Am I the only one who senses a remarkable shift — or, really, three shifts — in how the press is covering climate change?

First, a year or so ago I started seeing much less coverage of climate change as a scientific controversy and much more that accepts the actual state of affairs — namely, that the scientific underpinnings of climate change are remarkably uncontroversial, and that the vast majority of atmospheric scientists think it’s real.

More recently, I’ve seen much more coverage of the economic costs of climate change — take for example, the British report suggesting that unchecked climate change could lead to a global recession. Previously, the larger part of the coverage talked only about the costs of fighting climate change — as if those were the only costs worth thinking about. As I’ve said before, one-sided coverage of the costs of climate change enables “magical thinking” — namely, that if we just bury our heads under our pillows, the costs will go away. Balanced coverage — making it clear that “business as usual” carries huge costs and risks — makes that sort of magical thinking harder to sustain.

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And now, I’ve started seeing mention of the ethical dilemmas associated with climate change. See, most recently, this, from the Christian Science Monitor. The following quote nails it:

Climate change not only raises ethical questions, but the most profound ones – literally matters of life and death, who’s going to survive, the fate of nation states, obligations of one nation to another, of the rich and the poor.

In some ways, this third trend in media coverage is the most heartening to me. It’s not that economic arguments don’t matter. Far from it. Still, they only go so far — especially for genuinely long-term problems, where costs accrue right now, but the benefits go to people who don’t even exist yet. On purely pragmatic and self-interested grounds, it’s a hard sell to convince me to pay $10 now to avoid $100 in potential costs a century from now. After all, I won’t be around to reap the fruits of my labor.

That’s where ethical arguments can have some sway. I, for one, would rather pay $10 now to prevent climate change, than face the thought that other people — especially my grandkids — might view me as a moral midget.

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