Stop discussing symptoms and focus on phenomenon of climate change says award-winning journalist

Hannah Ticoras
May 8, 2014

The news media spend too much time covering the symptoms of climate change and not enough discussing the phenomenon of climate change itself.

That was what award-winning journalist Seth Borenstein, a professor of environmental journalism at New York University and Associated Press reporter, told a room full of students, faculty, and Athens community members on April 15. His talk, “Too Hot to Handle: What Climate Change is Doing and Why We Dont Pay Attention,” was cosponsored by the Environmental Studies program; the Consortium for Energy, Economics, and the Environment; the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs; the Scripps College of Communication; the Department of Geography, and the Center for International Studies.

s talk centered on the media’s lack of coverage on climate change issues. Instead, the media focus on individual impacts of climate change, such as stronger storms.

“Disasters are hot and emotional, which is what TV loves,” he said. “Its random, its sudden. And this is all good for TV news.”

As a science writer for the Associated Press, Borenstein has won numerous honors for his reporting on climate change issues, including the 2004 Scripps Foundation award, the 2007 National Journalism Award for Environment Reporting, and the 2008 Outstanding Beat Reporting award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. A large part of his job is taking information that is incomprehensible to much of the public and making it legible to all. Translating climate change data into layman’s terms not an easy job, he said, and it can be hard to make glamorous for public consumption.

“Climate change is lots of statistics, lots of modeling…its cold,” he said. “Its not hot and emotional. Its slow, its mostly in the future, its incremental.”

And while devastating hurricanes and the plight of polar bears are certainly newsworthy, Borenstein said that there must be room in the media for both the easy stories and the harder, science-based ones that explain why those storms are worse and why the bears are in trouble.

“Its not the polar bear,” Borenstein said. “Its us, its here and now.”

Although Borenstein feels passionately about his work as a science writer, he must stay unbiased in his work for the Associated Press — something that is unfathomable for May journalism graduate Mat Roberts, head editor of College Green Magazine.

I realized I could never do what [Borenstein] does, being a mirror to the science that directs the right information to the public,” Roberts said. “I care too much about the issues.”