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Journalism, Recession, and Climate Change
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USA Today is reporting that CO2 emissions are falling because of the global recession.  I'm sure that's true.  Yet I'm worried that the media is looking for evidence that folks who are concerned about climate change are somehow "rooting for recession."  Check out the framing in this quote:

A recession-driven drop in emissions "is good for the environment," says Emilie Mazzacurati of Point Carbon, an energy research company. "In the long term, that's not how we want to reduce emissions."

Then, later in the article we get a fuller mention of Mazzacurati's real views.

Some experts fear lower emissions may make companies and governments less likely to spend money to cut carbon output. "There's a risk that it will push back needed investment into … cleaner production," Mazzacurati says.

Mazzacurati is clearly making the point that, over the long term, a recession could hurt the climate more than help it.  The credit crunch and other forces could choke off funds for clean-energy investment.  Just so, we've already seen that badly conceived stimulus projects could deepen our addiction to oil and fossil fuels.

Yet even so, the first quote that the writer pulls from what was undoubtedly a long and nuanced conversation about the risk of recession to the climate is a phrase -- not even a full sentence -- suggesting that the recession is good for the climate.  Having been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, it seemed me as if the reporter was looking for a nugget to back up a preconceived story line.

Truthfully, I don't know the long-term relation between the global economic crisis and the climate.  Climate change is a very long-term problem.  Even if the economic crisis lasted for a decade, it still might not make much of a difference to the long-term trajectory of CO2 emissions.  The important thing, then, is to make sure that we're developing the right policies, and deploying the right technologies, so that emissions will fall no matter what happens to the economy.

In a nutshell:  I don't think anyone's rooting for economic pain.  But you can be sure that some reporters to try to claim the opposite.  So just be aware that this is mostly a manufactured story line, not the real sentiments of the broader public -- folks who are genuinely worried both about keeping their jobs and protecting the climate over the long haul.

this piece originally appeared on Sightline Daily

image credit: flickr/brutal, Creative Commons License.

related posts: U.S. Media Largely Ignores Latest Warning From Climate Scientists

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Dunno. Saul Griffith's "Year of Peak Waste" article in Make Magazine (unfortunately not online in full) certainly sounded a little like he was rooting for the recession. Definitely not a good meme. But what's the right way to convey that this aspect of the recession is good, and should be retained, even upon recovery? That's basically what we have to engineer, declines in emissions at depression-era rates, without the depression...

Posted by: Zane Selvans on 13 Apr 09

"we already know that economic downturns cut pollution. what we want to know is why we can't cut pollution at other times, when a clean energy economy is healthier, safer, and ultimately less expensive."

Posted by: hapa on 13 Apr 09

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