Monday, January 9, 2012

Maxwell Boykoff's "Who Speaks for the Climate?"

Maxwell T. Boykoff is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He teaches in the Environmental Studies program and is Adjunct faculty in the Geography Department. In addition, Boykoff is a Senior Visiting Research Associate in the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Who Speaks for the Climate?: Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of the fifth chapter of my book. This chapter works through the various ways that journalistic norms shape media representations of climate change over time, and how (mis)understandings about climate change in the public citizenry can be perpetuated by way of journalistic and editorial (mis)steps in the newsroom. On page 99, I weave this premise into surrounding chapters, writing, “[C]onstructions of meaning – negotiated in the spaces of cultural politics – are shaped by structural and institutional as well as cultural and psychological factors, operating simultaneously at multiple scales. These issues intersect with journalistic norms and values.”

Professionalized journalistic behaviors – held together by norms – contribute to media representational practices. While these help to translate and make meaningful oft-complex issues in climate science and policy for consumer-citizens, uncritical deference to particular journalistic norms can have detrimental and far-reaching effects, shaping ongoing climate science and governance discussions. Individual journalists must contend with many pressures while reporting news, and decisions are made in context of larger-scale pressures. Clearly, while these pressures affect content, they are interrelated; influences can be considered through a range of elements such as technical capacity issues, weather events, underlying issues of trust, and political economy (such as corporate mass media consolidation). I explore how these dynamic, contested and complex issues play out across space/place and time in Who Speaks for the Climate?.

The start of Chapter Five on Page 99 is an important hinge for the broader discussions as to how salient and swirling contextual factors as well as competing journalistic pressures and norms contribute to how issues, events and information have often become climate ‘stories’ we tell ourselves (and each other). I then focus attention on how these stories have contributed to critical misperceptions, misleading debates, distractions and divergent understandings that can be detrimental to efforts that seek to enlarge rather than constrict the spectrum of possibility for responses to climate challenges. Overall, I have been compelled to write the book in order to help understand the role of media in considerations of how formal climate science and governance link with people’s everyday activities in the public sphere. Considerations of "who speaks for the climate" via mass media are as important as formal climate governance architectures themselves to the long-term success or failure of efforts to take carbon out of the atmosphere or keep it out. It is in our collective self-interest to interrogate, and more wisely support links between science, policy and media.
Learn more about Who Speaks for the Climate? at the Cambridge University Press website.

Writers Read: Maxwell T. Boykoff.

--Marshal Zeringue