The Press Indulges in Denialist Dog-Whistles

One part of my lunch-break routine is to go to the tea room at my workplace and read the paper copy of The Press, the Christchurch wing of the Fairfax media empire. I skip to the perspective page where I can revel in a sense of validation when letters to the editor agree with me, or a sense of outrage when they don’t. At the top of the page the cartoon is either incisive political commentary from Sharon Murdoch, or trivial reactionary whinging from Al Nisbet. At the left, the anonymous editorial which tells us what to think.

Today, the anonymous editorial decided to take a shot at the NZ temperature records, part of the picture which makes 2016 the hottest year on record. While the article is at great pains to point out that it accepts human activities are responsible for the observed rise in mean temperatures, it attempts to downplay the latest news by talking up other factors:

It is important to realise temperatures this year have been influenced by more than just climate warming. One of the strongest El Nino (sic) patterns on record played a large role in bumping up average temperatures.

The Press should be so proud of themselves (\sarc), they are giving their readers no better than what they could get from fake news.The editorial adds to confusion by failing to specify the contribution that El niño made, instead describing it as “a large role”. Weasel words that could mean whatever the reader wants them to mean. An article on CarbonBrief by Roz Pidcock reports that El niño was responsible for about 10% of the 2015 temperature anomaly and up to 25% for 2016. A large role in absolute terms, but not in relative terms.

The editorial also takes on a defeatist tone, which also plays into the hands of denialists and lazy thinkers who can’t comprehend visions of society different to the status quo:

An oil tanker cannot be stopped in a short distance. Similarly, turning the Earth’s course around now would be nigh-on impossible. We can try to minimise or mitigate the effects of continuing climate change, through such vastly complicated deals as the Paris agreement, but we cannot realistically expect to get back to where we were temperature-wise and carbon dioxide levels-wise 100, even 50, years ago

Such verbosity doesn’t correspond to giving readers useful information. Alternatively, the editorial could inform readers of policies and technologies  that may reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It could also implore readers to make changes to their lifestyles, demand actions from their leaders and invest in clean technology. But that would involve too much hard work for the anonymous journalist. Instead they choose to write some meaningless words about an unspecified “thorough” and “well-considered” response and ignore the progress being made around the world. I know what I want to read about and it’s not the nonsense that The Press editorial gave me today.

*While researching this post, I was filled with pride to remember that I live in a part of the world (South Island, NZ) that uses ~100% renewable energy for electricity generation. The author of the editorial would do well to feel the same way.

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