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Doctoral dissertation: The causes of environmental problems are often disregarded by the media

Press release 2012-11-12 at 10:00

Photo: Noora Lehtimäki

“Debate on the most critical problem facing humankind is not very animated,” says Jari Lyytimäki, M.Sc (Environmental Sciences), Senior Researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), who has written his doctoral dissertation on environmental media coverage. His thesis presents an analysis of coverage of climate change and eutrophication in Helsingin Sanomat, the most widely-read newspaper in Finland, over two decades. In terms of the volume of such coverage, environmental issues are not regarded as a key topic by the media. The public examination of Lyytimäki’s dissertation will take place at the University of Helsinki on Friday, 16 November 2012.

In the 1990s, environmental media representations highlighted eutrophication and its impact on water bodies. Coverage of this was boosted by the massive algal occurrences at the end of the millennium. Currently, the most topical environmental issue is climate change. In recent years, climate issues have also increasingly featured in sections other than the science-focused ones in which they are traditionally published. “Climate change stories can also be found in the culture and foreign news pages, for example. However, only less than 0.5% of all articles focus on climate change,” Lyytimäki says.

According to Lyytimäki, many factors may be contributing to the decrease in eutrophication coverage and the higher visibility of climate change in the media: “Eutrophication is perhaps regarded as a problem limited to water bodies, mainly affecting boaters and people with summer cottages, whereas climate change is considered to have broader impacts. Climate change is not always seen as an exclusively negative phenomenon. Butterfly and garden enthusiasts, for example, may also see some advantages in it.”

Misleading impressions

The causes of environmental problems can sometimes be forgotten in environmental media coverage. “For instance, an otherwise informative article describing the algal situation may create the impression that sunny and warm weather increases the amount of blue-green algae. As a result, nutrient outputs from human activities receive little attention. Likewise, individual mild winters are often presented as being caused by anthropogenic climate change alone,” says Lyytimäki.

Lyytimäki stresses that public debate on factors contributing to environmental changes would be important. If the causes of environmental problems do not receive publicity, they can be easily disregarded in political decision-making.

Jari Lyytimäki will defend his doctoral dissertation entitled 'The environment in the headlines. Newspaper coverage of climate change and eutrophication in Finland’ in the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, on Friday, 16 November 2012 at 12:00. The public examination will take place at Auditorium XII in the main building of the University of Helsinki, Fabianinkatu 33. Associate Professor Victoria Wibeck, Linköping University, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Pekka Kauppi, University of Helsinki, as the custos.

Dissertation

The dissertation will be published in the series Monographs of the Boreal Environment Research.

Further information

Jari Lyytimäki, Senior Researcher, Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE),tel. 0400 148 856, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi


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