Climate vs. Kardashian

Over the past year and a half, major American news outlets have chosen to feature the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification. This Media Matters article discusses the potential danger of the news media pandering to the public’s current entertainment interests versus informing them on important issues that will personally affect them.

STUDY: Kardashians Get 40 Times More News Coverage Than Ocean Acidification
Cross-post from Media Matters
by Shauna Theel

Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they’re also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming’s “evil twin” or the “osteoporosis of the sea.” Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.

Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place “at an unprecedented rate and magnitude” and are “practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries.”

Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.

While most coverage described the basic scientific phenomenon or listed ocean acidification as a serious environmental challenge, the Wall Street Journal dismissed the problem. All three mentions of ocean acidification from the Journal were from columns that downplayed the threat — there was not a single straight news article interviewing scientists. One of those columns was a full article devoted to distorting and cherry-picking the science on ocean acidification. The Journal also published a letter to the editor (not counted in this study) from the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Chris Horner who summarily dismissed ocean acidification as “the latest nominee to supplant troubled CO2-warming theory.” But the threat is nothing to shake off.

Since the Industrial Revolution, global surface temperatures have increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. But we would have warmed up more if the ocean did not absorb about 30 percent of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere. At first scientists focused on the benefits of this absorption in reducing the amount of warming expected to result from CO2 emissions. But more recently they have been studying how dissolved CO2 is increasing the acidity of the ocean. These changes are happening rapidly, harming the ability of species to adapt to them. As the National Research Council explained in a comprehensive 2010 report, the ocean ecosystems on which humans rely “evolved over millennia to an aqueous environment of remarkably constant composition,” but are now facing major chemical changes due to human activities:

The chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate and magnitude due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions; the rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred for at least the past hundreds of thousands of years. Unless anthropogenic CO2 emissions are substantially curbed, or atmospheric CO2 is controlled by some other means, the average pH of the ocean will continue to fall. Ocean acidification has demonstrated impacts on many marine organisms. While the ultimate consequences are still unknown, there is a risk of ecosystem changes that threaten coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources of value to society.

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Organisms forming oceanic ecosystems haveevolved over millennia to an aqueous environment of remarkably constant composition. There is reason to be concerned about how they will acclimate or adapt to the changes resulting from ocean acidification–changes that are occurring very rapidly on geochemical and evolutionary timescales.

Read the full article here.

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