Journalist Conference Takes Left Turn on Climate Change

     Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told a group at the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists Convention & National Journalism Conference held in Washington, D.C., on October 4 one of the things that made the SPJ great is its Code of Ethics.

     Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told a group at the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists Convention & National Journalism Conference held in Washington, D.C., on October 4 one of the things that made the SPJ great is its Code of Ethics.


     He would have been disappointed if he had attended the hour-long October 5 program at the convention entitled “Climate Change Affects Every Beat.”


     The three panelists were Larry Evans, managing editor of Daily Environmental Report; Judi Greenwald, director of innovative solutions at the Pew Center on Climate Change; and Michelle Moore, vice president for policy and public affairs at the U.S. Green Building Council.


     “We need help from journalists to explain to the public what is at stake and how we are going to be able to move forward,” Greenwald said. “And I guess finally is to where I could use some help is on cap and trade because cap and trade is what we’re talking about doing as the centerpiece ... Unless the public really understands how it works and why we need it, we’re going to be in trouble, so I could use some help from people who do communication with normal people for a living to explain this and explain why this is the way forward.”


     But even the highly-respected former Federal Reserve chairman and economist Alan Greenspan questioned in his book, “The Age of Turbulence,” the validity of a cap and trade system’s impact as an effective means to fight global warming.


     “Yet as an economist, I have grave doubts that international agreements imposing a globalized so-called cap-and-trade system on CO2 emissions will prove feasible,” Greenspan wrote. “There is no effective way to meaningfully reduce emissions without negatively impacting a large part of an economy,” Greenspan wrote. “Net, it is a tax. If the cap is low enough to make a meaningful inroad into CO2 emissions, permits will become expensive and large numbers of companies will experience cost increases that make them less competitive. Jobs will be lost and real incomes of workers constrained.”


     However, when the panel was confronted with the question of maintaining the balance between reporting the news and playing the role of advocacy journalist, Greenwald offered the standard talking points.


     “I think the facts are actually quite compelling,” Greenwald said. “We advocate one thing, but a lot of what we do is just report the facts … A lot of scientists worked on that question [if global warming was just natural] and did very sophisticated analysis that are sort of hard to explain because a lot of it is about pattern analysis and if you look at the pattern of global warming and try to find some sort of explanation, the only explanation that actually works for it is the greenhouse gases.”


     Moore promoted story ideas about building more “green” buildings to journalists. She told the group she saw the media as playing a “tremendously important role into helping consumers understand” the theory nuances of green buildings, what kinds of products to buy when it comes to combating global warming and what issues they should consider.


     “What we’re after is market transformation,” Moore said. “We want to see every single building that is built, managed, operated, whatever – in the United States enter a membership in a world green building council in collaboration with other GBCs (green building councils) all over the world and that would just be the way our industry works.”


     Greenwald saw no problem with those “types of stories.”


     “Similarly on the solution side, the green building story – it works,” added Greenwald. “They successfully – you can write about what happened – they built the building, people were healthier and they reduced greenhouse gases.”


     However, the most reasonable response to the ethics question came from Evans, whose firm, BNA, Inc., published a report, “U.S. Climate Change Policy: A Status Report,” that advocated a federal government response to global warming.


     “There just aren’t a lot of people who are against responding to global warming, there are a lot of people who are just nervous about the costs,” Evans said.


     BNA, Inc. is also a sponsor of the four-day journalism conference.


     The organization’s Code of Ethics, already scarce in the media’s climate coverage, includes among its stated principles:


·        Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.

·        Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

·        Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.


     The Code was published on page 24 of the SPJ program guide.