Has the media stopped linking floods to climate change?

UK flooding has been a top news story for the last few weeks – but it’s felt to me like climate change hasn’t been in the picture. So I ran the numbers to check.

I searched on Nexis for news stories about flooding across UK newspapers, filtering out stories about floods of migrants, floods of tears and Toby Flood (details at the bottom*). I then looked at how many of those stories also mentioned climate change or global warming.

The results were interesting. Until 2008, 12-18% of articles about flooding also mentioned climate change. That then leapt to 25% in 2009 – but since then has fallen to 7-11%.

This is pretty much what I might have guessed. Up to late ’09, the media seemed increasingly interested in climate change, but after the Copenhagen conference and the UEA email hack the only climate stories they were interested in were those about scientific disagreements, public scepticism and political inertia (even in the face of scientific consensus, stable public worries and political progress).

This should worry climate change campaigners.

For the UK to have decent climate change policies (limiting it and adapting to unavoidable changes) that have public support and so can survive spending cuts, there needs to be a widespread public view that climate change will be a problem. One of the best ways of fostering this is to show how climate change will affect the UK, using examples that reflect what the future would look like if we don’t take action**.

Flooding is the climate change impact that is seen as most likely (and indeed already happening) and most worrying. If the media aren’t talking about flooding in the context of climate change, campaigners are missing an opportunity to get more people to care about it and punish governments that don’t act.

 

* I looked at stories in the main UK national papers, where flood/floods was mentioned at least three times, filtering out a few distracting terms; and then filtered those by ones mentioning climate change or global warming. Happy to give full details and data if anyone’s interested.

** There’ll no doubt be responses that I’m being unscientific in linking specific floods to climate change. Two responses. Firstly, where climate change makes a kind of event more likely, it’s trivial to ask whether a particular event was caused by climate change. It’s like weighting a coin to make it more likely to come down heads, and then wondering whether it came down heads because of the weighting or would have down so otherwise. Secondly, the debate is about what’ll happen in the future. Flooding is an example of the kind of impact caused by more extreme weather: the finer details of what caused it don’t matter to most people half as much as what can be done to reduce the impact when it happens again.

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  1. John Benton says:

    What absolute crap. Clearly you have not even bothered to look at the full data, which shows NO connection between flooding and climate change. If you had cared to even do the most rudimentary of research you would have seen that the majority of houses that are being flooded in Britain (mainly England) are those which have been built since the 1970′s on floodplains. The clue is in the name.

    Furthermore even the alarmist Met Office has repeatedly stated that there has been NO increase in “extreme weather”. If you’re going to write articles on a blog you know nothing about,then at least do some basic research first. Or is it just possible you knew your claims were rubbish,but the climate change propaganda suited your own preconceptions.

    • Leo says:

      John,
      Thanks for commenting – and for using your real name.
      I suggest we’ll both be happier if we agree to disagree on this one.
      Leo

      • Arne Eriksson says:

        Leo,

        I find your reply is highly unsatisfactory. For anyone with interest in facts/science, at least you could post a link to the data tha convinced you of your poition. I tend to agree with John, but I’d like to see the data before proclasiming any position. Sure there may be different data sets, open to interpretation.

        AR% SPM doesnt give you much of support: page 4, 3rd bullet says “Confidence in precipitation change averaged over global land areas since 1901 is low”. 4th bullt: “The frequency or intensity of heavy precipitation events has likely increased in North America and Europe” .

        Maybe you have UK specific data?

  2. Frances Butler says:

    Hi Leo, really useful piece of research, thanks. I wonder what the figures are for broadcast media which of course, unlike newspapers, are bound by stricter “due accuracy” requirements. It seems to me that the BBC, for example, are mentioning “climate change” in the context of flooding more frequently than before. Best wishes, Frances

    • Leo says:

      Thanks Frances – interesting question. I suspect it would be similar, though not sure how you would find out. There was of course Steve Jones’s report on the BBC’s ‘balance’ about climate change, though not sure what data were in that or if it would cover the flooding/CC link.
      Leo

  3. Steve Jones says:

    Leo,

    There is no need to ‘agree to disagree’. As John Benton says, check the data available (being careful to take into account developments on flood plains etc as mentioned) then use that to verify your hypothesis. That is the scientific method. I look forward to a follow up blog with graphs of eg floods over the last 200 years for example.

    • Arne Eriksson says:

      Indeed, and why not go back to 1717?

      From Wiki:

      “The Christmas Flood of 1717 (Dutch: Kerstvloed 1717; German: Weihnachtsflut 1717) was the result of a northwesterly storm, which hit the coast area of the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia on Christmas night of 1717. In total, approximately 14,000 people drowned. It was the last large storm flood in the north of the Netherlands. Floodwaters reached the towns and cities of Groningen, Zwolle, Dokkum, Amsterdam, and Haarlem. Many villages near the sea were devastated entirely, such as in the west of Vlieland and villages behind the sea dykes in Groningen province”

      more here:
      http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/

  4. Pete Austin says:

    Re: “Flooding is the climate change impact that is seen as most likely”. The chart in the linked article, from MORI/Defra, includes the questions asked, which did not mention climate change. So people may not view flooding as a climate change impact at all. An alternative reason for them to see flooding as more likely is that, like me, they regularly see large numbers of newly-built houses in vulnerable locations such as flood plains.

  5. Arne Eriksson says:

    Who knows what the future will bring (fortune tellers?), but history is somewhat documented by the UK MetOffice, from 1910 here: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/actualmonthly/

    Select: England, Rainfall, Annual. Not much of a trend.

    Select: England, Rainfall, Winter. Slightly down ! :-)

    Select Scotland, now thats another story.

  6. Stephen Watson says:

    There is a curious situation with reporting Climate Change, especially on the BBC.

    if you think Climate Change is a hoax or invalid then the argument goes no further.

    If however you think that 97% of peer-reviewed scientific works on Climate Change agree it exists and that that humans are causing it then it’s another matter.

    Climate change is about … A changing climate. What would that look like? Well, unusual patterns, rare things becoming more frequent, more extremes. If none of these happen then really I suppose it wouldn’t be changing. Yet, whenever tennis players are keeling over in Oz, extended droughts in the USA, uncommon cold in the southern us, flooding for ages in the UK and so on and so on … It’s never to do with climate change.

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