Global Warming as a Social Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 8
  • Subject: Weather
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #49315796

Excerpt from Term Paper :

There are a wide range of issues it consider here; from the effect that changed ecosystems can have on the general environment to studies of the 'disappearing' coral reef and the glaciers that are rapidly melting. "Scientists predict that composition and range of many ecosystems will shift as species respond to climate change..." (eschatology of the left)

This will also have an impact on the forests and it is estimated that as much as two-thirds of the worlds footrests will be affected.

Figure 1. Comparison of emissions source: (http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/recognizing-forests-role-in-climate-change.html)

2.1. The media and the construction of perceptions

Taking into account the enormous significance of global warming and the potential that it poses for the disruption and even destruction of human life on earth, it is important to gauge the effect that this event has had on the public perception. The media as a conduit of popular perception is also means of shaping public opinion and even the construction of social reality.

Taken at its most obvious level, the media can influence the way that society, culture and the individual perceives social and environmental reality. There is an ethos in the modern press towards "objective" and balanced reporting - which in essence refers to the democratic and even-handed reportage of news and events. However reportage of an event like global warming may suffer, as some critics state, from a balanced coverage which is not necessary accurate and which is warped by the desire to appear even handed. "Balanced coverage does not, however, always mean accurate coverage. In terms of the global warming story, "balance" may allow skeptics -- many of them funded by carbon-based industry interests -- to be frequently consulted and quoted in news reports on climate change" (Boykoff and Boykoff).

There are many theorists who question the stance of an "objective" assessment of environmental issues and point to the fact that the media is never totally objective and is often influenced by certain forces and power groups in society. In the case of global warming there are obviously many interested parties who would prefer to water down and reduce the social cognizance of the impact of global climate change - such as petroleum corporations. As Jerry Williams in his article Knowledge, Consequences, and Experience: The Social Construction of Environmental Problems states;

The role of power in the framing of environmental issues by social actors has been addressed by a number of researchers in environmental sociology. For example, Schnaiberg and Gould (1994, p. 93) talk about the "coercive application of power" by industry in order to maintain the "treadmill of production" responsible for a number of environmental problems... (Williams 484).

This form of analysis is also applied to the issue of environmental change. Williams takes the issue of media interception and re-presentation of issues such as global warming to another level of deconstruction and interrogation. He sees the question of the perception of environmental problems as an issue that is more associated with the theories of the sociology of knowledge and which are essentially epistemological in nature. "Sociologists concerned with large-scale environmental problems such as global warming are immediately confronted with an epistemological question..." (Williams 478).

Williams goes on to discuss two theoretical trajectories that are attempts to explain the way that social knowledge is created and maintained; namely the realist and constructionist points-of-view; which he sees as both being flawed. He makes the important point that, "What we know about environmental-social problems is never objective in the true sense of the word; that is, knowledge is always mediated by intersubjective experience' yet at the same time is constrained by a real world independent of our experience" (Williams 478).

In this light it is interesting to consider the way that news and media reporting is influenced by other aspects besides balance and objectivity and whether such objectify is at all possible. This viewpoint can also be related to the view put forward by Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff that the U.S. media coverage of global warming is in reality a " form of informational bias" (Boykoff and Boykoff). This also relates to the suggestion that;

Despite the consistent assertions of the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that human activities have had a "discernible" influence on the global climate and that global warming is a serious problem that must be addressed immediately, "he said/she said" reporting has allowed a small group of global warming skeptics to have their views greatly amplified.

Boykoff and Boykoff

This interrogational attitude is taken further by Ungar (2001) who suggests that disaster and other life-threatening events are situated around "sites" of cultural panic and are influenced by social as well as media bias. These areas of panic in a "risk society" are socially and culturally determined. Ungar state that;

Researchers select particular crises to investigate, and thereby ignore others. But societies change, as do the phenomena associated with outbreaks of public concern or alarm. As new crises accumulate and become more visible, they are likely to find their way on to the research agenda.

Ungar 271)

3. Actions taken to address global warming

The above discussion also points to the fact that there is no real consensus in all societies about the damage and the reality of global warming. This in turn is relates to the way that the media and culture interacts on this question in various cultures. However in terms of the popular culture attitude towards global warning that has been partly inculcated by the media and by the scientific community, there is a growing list of actions that are suggested to combat global warning.

In terms of common societal reaction of the issue there are a host of methods and practices that are been suggested on a fundamental level that could reduce the impact of global warming. In the very first instance there is the suggestion that individuals could implement actions to reduce their "carbon footprint'. For example, "We could reduce energy consumption by making fewer journeys and using better insulation in our homes. This would lessen the need to burn coal and oil, and lead to reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide" (Special Report: Impact of global warming may be severe and wide-ranging). The following is a brief listing of some of the recommended actions that people can take.

Using 'clean' power. This refers to using electricity companies that provide fifty to one-hundred percent renewable energy.

Simple actions such ass unplugging a freezer can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly ten percent.

Replacing regular light bulbs with energy saving models. It is estimated that this simple action could reduce "...global warming pollution by more than 90 billion pounds over the life of the bulbs..." (Ten Personal Solutions)

3.1. New Products and Methods

With the increasing social awareness of the problem of global warming there are large number of possible products and methods that have been suggested. The most obvious method of reducing the danger of global warming is through the reduction of the use of fossil fuels. To this end the IPCC has stated that "...technology could result in fossil fuels being burned more efficiently. It also said emissions could be reduced by making wider use of low carbon fossil fuels like natural gas, and decarbonising exhaust gases from power plants" (Special Report: Impact of global warming may be severe and wide-ranging). Other suggestions include the use of various methods of energy generation such as solar power and heating. "Solar hot water heating can be used to provide up to 70% of annual hot water needs for homes, it can also be used in commercial buildings that require significant hot water such as gyms and nursing homes" (Brief Analysis of Climate Change Report) Wind - power is also another alternative that ash been suggested by many environmentalists.

There are a wide range of suggestions that relate to the better and more effective management of resources; this includes sustaining and maintaining the forest cover and better land management and usage. Nuclear fusion has also been put forward as a viable environmental energy alternative, but this is still controversial. "Nuclear fusion, a theoretical way of harnessing power by fusing atoms which is still under development, may one day provide a cleaner alternative to the world's energy problem" (Special Report: Impact of global warming may be severe and wide-ranging).

3.2. Future Outlook Related to Global Warming

In terms of the present media coverage and the perception of this environmental problem, the future looks decidedly bleak. However the social and cultural perception that tends to dominate at the present time must be analyzed and understood in terms of the media structures and the "sites of panic' that may be constructed by the interaction between media and culture. Nevertheless the scientific outcomes for the future if the present rate of carbon emission is to continue, paints a decidedly gloomy picture of…

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