2022: Another year of media climate exaggeration—because hysteria sells

News sources continue to mislead the public into thinking there is a dramatic change in frequency and intensity of hurricanes and flooding

By Hol­man W. Jenk­ins, Jr., Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2022

Exaggeration is the universal media bias. Hysteria sells and is also a form of personal signaling. No wonder 2022 was another busy year for hyperbole on many fronts, including on climate.

In a tweet thread, Patrick Brown, an atmospheric scientist at the climate-action-supporting Breakthrough Institute, wondered why, apart from increased rainfall, the news media “insist on a framing that misleads its audience into thinking we have experienced a dramatic change in hurricane frequency/intensity?”

Ollie Wing, a University of Bristol hydrologist, wondered in a tweet why the media publishes exaggerated flood maps to suggest centimeters of sea-level rise will result in meter-deep floods. The maps are based on so-called bare earth digital overlays that ignore natural and artificial flood barriers, including trees and other vegetation, which in any climate act to limit flooding.

Mr. Wing’s own recently published study indicates that expected increases in U.S. flooding losses in the next 30 years will be primarily due to increased development, not climate change.

The year that ended saw the expressions “existential” and “climate crisis” become conjoined twins in the press. Yet a reader searched in vain for any mention that a long-awaited report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reduced its estimated path of future emissions and also judged the climate to be less prone to worst-case warming than previously thought.

Henry Kissinger, in an interview with a Journal colleague, ended the year by complaining about the quality of political leadership in our world. Before we can expect better from voters and the leaders they pick, we might have to expect better from the media and social media from which our common, non-hysterical understandings are made.

This is a condensed version of the original article entitled “The year in exaggeration.”

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