Do you remember climate change? If you don't, according to former climate reporter David Fogarty, part of the reason might be that his past news agency, Reuters, decided to cut back its climate change coverage just as other news organizations are coming to the same conclusion. Rather than being the evidence of a global, anti-science, climate-denying cabal, Reuters's decision reflects a far more troubling trend: the news is covering it less because, frankly, we just don't care anymore.
Over the course of 2012, Fogarty, who had covered climate change in Asia for years at Reuters, was increasingly told by his superiors that the agency would be moving away from environmental stories, which were no longer a "top priority." Though Fogarty tried to do it anyway, it became ever more difficult to get an article on climate change past the editors' desks that were influenced by a "climate of fear" against publishing unpopular stories.
This would all be less disconcerting if it weren't for the fact that Reuters is hardly alone in being a major news agency moving away from climate change coverage. In early 2013, the New York Times discontinued its Green Blog, and, around the same time, the Washington Post shifted its lead climate change reporter, Juliet Eilperin, away from covering environmental news. As for television, the cumulative time on all of the major Sunday talk shows devoted to covering Obama's recent climate change speech adds up to zero (The Daily Show did best, with 3 minutes, 29 seconds). Despite all of TV's recent "weather" coverage, only 6% of stories on this year's major wildfires mentioned a possible connection with climate change, though many leading scientists posit just that as an explanation.
Of course, all of the usual suspects, from the World Bank to the United Nations, can all be relied upon for annual announcements that the end is very near; though unfortunately for all of us, they seem to be living not in the future but in the past. Not since the 2006 summer hysteria over An Inconvenient Truth, when you walked out of the movie theater with your friends or your family feeling very, very worried, has mass culture participated in anything resembling a collective concern over the future of our planet. Two presidential elections have come and gone, and in neither was climate change a significant issue.
This shift, however, has not been imposed upon us, the American people. If anything, we've demanded it. According to Yale's Project on Climate Change Communication, which annually polls Americans' feelings on climate change, in 2013 less than 20% of Americans consider climate change very or extremely important to them, and almost 45% consider it not at all or not very important; this at the same time that over 60% consistently believe that it's happening. These figures, reflecting trends since data began being recorded in 2008, tell a clear story: more and more we believe that climate change is happening, but care about it less and less.
Unfortunately, we do not need the data to believe this story — all we have to do is examine ourselves. Chances are, though you will mock and debate climate change deniers until your dying breath, climate change ranks low in your list of priorities. This makes us feel guilty, because we know we should care more, in the same way we should care more about starving children in Africa and 401k's. In America, in both the Left and the Right, there is a profound disconnect — schizophrenia on a societal level — between what we know and what we believe. No matter how much we know climate change is happening, increasingly we can't be bothered. Maybe our mistake was thinking that we've made ourselves a nice scientific and rational world to live in, while we remain anything but. At least on a societal level, knowing and believing are two very different things, and if we are going to get serious about climate change, we must learn how to get from the former to the latter.