an issue which has been a very popular issue for decades now and more recently the media has created a great hype about it. According to my observation, media has created much ado about nothing. I do not completely believe in the existence of global warming and its consequences that the media has been propagating for so long now. I believe that there is always one truth and there is nothing like a half truth. If global warming exists it should be a universal truth and not something on which even the media is divided upon. It is because of how the media has been presenting different theories on this issue that I have lost the little faith I had in the existence of global warming. Whether, its good or bad, I am sure that media has helped to shape the beliefs of most of the people in the world on global warming. And it is not only about how media has often contradicted itself but to the depths they have gone to prove one thing wrong at one point in time and proving it right the other. People have not, I believe, lost faith in the global warming issue only but also in the media itself.
However, media has surely created awareness about the subject of global warming. I would say that media has been successful in making it a global issue. Global warming , whether conspiracy or propaganda, has remained on the headlines of thousands of newspapers and news channels all over the world for so long that the term “Global Warming” seems to be losing its significance as a word. It has been made so common and such a talked-about issue that it has lost it seems to have lost its significance.
Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman proposed the propaganda model which describes that there are five types of filters in the society that alter the news that is printed in newspapers and magazines or presented by any other channel of communication.(Cromwell, 2002). The first filter is the large corporations and multinational organizations that influence the news that is published. Exxon Mobil was accused for spreading disinformation from 1998 to 2005 on global warming with the help of a number of institutes and media partners such as Wall Street Journals in January 2007. (Lobe, 2007).This disinformation was intended to reduce the increasing impact of a consensus on global warming. The second filter is related to advertising. Owners of any media channel need advertisements to cover their costs and therefore they are influenced by the major advertisers who want to publish stories of interest. The third filter is the relationship that the mass media establishes with major sources of information such as the spokesperson of Whitehouse.(Cromwell, 2002).These sources might not provide the media with powerful information when needed and so they have to publish stories that are of interest to these sources. For instance in January 2006 the Bush administration and NASA prevented Dr. James Hansen a major scientist from NASA from informing the general public that advanced technology can be used to eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases. .(Shah, 2009) The fourth filter are the negative responses from the public, corporations or the government that prevent the media from publishing news that may cause these negative responses to prevail.(Cromwell, 2002).Scientists were offered $10,000 by major oil companies to prevent them from publishing news reports on global warming. Letters were sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) with payment offers to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).(Sample, 2007).The last but not the least is anti-communism that is the development of an enemy of the world such as Saddam Hussein through propaganda by the media that enables a phenomenon to rise in public. In the case of global warming the developing countries like India and China are blamed for increasing the emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. All the above filters identified in the propaganda model have helped the media to create hype over global warming.
Following are some propaganda techniques explained and discussed briefly in light of global warming:
“An assertion is an enthusiastic or energetic statement presented as a fact, although it is not necessarily true.”(Maki,2008). These are statements for which there is no proof or evidence given and have no empirical standing. The media picks up a subject and creates hype about it without finding out the reasons and explanations behind it. For example quite recently there has been a propaganda created by the media by asserting that the consumption of meat is adding to global warming which has since then denied by various scientific studies.
Glittering Generalities involve “the use of highly valued concepts and beliefs which attract general approval and acclaim” to create propaganda.(Maki,2008) This is done by using words and concepts like “freedom” and “human right” which are seen by many as something very positive and worth giving consent to. In the case of global warming, media has used expressions like “saving the world” to get a positive response from the masses. Audience is made to see global warming as a threat to this world and therefore it creates a general belief that global warming is something that is bad and should be stopped from increasing.
This is a technique used to “carry over the authority and approval of something you respect and revere to something the propagandist would have you accept”.(Maki,2008). The media has used this technique by projecting institutions like NASA and organizations like United Nations to have approved and testified that global warming is one of the most threatening issues of our age. Since people have built up good reputations of such institutions in their minds, they do not question the issues propagated by them. NASA, for example, is considered to be the most scientifically advanced organizations by many and if global warming is presented as testified by them, not many would question why or how NASA reached this conclusion.
The aim of testimonial is to “leverage the experience, authority and respect of a person and use it to endorse a product or cause”.(Maki,2008) Just like in Transfer technique above, where organizations and institutions were made the base of propagating concepts, here the propagandists use a person’s reputation and credibility to endorse and idea or subject. The documentary made on global warming, The Great Global Warming Swindle, is a very good example of where scientists and professors like Carl Wunsch were misrepresented and their statements were given a different meaning in order to create the propaganda and get people into believing the propositions of the documentary. Later on, professor Carl Wunsch stated that he was not informed clearly about the topic and that he was deceived into give the statements that were included in the documentary.
