Scepticism chic

Journalists must introspect about their own shortcomings when it comes to climate change.

Journalists are cynical by nature, and it is perhaps understandable that some in India continue to retain a certain degree of scepticism about climate change – over whether it is truly taking place, being exaggerated or, worse still, whether it is little more than a conspiracy concocted by a handful of vested interests for unclear purposes. In August, the Business Standard carried a commentary to this effect by the conservative economist Deepak Lal, who highlighted several recent scientific studies suggesting that the Earth is, in fact, cooling rather than warming. He endorsed these views and argued that the so-called 'consensus argument', put forward by scientists and dutifully reported by most of the media, is erroneous.

As a former newspaper editor, I am well acquainted with such scepticism on the part of the media. This could have to do with an ingrained suspicion of anything that smacks of a motivated campaign – NGO-promoted causes based on preconceived ideas, and so on. I can still remember, as a young assistant editor in the late 1970s, timidly suggesting to my formidable boss, Girilal Jain, that I could write an editorial on the environmental issues surrounding a hydroelectric project in Kerala's Silent Valley, which was later to become a cause célèbre for greens when Indira Gandhi terminated the proposed dam. "Make sure you're being scientific," he sternly warned me. I took this advice to heart. And as I dug more deeply, I found far more scientific data to support my view. It was clear from every viewpoint, including that of economics, that the area to be affected by this dam, a pristine forest in the Western Ghats, possessed tremendous biodiversity and was indeed worthy of preservation. This opportunity to ground the argument in hard fact proved critical.

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Himal Southasian