Roughly every five or six years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes a report that indicates the current impact of climate change and consequent policy recommendations. The most recent report, the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, contains three separate reports based on the IPCC’s working groups—Working Group I reports the current physical science behind climate change, Working Group II reports the current impact of climate change and Working Group III reports strategies for reducing the negative effects of climate change.
Ming Chun Tang ’16, under the guidance of Professor of Government Peter Cannavo, is researching online news media’s coverage of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report for his Levitt Fellowship this summer. So far the IPCC has only released the report for Working Group I—the physical science of climate change. Tang is using online news reports from CNN, The New York Times, BBC News and The Guardian to analyze the accuracy of popular online news sources’ representations of Working Group I’s findings. He plans to highlight any discrepancies between the news organizations’ coverage, especially any significant differences between the American sources and the British sources. Tang is supplementing his content analysis with existing literature on climate change reporting.
Tang explained that the manner in which news sources represent the IPCC’s findings is crucial to forming public opinion on climate change. “International news outlets are often criticized for giving undue weight to minority opinions on the issue of climate change, namely skeptics and deniers who argue that climate change either isn't happening or isn't caused by human activity,” Tang said. “But 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is indeed man-made. Giving too much media attention to skeptics can be hugely detrimental to any efforts to deal with a problem that we know is real.”
Tang originally became interested in news media coverage of climate change after noticing that international news media slightly misrepresented the Working Group I report. “After the report was released the international news media seemed to strongly emphasize the fact that global warming had supposedly ‘paused’ since around 1998. Yet the report makes it clear that global warming is unequivocal and almost certainly caused by human activity, and it also explains why global warming appears to have slowed down but in fact hasn't,” Tang explained.
Though he has not yet finished his content analysis, Tang reported that the literature he has read indicates that the news outlets in English-speaking countries, namely the United States and England, tend to be less accurate in their presentations of climate change. News sources in these countries often over-represent the voices of skeptics.
Tang is a world politics major, so this topic melds perfectly with his area of study. More importantly though, Tang stressed, “I think climate change is one of the most important issues that humanity faces today and one that we urgently need to deal with but aren't doing anywhere near enough. Presenting it accurately in the media so that the public is properly informed is the first step.”
Ming Chun Tang ’15 is a graduate of Leysin American School, Switzerland.