American Media: Educating Citizens about Lindsay Lohan, Forgoing Climate Change

STORY BY Ellen Xie

Published: April 24, 2013

The lack of concern about climate change and environmental action still astounds me. Indeed, for those of us who have read up on the melting glaciers, flooding oceans, desertification of communities, and drying stream beds, the lack of concern or attention to energy policy and sustainable development seems a death sentence.

Still, the American disregard of such issues should not be too surprising, since the news, whether in the form of television, newspaper, online, or radio, dedicates little coverage to environmental news, despite the prevailing stories. 

A study done by Allan Mazur in 2006 on "Risk Perception and News Coverage Across Nations" surveyed sixteen nations in 1993 and 2000, and found that rising news coverage leads to increased perception of environmental danger. Furthermore, the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) found that media is "the leading source of environmental information for adults," particularly those thirty-five or older.

Couple these facts with those recently released by the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage in their report on "Environmental Coverage in the Mainstream News," and American lack in climate policy and development--especially in comparison to those of other developed nations-- fails to surprise. For, a shocking 1.2 percent of news is dedicated to environmental coverage, while news on violence, death, crime, scandal and entertainment receives an average of about five times more, around 44 percent of total coverage. In other words, most Americans know more about Justin Beiber's New Haircut than the hazards of genetically modified foods, or hydraulic fracturing (please, look it up). 

Then, news sources that do cover environmental topics often mislead. Fox News, for example, showcases environmental news twice as much as MNBC does. However, a 2012 study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that ninety-three percent of the station's coverage to be misleading. So, it remains. Although ninety-nine percent of scientists agree about global warming, the public remains ambivalent, stirred by the coverage of climate-change deniers, whose voices receive spotlight disproportionate to their numbers and scientific accuracy (or lack of).

In a survey of 1,000 Americans across the nation, seventy-nine percent wished for improved environmental coverage, with little variation between different age groups, genders, races, and demographics.

A NEEF/Roeper Report found that about "eighty percent of Americans are heavily influenced by incorrect or outdated environmental myths and there is little difference in environmental knowledge levels between the average American and those who sit on governing bodies, town councils, and in corporate board rooms—those whose decisions often have wider ramifications on the environment."

So while other news sources, most notoriously the Times, have dismantled their green reporting section, the Project for Environmental Coverage as well as other independent news sources, such as the Huffington Post, the National Public Radio, Yes!Magazine, and MotherJones, are working to fill the vacuum and satisfy the emerging need to be better informed, educated even, about the events happening around us, threatening to simultaneously dry up agricultural lands, and sink Manhattan.

If mainstream media continues to follow a mission of "if it bleeds, it leads," then it will be yet another sell-out to profit over content. While people may be attracted to entertainment and crime stories, they can only know so much about Lindsay Lohan's newest fiasco with drunk driving before needing a drink themselves, only hear so much of murder, rape, and pillage before they turn off the television, close the paper, or the internet window in search of something more varied, if not lighter, to satisfy their quench for knowledge and, perhaps, corrosive desire to live up to that picture of informed democracy, a responsible citizen who seeks news free from political maneuvering and keeps people awake to the world—the truth--around them. 

Other Stories by Ellen Xie
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