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.