On April 20, 2017, CARMA sponsored Renewables and Climate Change: Global Media and Business Perceptions, a panel discussion on the media coverage and business implications of renewables, energy supply, and climate change. The event included a presentation of research on media coverage and sentiment of these topics, followed by a conversation with the panel of energy sector experts. For a full list of panelists, see below.
Media Perceptions and Business Implications
The event opened with the research presentation, conducted by Jason Booms, CARMA’s Managing Director of Analysis, North America. The media coverage was collected over a 14-month period, from January 2016 to the end of February 2017. CARMA’s analysts, who conducted the research, studied 60 media titles, comprised of mainstream publications intended for mass consumption and excluding trade publications. This coverage was scored using CARMA’s favorability score, ranging from 0 to 100, with 0 representing negative sentiment, 50 meaning neutral, and 100 being positive.
Booms stated that the majority of traditional media publications, specifically those in print, acknowledged the reality of climate change, while a small handful maintained a skeptical perspective. Media covering climate change saw two significant dips in favorability in the 14-month period. These took place at the height of the US Republican Presidential Primary election and the month after Donald Trump was elected. These decreases correlated with the uncertainty for the future of climate change.
Comparatively, coverage of renewals was largely favorable abroad, with the majority of articles viewing it as a way to manage climate change.
Booms opened the panel discussion by asking about the current US presidential administration and how it affects, if at all, how people talk about these topics. Brian Wolff, Executive Vice President, Policy & External Affairs, Edison Electric Institute, replied that approaches to these issues change from administration to administration, but we have to pay attention to how these issues are handled throughout the rest of the country, as this more accurately reflects the reality of the situation.
Evan Lehmann, Deputy Editor at E&E News, Climate Wire, stated that administration’s denial of these issues brings more attention to them than Obama’s friendly approach to the subject.
Where is the media getting it right and wrong?
The panelists considered how media outlets succeed and fail when reporting on issues related to energy. Roger Ballentine, President, Green Strategies, Inc. and Venture Partner at Arborview Capital LLC, believes that climate change is one of the most under-reported issues in the history of media, stating that the media is behind on science, trends, and economics related to the energy sector. Additionally, Wolff explains that readers should be aware of where media originates, specifically with the prevalence of sponsored content that often contains specific biases.
According to Ballentine, the media doesn’t objectively report the effects of climate change. “If we did more of that, we’re not telling people what to think. We’re telling them that a Manhattan-sized chunk of ice just fell off west Antarctica and what that means. Let them figure out, ‘Okay, well that sounds okay or not,'” he said.
When Booms asked, alternatively, how the media effectively covers issues of energy, Ballentine and Dipka Bhambhani, Director of Communications, U.S. Energy Association, agreed that trade publications successfully write about the complexities and realities of these issues.
Developments in other countries
The panel evaluated how other countries’ strides in and opinion of climate change have affected the US. Cary Funk, Associate Director, Research on Science and Society, Pew Research Center, states that it’s possible the opinion of climate change varies because countries experience the effects of climate change differently based on their location.
Evolving climate change language
Booms asked the panelists to consider the language used to describe climate change and how this language may be evolving. The language used in trade presses doesn’t matter, according to Wolff. Instead, he believes that the stories in mainstream media need to be digestible to allow the average reader to understand, absorb, and share the information. “The problem is, as Roger pointed out, we have to be able to talk in a language that captures hearts and minds that are in the mainstream media, whether that be larger print media or cable news.”
Bhambhani and Ballentine agree that, rather than engaging in the debate of climate change’s reality, it is more important for reporters to share the facts surrounding climate change and business, such as the $9 trillion that Wall Street has put into the clean energy sector.
How can we collaborate?
In his final question of the panel, Booms asked how professionals can collaborate to benefit the energy sector and further its progress. Lehmann explains that media personnel from more specialized publications can work with those from more generalized ones to provide reliable information.
Bhambhani explains that there shouldn’t be such polarization between supporters of fossil fuels and renewables. As long as the fossil fuel industry works toward carbon capture and sequestration, this story should be reported, rather than focusing on supporting or rejecting this source of energy.
Following this conversation on collaboration, the panel transitioned to answer questions from the audience. Check out the full video recording to hear responses to questions on improving media coverage of energy policy change and how information can be taken to Washington to show business opportunities, as well as more detailed discussions on the topics outlined above.
Jason Booms Managing Director, Analysis, North America, CARMA
Roger Ballentine President, Green Strategies, Inc.; Venture Partner at Arborview Capital LLC
Dipka Bhambhani Director of Communications, U.S. Energy Association
Cary Funk Associate Director, Research on Science and Society, Pew Research Center
Evan Lehmann Deputy Editor at E&E News, Climate Wire
Brian Wolff Executive Vice President, Policy & External Affairs, Edison Electric Institute