Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A new trend in environmental reporting?

There is little doubt that environmental issues have become more politicized over the past few years. Take climate change as an example. Faced with the claim that there is scientific consensus about climate change, deniers have responded by attacking science -- effectively making climate science the issue in the Climategate matter. While numerous investigations have largely cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing, the scientific community has been ineffective in communicating that point, and, as a result, the longstanding divisions between the scientific community and the public on matters of science have gotten worse.

Now, if the articles described below are any indication, the politicization of environmental matters has taken a new twist. Call it "everything good is bad for you reporting." This is reporting that takes conventional wisdom about environmental matters -- energy efficiency is good, recycling is good -- and turns it on its head by drawing attention to unexpected and unintended consequences. Here are two examples.

1) Over at the BBC, Nick Higham reports Recycled Cardboard poses a Risk

2) John Tierney reports on When Energy Efficiency Sullies the Environment

I'm not being a pollyanna here. I have no doubt that the problems the articles identify are real. We live in a complex world and should expect the unexpected. But I'm not sure these same matters would have been reported in this way a few years ago. So, how does one explain it? On the one hand, it could just be a random occurrence that several articles of this type appeared at the same time. But my sense is that the appearance of multiple articles of this type at this time more likely indicates a change in attitudes and, in particular, a shift in the type of findings that science journalists attend to.

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