Sunny spells. Scattered showers. Changing climate
Met Éireann made a rare prounouncement on climate change this week. As the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its Fifth Assessment Report, can Ireland’s living-room scientists rekindle interest in a major global issue?
Polling by the UK Energy Research Centre shows that the proportion of people there who believe climate change is a myth rose from 4 per cent to 19 per cent between 2005 and 2013.
In Ireland, a similar trend has not been detected, but Eurobarometer surveys indicate that we are falling behind the European attitudinal norm. In 2009, 46 per cent of the population regarded climate change as one of the world’s most serious problems. This fell slightly to 45 per cent in 2011; the average score for EU countries rose from 47 per cent to 51 per cent.
Coghlan speaks fondly of a phase of “postmaterialism” here in the mid-naughties when the green movement gained some traction. “It was almost at a stage where the Irish Times Magazine would be asking, ‘What type of high heels are best for climate-change flooding?’ That sort of thing. It had reached a real popular-culture zeitgeist.” Because of the economic downturn, he says, “I don’t think we are going to get that again.”
He admits that if you mention global warming to anyone today the most likely response is, “Sure, wouldn’t all those hot summer be great?” Coghlan describes this as “a typical Irish defence mechanism”.
Seeds of doubt
Lobbying by the fossil-fuel industry has been blamed for sowing seeds of doubt in the public mind, but another sector is coming in for increasing flak: the media. “The media, by its nature, tends to look at climate change the same way as it looks at political problems,” says Fleming. “So it has ‘this person’ and ‘that person’, and they have different points of view, and they can convince one person or another person and the electorate ultimately will decide. Well, in this case, the atmosphere is the electorate, and it’s not listening to any of us.”
Duncan Stewart, the veteran broadcaster, is more emphatic. “The media has been irresponsible, and I include RTÉ in that . . . I feel ashamed to be in the media, to be honest with you, because the media have been the cheerleaders for a lot of these sorts of doubts. Television, radio and newspapers” – he includes The Irish Times in his criticism – “are incredibly vulnerable to the sensation and the controversy around this.”
In Britain and the US, coverage of the issue has become increasingly polarised. Rupert Murdoch has publicly expressed scepticism about climate change, and his media organisations have been accused of giving unscientific views excessive airtime. A study last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US labelled as “misleading” 93 per cent of climate-change coverage on Fox News and 81 per cent of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pieces on the issue.