One of the more robust periods of study in the modern history of climate change has taken place this past year. It began in September 2013 with a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which supported the idea that a large portion of fossil fuel reserves will have to stay underground to avoid dangerous rises in temperature across the planet. Then, in March, came one from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which claims to be the world’s “largest general scientific society.” Among its conclusions was that we are at risk of pushing the earth’s climate system toward “abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes.” By May, the federal government had weighed in with the Third National Climate Assessment, making similarly dire predictions and underscoring the wisdom of its prophesies made five years earlier.
But something different happened in June. Another report, yes. Only this one was of a different character. It was called “Risky Business,” and the team that produced the analysis wasn’t at all like the other climate-change sages. It was co-chaired by A-list titans of American business and former government officials, including Michael Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer. With such headliners, media coverage wasn’t hard to come by.
The novelty of the report was that it talked relatively little about science and more about what this whole threat is going to cost us. With its emphasis on the economic impact of climate change, it broke down each region and endangered economic sectors to assess the looming damage. And with this shift in focus—from the physics of climate change to its financial consequences—came a subtle yet perhaps significant change in media coverage. While science and political reporters have primarily covered the topic during the past decade, the “Risky Business” report garnered the attention of business reporters and their editors.”