When it comes to climate change, there is one area in which the United States leads all other nations: Our media gives more time and attention to climate deniers than other countries. A recent study from researchers at Oxford University and Birkbeck College took a look at the level of climate skepticism in media coverage in the United States, Brazil, China, France, India, and the United Kingdom. The study, which focused on a three-month period that spanned the “Climategate” scandal, shows that media in the United States gives voice to climate skeptics almost twice as often as Britain—second on the list. The graph below shows the number of articles containing voices skeptical of climate change as a percentage of the total:
The study also found that while climate critiques ran in most U.S. papers regardless of ideology, right-leaning papers left most of the claims uncontested. For example, the left-leaning New York Times ran 14 opinion pieces that included some form of climate skepticism. All of them were contested. The more conservative Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, ran 17 opinion pieces—seven of which were written by regular columnists—all but one of which was left uncontested.
By giving climate-change deniers a platform to broadcast their views, the media legitimizes them. As a result, we never get around to talking about what we should do to fight climate change; instead we're stuck debating whether climate change is real and, if so, whether it is caused by humans. The existence of a manufactured "controversy" over climate change in turn affects policy. It explains why Congress was unable to pass meaningful climate-change legislation in 2009 and why we lag behind in clean-energy production, where we come in 11th place. During the presidential election season, environmental issues aren't even on the radar.
First in denying climate change, not even in the top ten when it comes to clean-energy production. Is this the new definition of American exceptionalism?