Weather emojis
Image: Celina Gallardo

Whenever Johanna Wagstaffe, a CBC meteorologist, reports on natural disasters she is often accused of being a climate change non-believer. 

At first, that reaction came as a surprise since she accepts that climate change is indeed taking place. But, according to Wagstaffe, there’s been a shift in the way people want to see climate change discussed. Now, she explains, particularly with natural–disaster coverage, the public has more of a desire to see reporting that links weather or natural disasters directly to climate change.

However, as a journalist, she won’t do that. Instead she will wait for science to prove it. Until then, Wagstaffe will continue to say climate change is, in fact, not a leading cause of the increase in, for example, hurricanes. But, she adds, the increase in coverage of hurricanes will entice readers to comment on her pieces and ask why she isn’t outwardly blaming climate change.

According to Wagstaffe, as well as a report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, scientists are uncertain whether climate change will increase the number of hurricanes, though “warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels are expected to intensify their impacts.”

Such discrepancies between public expectations and scientific results highlight how activism and awareness can create misleading online discourse.

So even though her reporting is factual, Wagstaffe says she’s received an onslaught of emails and tweets from readers saying she “isn’t speaking the truth,”

As well, adds Wagstaffe, she receives accusations that assert: “You’ve left everyone to believe that [climate change is the cause] and, therefore, you’ve misled all of your listeners.”  

While most digital debaters will eventually find their way to comment sections, particularly on controversial topics, Wagstaffe says she “was at first a bit taken aback” that people who are passionate on the topic are responding with anger and getting things wrong.

As a result, many of her listeners and readers will have a skewed version of the truth about how climate change works, and will inevitably spread those views. Ultimately, the conversation ends up being black and white, when climate change and its impacts are anything but. “There are more than two sides, but when it comes to climate change, [there are] believers and deniers…” Wagstaffe explains. “I think it just goes to show that both sides have to be careful when using anger to back up their issue.”

Since digital journalism became the general public’s main source of news, the rise of digital repercussions has taken place in the comment section of stories. In a J-Source piece, trolls are identified as people who target journalists through mild insults in online comment sections, but who can then become more aggressive, verbally attacking a journalist’s family, sources, employer. At this stage they rarely work alone.

Comment sections, however, are not edited and are mostly unfiltered, sparking new debates every time a piece goes online, leaving more room for erroneous facts that remain unchecked.

Wagstaffe, who says she’s “the last person who would not want to talk about climate change,” adds that while some readers are “generally engaged,” many can be quick to jump to conclusions.

The accuracy of those conclusions, however, depends on how much readers of comment sections are willing to fact-check whatever discourse takes place, and what facts they’ll just absorb as unquestionable.

(Visited 721 times, 1 visits today)
1 comment
  1. CO2 does not warm the planet. Show the graph where CO2 goes up and air temp goes up. There isn’t one. Since the last mini ice age the temps have been going up till the 1940’s when they started to go down. But that’s strange………lots of industrial growth…….but the temp was dropping. Till the 1970’s when they gave us a dire warning that the next ice age was coming.? Temps been climbing since then but. Our ego wants control, we want to be right, not just correct, and the flawed human brain will fill in the blanks that we don’t understand

Comments are closed.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest stories from our newsroom.