Make climate the story of everything


September 19, 2023

The media must stop treating climate change as a niche topic – and start treating it as the most important story of our time.

Activists lie down during the “Rally for Climate Safety” outside Calgary City Hall, Canada, on September 17, 2023, in opposition to the opening ceremony of the 24th World Petroleum Congress.

(Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The climate crisis has become inevitable in much of what we see, hear and read. Don’t look up It spent weeks as the most streamed movie of all time on Netflix. Pop star Billie Eilish sings about the burning hills of California. In bookstores, climate fiction has become a genre of its own, as Jeff Goodell The heat will kill you firsta harrowing realistic account of what life would mean on a warming planet, enters its second month on The New York Times List of best-selling books.

Where is the press in all this? Despite living through the hottest summer in history, as well as wildfires, tropical storms, and rapidly warming oceans, news media continues to outpace popular culture when it comes to telling the most pressing story of our time. Inexplicably, climate change remains a particular concern for most mainstream media. Most of the American television coverage of this summer’s hellish weather did not even mention the phrase “climate change,” let alone explain that burning oil, gas, and coal is the cause of this hellish weather. Many newsrooms still view climate as an isolated group of professionals.

There are, of course, notable exceptions. WatchmanFor example, it has long provided comprehensive, science-based coverage of the climate crisis as well as its solutions, as have other major global media outlets such as Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera. But these outlets, while often excellent, are among the outliers; Much of the rest of the media – especially television, which, even in today’s digital age, remains the primary source of global news for the largest number of people – is struggling to find its climate footing.

We hope that it is not the case. As founders of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration formed to break the “climate silence” that has long prevailed in the media, we have been working to help our colleagues across the news business strengthen their coverage of the climate story.

In 2019, the media’s climate silence began to emerge, and in the past four years, we have seen encouraging successes: in the United States, mainstream media outlets including Washington Post Now treat climate change as a topic to be covered every day, not just a weather story. Telemundo 51, a Spanish-language television station in Miami, takes a “whole newsroom” approach that encourages reporters at every moment to talk about climate change, including its solutions. Overseas, France Télévisions (the French counterpart to the BBC) has ditched traditional weather bulletins in favor of a daily “Weather and Climate Bulletin”, where viewers can track global warming in real time as an eight-digit electronic counter shows how far today’s temperatures will exceed for temperatures. Pre-industrial average. (As of September 12, the number was 1.19829708 degrees Celsius.)

These revolutionary innovations are noteworthy, but they remain exceptions. Dramatic changes in climate have made increased news coverage of extreme weather inevitable. But explain the climate communication To severe weather is a different task. News coverage needs to start systematically pointing out the links between changes in weather and the decisions made by industry and government that have led to a warming planet.

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Cover of the 2/9 October 2023 issue

As journalists, we have to do better. The general public needs to understand what is happening, why it matters, and, above all, to be able to help fix it – for example, by voting, not buying unsustainable products, and talking to friends and family about making repairs. same.

Journalism is at its best when it effectively explains and connects the dots between seemingly disparate events. This means, for example, learning lessons from how the media covers Covid – which is also a sprawling and complex story dictated by science. No one in the media discussed the need to devote resources to helping audiences understand Covid and then get the story out there. Most media outlets were publishing multiple stories about Covid each day, which helped even casual news consumers understand that something important was happening. Journalists have based our coverage on science, but we have not isolated it to the science table: we have covered Covid as a health story, a political story, a business story, education, and a lifestyle story. We talked not only about the problem, but also about its solutions (such as masks, social distancing, and vaccinations).

Climate coverage could follow the same approach. Every newsroom in every community should think of climate change not as a central topic, but as a through-line that cuts across everything we do. No corner of the newsroom can be spared – not business or culture, not sports or city hall.

At the national level, the press must figure out how to make climate change central to our political coverage. Next year, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Egypt will see elections that will have profound effects on the prospects for global climate action. Can political reporters and editors downsize? Do they focus on horse racing coverage and instead provide the kind of coverage voters need to make informed choices? Election coverage should help audiences understand what the candidates will do Do About the climate crisis if they are elected, and not just what they say. It should hold candidates accountable not by asking them (as Foxx did in the first US Republican debate last month) whether they believe in climate change, but by asking them: “What is your plan to make it happen?” dealing with Climate crisis?

Overall, we also need greater and better coverage of climate solutions. Our colleagues at the Solutions Journalism Network have rightly criticized news coverage that only reports mistakes. Understanding the problem is important, of course, but telling the whole story also requires examining how to solve that problem.

What else does “more and better” climate coverage mean? We expect some answers to emerge this week at “Climate Changes Everything: Creating a Blueprint for Transforming Media,” a conference at Columbia Journalism School in New York sponsored by Covering Climate Now; Our founders, Columbia Journalism Review And Nation; Our main media partner, Watchman; And the Solutions Journalism Network. Reporters and editors from media outlets around the world—large and small, commercial and nonprofit—will chart a course for how journalists everywhere can tackle the climate story in ways that attract attention and impact and highlight solutions and justice. The gathered journalists will draw lessons and inspiration from some of the best climate coverage of the past year, as evidenced by the winners of the 2023 Climate Now Journalism Coverage Awards, which have just been announced. (The conference will be live-streamed and recordings will remain available.)

As the planet burns, more and better news coverage is itself a key climate solution. Only when the public understands what is happening, why, and what needs to be done will be able to force enough people to force governments and companies to change course. Many media outlets have made great progress in recent years. But the news industry as a whole is still unable to match the scale of the crisis with the type of coverage required. Until that happens, journalism is failing our readers, viewers and listeners, and allowing Netflix and Billie Eilish to get on with a job we have a duty to do.

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Mark Hertsgaard

Mark Hertsgaard is executive director of Cover Climate Now, a global journalism initiative committed to covering more and better climate stories. He is also the environment correspondent for Nation And author of books including Hot: Living through the next 50 years on Earth.

Kyle Pope

Kyle Pope is the magazine’s editor-in-chief and publisher Columbia Journalism Review. Previously, he worked as an editor at Condé Nast. The Wall Street Journaland the New York ObserverIn 2017, he testified before Congress about threats to the press.

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