Stories concerning environmental issues such as climate change, energy sources, emission of greenhouse gases, conservation, and pollution are easily found in mainstream media. Within articles on each of these issues are ways to improve upon the current situation and make things more environmentally friendly. In regards to climate change, the main buzz surrounds new innovative technology to track rising temperatures, how to increase automobile fuel efficiency, the use of “green power” like solar and wind power, and the classic reduce, reuse, recycle. However, there is hardly any buzz about reducing the amount of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, being used.
There is so little noise around this idea that most people have probably never even heard of HFCs before. This term refers to a super-polluting greenhouse gas which has not received much attention in comparison to other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
This underreported issue concerning the use of HFCs recently gained mainstream media attention thanks to the Washington Post article, “The world just took another huge step forward on fighting climate change.” This article shows evidence of technological fundamentalism, one of the three dominant ideologies prevalent in the American journalism as described by Robert Jensen, professor and journalist.
Technological fundamentalism implies an unquestioned assumption that new technology is always a good thing and that inferior technology can be remedied by more technology. This fundamentalism is very apparent in this article concerning HFCs and climate change. According to the article, the plan for reducing HFCs includes some form of new technology, which only replaces old technology:
The article calls for the reduction of the use of a super-polluting greenhouse gas, hydrofluorocarbons, and replacing them with alternative, more environmentally friendly chemicals. HFCs are found in refrigerants and replaced even more harmful previously used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Despite this change to improve greenhouse gas emissions, studies have shown that that HFCs are actually more harmful than carbon dioxide over a period of time, making it evident that the chemical used in refrigerants needs to be improved upon yet again.
This constant need to replace the use of chemicals in refrigerants in order to make technology more environmentally friendly shows technological fundamentalism in action; the idea that the only way to improve things is to remedy technology with more “improved” technology comes through in this section of the article.
In addition, the article states that under the “Kigali Amendment,” developed and developing countries will be required to have “freeze dates” when they must peak their HFC emissions. Most participating nations will be able to meet their freeze dates, but there are some large nations like India and Pakistan that will not be able to. The head of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, Durwood Zaelke, commented: “We came to take half a degree Celsius out of future warming, and we won about 90 percent of our climate prize.” The main goal of this environmental endeavor was to reduce the global temperature by half a degree Celsius in 35 years, and even that is not attainable with this plan.
While the setbacks and criticisms of the plan were mentioned, they were mentioned quite briefly. This shows the idea that the industrial model in place in the United States is thought to be unchallengeable, which provides further evidence of technological fundamentalism.
More recently, an article has been published on on The Millbrook Independent’s website titled “Hydrofluorocarbons-Yet Another Greenhouse Gas,” written by Dr. William H. Schlesinger, former professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University. In this article, Schlesinger goes on to explain the harmful effects of HFCs and how there must be a new alternative to these harmful greenhouse gases in the works. His article stresses the need to find a new technology to replace this old one. This pressing need is made clear when Schlesinger states: “Let’s hope we can find something that works and test its environmental impacts before widespread implementation begins. With all chemicals introduced to our environment, science must rule.”
While the efforts made here are in favor of improving the environment, they are in no way in favor of challenging the prevalence of technological fundamentalism in news writing. This article, like the first one, seems to present no other solution to the HFC problem other than fixing technology with more technology. The topic of HFCs seems as though it keeps being reported in the same manner, with the same fundamentalisms present.
If these stories had not been guided by such fundamentalisms present in the United States, the coverage of HFCs would have looked drastically different. The mention of setbacks would have been explored more thoroughly and realistically instead of assuming that the idea of reduction of old technology and implementation of new technology could not have any flaws. Moreover, these articles failed to mention other possible solutions to the problem. While implementing a new technology may be one of the most valid solutions, it surely cannot be the only solution.
The failure to report multiple solutions to HFC emissions highlights the technological fundamentalisms that surround this topic. When looked at with a keen eye, fundamentalisms in the United States can be seen in most of what is in the mainstream media. Yet a journalist’s task is to identify, amplify, and circulate relevant competing points of view. As Jensen said best: “If journalists are trapped within ideologies that prevent them from identifying the full range of relevant views, they will fail at their central task.”