Should Panelists Dismissive of Climate Change Be Included at Campus Forums?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
That's the question raised in an American Observer article about this week's AU Forum held on the "Climate Change Generation? Youth, Media, and Politics in an Unsustainable World." The Observer is the digital news site run by graduate students in journalism at American University. Here's how reporter Kristen Becker described the issue with reactions from students, Forum moderator Jane Hall, and panelists Juliet Eilperin and Kate Sheppard:
Although a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found the number of Americans who believe climate change is occurring has dropped from 80 percent to 72 percent in the last year, the forum's panel lacked anyone who was skeptical about the existence of global warming.
Jane Hall, a professor at the university's School of Communication, and the forum's moderator, explained the decision was made because "most people agree that climate change is happening," even if they don't agree on the causes. Rather than "reflexively have someone who doesn't believe that climate change exists," she attempted to bring in skepticism through her questions and said she hoped students in the audience would as well. Only one student questioner admitted any skepticism about the science behind the phenomena.
American University student Lauren Linhard commented on the lack of climate change skeptics at the forum, saying, "Obviously, people who came here are interested in support of climate change, whereas, the people who didn't come are the people who don't care, so we didn't get that point of view in this."
Sheppard and The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin addressed how they deal with this issue in their reporting.
Eilperin explained there is a difference between reporting on the science behind climate change and reporting on the political debate. She also cited President Barack Obama's focus on combating climate change as a possible reason why the issue of global warming is becoming more polarized.
"In our articles [in The Washington Post], we write the fact that the science is settled on that question," she said. "I think there's also the question of the political debate, which is different. It's one thing to . . . inform readers about the science concerning climate change, and it's another thing when you're actually covering in real time what's happening, and how there is a divide."
Sheppard noted that the dissenting voices aren't about whether climate change exists, but "how much is happening, how fast, what exactly that means."
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