A technique whereby “the propagandist positions him or herself as an average person just like the target audience, thereby demonstrating the ability to empathize and understand the concerns/feelings of the masses”.(Maki,2008) Global warming was not taken seriously by many for as long as the forces propagating the issue were alien to them. For example, when the Bush administration was highlighting the issue, many people in eastern countries thought of it as an issue concerning to the West. However, when UN and local organization of the respective countries raised their voices, global warming was adopted as a global issue. This is because, people tend to believe and put more faith in people and organizations with which they are able to relate and associate with.
It is “a way of manipulating audience perceptions by emphasizing one side of an argument which reinforces your position”.(Maki,2008) We have seen over the years that media has propagated different aspects of global warming and has hardly ever come up with the complete truth. One documentary would be establishing how global warming is a major threat and it will only discuss the damages it may cause. On the other hand, another media source would solely be concentrating on proving the issue a conspiracy and will only discuss the loopholes but will not provide any justifications.
This technique is based on the idea that “’since everyone is doing it, you should too’. When the media was spilling out the harmful effects of global warming all over the place, it had seemed to everyone as if this is what is believed by everyone. Although, media is a very small component of any society but what is projected by media is perceived as the general perception of the society and thus people try to align their beliefs with those propagated by the media. This is what has happened in the case of the issue of global warming as well.
There are theories that explain how global warming has been such a big deal 20th century onwards. These theories are known as fear appeal theories. Fear appeals are particular messages about a phenomenon that are designed and published to scare people with repercussions of not complying with that phenomenon. This is done in order to stimulate a behavioral or attitudinal change related to the threat. Fear appeals starts with posing a threat and its consequences to the intended recipient and then follows solution that reduce the impact of this threat on the recipient.(“Fear appeals”, 2009). The concept of global warming existed since 1880’s but it gained popularity when Mrs. Margret Thatcher became the UK prime minister in 1979. During the election Sir Tickell, UK ambassador to the UN suggested that a person with scientific knowledge is more likely to win the elections and so Mrs. Thatcher who had a BSC degree in chemistry debated on global warming at each summit and made it an issue related to major policy strategy. (Courtney, n.d).Dillard (1994) identified three types of fear appeal theories. The first one is the Drive theory which deals with the different factors related to fear. According to this theory when people are presented with fear they react with a response which in turn helps to reinforce the threat and causes people to accept the recommended solutions to that threat.(Boermans, 2007).Since the proposition of global warming scientists, economists and governments have been scaring people with the end of life that can be a long term consequence of global warming. This has resulted in various agreements being formed in order to reduce the effects of such as devastating issue such as the Kyoto Protocol. After the publicity of global warming people are now accepting the solutions of reduction in the use of Chlorofluorocarbons, reducing deforestation, increase in the use of smarter green cars and many more.
The second theory that Dillard proposed is the parallel response models. According to this theory fear appeal leads to different processes known as danger control and fear control. Danger control proposes that both the perception of the fear and the effectiveness of the solution motivate a person to prevent the danger from occurring. The second process states that a person is motivated to reduce the negative emotion that arouses from the particular fear.
Protection motivation theory focuses on the person’s vulnerability to the threat, the extent to which the consequences of an issue are harmful and the response efficacy. The theory says that self-efficacy is the predictor of the effectiveness of fear appeals.(Broemans, 2007).Self-efficacy is ones perception of their ability to influence a situation. If people believe that they really can take measures to cut down greenhouse gas emissions and thereby reduce global warming then they are more likely to be effected by the fear appeal produced for global warming.
The extended parallel process model developed by (White, 1992) integrates the three groups identified by Dillard into one model. Under this theory firstly the threat is delivered in a message and this followed by different reactions. In the first case the audience renders the message as irrelevant. Second the audience is affected by the message and accepts the solutions needed to control it. Third the individual rejects the message because they consider the solutions to be ineffective.
Global warming has remained on the forefront of the media propaganda for some time now. Different forms of media in different parts of the world have taken their own stance towards this global issue and have formed equally different perceptions of the audience. Different techniques have been applied to instill the ideas into the minds of the masses and it is apparent that media has used them quite efficiently. Especially, the use of bandwagon effect, has worked wonders for the popularization of the issue. Media has contributed through newspaper, television news, documentaries and even movies on the subject of global warming. However, what should be kept in mind is that it is not really the different formats of media portraying different images of the issue but it’s the people behind the scenes who are actually holding the strings and controlling the media; the actual propagandists. Media has also made great use of the Fear Appeal Theory by initially creating huge fear in the minds of the people and then reinforcing it by focusing on different aspects of global warming and its consequences. It is the result of this constant reinforcing of the same idea in different waysthat there is such a huge awareness of the issue of global warming in the world today.
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